Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Please Hire Me - Your Resume, Geting Hired, Job Sites and Marketing Quackery

If you're currently out of work or feeling uncertain about your employment situation, the holidays and the end of the year can intensify the stress you're feeling. Faced with those stresses, looking for a project for the long holiday break, or simply seeking a way to quietly escape your extended family, you might find yourself locked away rewriting your resume. But there's one nagging problem with your plan -- how are you going to change it?

The resume is a funny creature. When you look at it, you can see the great story of your career history, but when you send it out, you're don't get hired for every job you apply for. And those recruiters, the big-game talent hunters, aren't beating down your door after finding your resume on one of those online job boards. There must be something wrong; maybe it's your resume. Or maybe we're all just a little biased when we're reviewing ourselves.

There's an industry that plays on these fears; they sell resume writing and job placement assistance. I'm not saying that there isn't a need to help people who don't write well (even those that do usually benefit from an editor), but like loan modification businesses, some of these businesses make their profits off of people in the most desperate circumstances. But is what they are selling really worth it?

I'm not a recruiter and I haven't been hired so frequently that I would consider myself an expert, but I do know marketing. And while there are some differences between the job market and a product market, the similarities are strong enough that you can apply the same strategy, analysis and evaluation criteria that you would use to measure your sales tools or marketing programs.

Initially, I thought this would just be a single post, but the more I wrote, the more I realized that this isn't a one-post topic. With that in mind, let's call this the end of the intro post.

Monday, November 22, 2010

You're Not Hired - Untangling the Myth of Market Expertise

Browse through any marketing job board, open up a listing and one of the first things that you'll find is a requirement for experience in a specific market or segment -- do you have experience in enterprise marketing, consumer marketing, in the storage industry, software, or retail industry. You name a market there are companies that will judge your ability to do the job based on whether you have worked within it in the past. Ultimately, the dialog goes something like this:
Have you sold blue pencils?
You have? Great.
Yellow pencils?
Oh, I'm sorry, you don't have the background needed for the blue pencil market.
Note » Just follow this is a simple recipe for uninspired marketing.
If this seems like a frustrating over-simplification to you, then please join me as we explore the logic and the quackery behind marketing segment expertise.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Is Your Brand on the Endangered Species List?

For some consumers, the brand of a product isn't their primary consideration in selecting a product. At Targets, Costcos and Walmarts across the country, people will buy things not because they have a connection to the brand, but because it is there and it is on sale. From paper towels to cleaning products and just about anything that is available as a generic, some consumers are willing to abandon any sort of branded connection in favor of price and availability.

But rather than dive into the relationship between brand and those products, I want to highlight a shift that is taking place in the brand ecosystem that really stood out for me during some recent shopping trips at Target. I used to shop at Target for products like toiletries, cleaning products, and paper towels. While I used to count on Target for carrying a fairly broad collection of products at prices, over the past year or two I've noticed that they are carrying fewer and fewer of the brands that I purchase. Now, instead of being able to buy these items at Target, I find myself purchasing at my local grocery store because they actually stock the brands of products that I'm looking for.

An Endangered Species?
What happens when the brand that you prefer is no longer carried by the big box stores? You have to expect that for the manufacturer, losing an outlet like Target is going to have a negative impact on your product's numbers. Meanwhile, distribution to traditional outlets like your local grocery store probably have more costs associated with them. At what point do you start thinking about EOL?

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Worth Reading: Why Products Suck post on Techcrunch

Heads up on an amusing post over on Techcrunch. It's Why Products Suck (And How To Make Them Suck Less) by David Barrett, CEO of Expensify. It's a worthwhile read. I particularly like the connection to the movie 12 Angry Men. If you've ever been in a marketing meeting where you had to overcome the objections of one individual who just didn't get it, this post is for you. It's a good reminder about the reality of team and consensus dynamics. Sometimes those consensus obstacles that you face can be a single voice causing you to completely recalculate the lowest common denominator. And suck.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Connecting the Dots: Lobbying, Legislation, and the Intersection Between Business and Government

I wanted to call your attention to this great two-part story from NPR. I happened to catch part one earlier in the week and I was blown away. It's not just the investigative journalism. What I like about this story is the way that they have taken a story that you know, the Arizona immigration law, and turned it inside out. While you know about all of the spin and messaging that gets thrown around in the public debate about the law, this story points to some of the underlying drivers behind the legislation.

From a marketing standpoint, I think that there's a broader take-away here. Part of what you can see in this story is a window into the larger ecosystem of the business of crafting laws, lobbying, and selling to the government. And while a simple conception of corruption might be a quid pro quo exchange that resulted in a legislator profiting from their influence, the intersection of business and government is an interwoven fabric of questionable practices and influence. That being said, when the government privatizes portions of its operations, businesses will look for ways to sell more and to expand their markets.

Here are the links: 
Part One:
Prison Economics Help Drive Ariz. Immigration Law by Laura Sullivan
Part Two:
Shaping State Laws With Little Scrutiny by Laura Sullivan

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Corporate War Stories from the Battle of

Among my other activities, I've been actively involved in projects evaluating and administering over the past four or five years. And while I would love to be able to characterize the whole thing as easy and fun, in reality, the experience has been quite a bit less than that.

I'm not talking about the software platform here -- is, hands down, one of the most amazing software tools that I have worked with. Instead, the battle has been a culture war, shaped by a cast of players with a variety of agendas, concerns, and a tremendous amount of fear, uncertainty and doubt. I've spent a fair amount of time analyzing, reflecting, and explaining, so maybe some of this will be helpful for you.

Knock Knock
Part of the challenge comes from the way that first gets through the door. In the old days, your average sales guy in smaller companies used ACT to manage their contacts. In that kind of environment, CRM and Contact Management are often interchangeable words, and from the IT side of the world, it could be considered a personal preference decision software dictated and configured by individual sales guys. It's these same sales guys, or their front-line marketing colleagues, that start the wave to bring into the organization.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Down the Web Hosting Rabbit Hole - Bluehost Terms of Service

I've been doing some research into web hosting providers for a couple of different projects. One of the projects involves looking at a simple shared hosting provider for small business and web development. A couple of quick searches on Google will produce a series of top ten web hosting provider sites, each with reviews and some categorizations for specialization (my expectation is that there is some sponsorship-based promotions driving a number of these). You can also find links on the Wordpress and Drupal sites pointing to preferred hosting providers.

I don't really want to run through the list of all of the providers that I looked at; rather, I want to point out what came up as a big surprise to me with one -- Bluehost. Over the course of my review and analysis, I was pretty impressed with the offering from Bluehost. They're listed on the Drupal site and they rank up well across a host of the different top ten sites. They offer a wide range of software easy-install scripts for everything from content management to business tools. But one of the biggest differentiators for me was that, unlike most shared server providers, they offer SSH shell access to your server root. All in all, their service looks impressive and their cost seems very reasonable.

Gotcha - the Bluehost Terms of Service Agreement
More often than not, you don't expect to find surprises in contract forms like user agreements and terms of service. For a web hosting provider, you probably expect things like no hosting illegal content, copyright-infringing material, or porn. You might also expect no spamming, malware, or other malicious activities. What surprised me in Bluehost's terms of service -- and you probably would not expect to find in a ToS -- was a prohibition on profanity. That's right, if your site contains profanity, they can shut down your service.

I was so surprised by this that I did a deeper Google search and found multiple complaints and concerns about Bluehost and profanity. One even included a transcript from an online chat with their customer support regarding the policy. To be fair, I haven't had an opportunity to contact Bluehost regarding their policy -- I was looking for an email address to request a comment, but I couldn't find one. Some of the complaints expressed concern or suspicion that the policy (or it's interpretation) might be shaped by Bluehost's location in Utah.

Ultimately, I don't really care to explore what drove this policy or the moral prism by which web site content might be interpreted. As someone who publishes a blog that's often targeted to business readers, I am very conscientious about the content that I publish and how it might be picked up or read in the workplace. And as a professional spokesperson for numerous businesses, I also understand the importance of keeping communications with certain frameworks. That being said, as a writer, I reserve the write to use whatever language I deem appropriate and I'm not about to have my web site hosting provider function as a censor.

And that's why what I would say to Bluehost is, in the words of Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz to Michael Arrington, "F*ck Off!" I will be taking my web hosting business elsewhere.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Solved: An Easy Workaround for Some iPhone 4 Reception Problems

If you have an iPhone, then you're certainly familiar with the challenges of AT&T cellular coverage. While AT&T's network performance has gotten a lot of press around the iPhone, their service has been problematic for ten years or more -- that's one of the reasons why I used GTE (which then became Verizon) back then. I think that part of the issue is that the GSM signal simply doesn't perform well going through building walls, so when you're inside -- or your antenna is obstructed -- you have signal problems. The worst part of this is that "inside" is a word often used to describe you at home, work, or somewhere else interesting.

We've all seen the press on the iPhone 4 and it's antenna, but what you might not know is that the iPhone 4 also holds a secret workaround for some reception problems. What's the solution? Facetime.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Aftershock, Income Inequality, and Why Everyone is Angry at the Economy

The other day on NPR's Fresh Air, they had Robert Reich on, talking about his new book, Aftershock: The Next Economy and America's Future. I found the interview both entertaining and informative. The basic thesis of the book is that, in terms of recovery from our current economic troubles, we're hosed. According to Reich, the underlying issue with the economy isn't just about banks or stimulus, it's about an income inequality and the impact that it's having on the overall economy. Reich goes back and highlights a figure from the Great Depression who addressed some of these issues, then points to some larger changes that would be needed in order to bring jobs back to the economy and purchasing power back the middle class.

One quote that I found particularly amusing, Reich pointed out that when they go to mainstream America and tell them that the recession ended back in June 2009, that people laugh at them. The people who are out of work, underwater on their mortgages, and struggling to make ends meet are keenly aware that if your indicators say that we're out of the recession, then your indicators suck.

This is something that is an underlying pain point for the current administration and one of the issues that's driving trends as we move toward the election in November. Regardless of what the economic dashboards say, regardless of what the stock market numbers say, the Main Street economy sucks. But there is actually a bigger theme behind this.

For some time now, there has been the adoption of this idea by the media and in political circles in Washington that if the stock market numbers are high and the market appears strong, then the economy must be healthy, happy, and thriving. The Bush administration used this same logic to make a case for the performance of their economic policies, despite poor employment numbers and a generally lifeless economy. It's also a core message to the whole concept of 'trickle-down' economics, "they are doing well and it's only a matter of time before that starts to trickle down your way. Wait for it... Wait for it..."

But one job is not always equal to one job. Remember when they wanted to make "burger assembler at a fast food restaurant" count as a manufacturing job -- it makes it easier to mask the gushing flow of manufacturing jobs leaving the local economy.

When the financial system was on the edge of collapse, our government rushed in the paramedics to rescue the financial services industry. We bailed out Wall Street. We bailed out GM. We bailed out the banks and AIG. But when it came to saving the suffering middle class through programs like extended unemployment or mortgage relief, the people we elected did little to help. Those initiatives sank and drowned. For home owners that found themselves in loans that were underwater, there has been no adjustment, no correction, no bail out, just a continuing parade of foreclosures and terrible unemployment. This sense of inequity is part of what's driving the anger.

On Marketing and Message
If you look at all of that anger and the energy behind it, then connect it to messaging, you can see some of the challenges that the current candidates are facing. For Democrats, they position themselves relative to the bail out and say, "see, we saved the economy," but that doesn't match the reality that people are experiencing or perceive that they are experiencing. It doesn't really matter whether there was a victory on paper or not -- it's like telling someone who's computer was infected with a virus, "I've been able to rebuild your operating system, but all of your files, your photos and your data are gone."

Meanwhile, Republicans say, "see, we told you the bail out was a bad idea. They just made matters worse." But with marketing and message, people gloss over history, so it doesn't really matter that the collapse and the TARP bailout both took place under the a Republican president, nor does it matter that when it came to the stimulus bail out, Republicans sat on the economic Titanic and fought to prevent Main Street access to lifeboats.  Whether or not Republicans offer a solution or a recipe for anything other than a return to the policies of the previous administration doesn't really matter, instead there is an audience that can connect with single message that bailout equals bad idea.

If you follow Reich's thesis, real resolution won't happen until this income inequality can be addressed. And with most of the current approaches centered around "the health of Wall Street" as though it were an engine instead of an indicator, the larger outlook will probably remain bleak (or worse) for some time.

The Great Irony of the Bailout
The great irony of the bailout is that people that directly benefited from it are also angry and frustrated. Here is an interesting segment from the episode of This American Life titled 'Crybabies' that aired recently on KQED. Continue through the intro on 'Outrage' to this first section on Wall Street. Here's a synopsis from their site:
Act One. Wall Street: Money Never Weeps.
Ira with Planet Money economics correspondent Adam Davidson on why—even after everything President Obama has done to save Wall Street, actions which have led to record profits and bonuses—Wall Street seems ungrateful. Adam and producer Jane Feltes head out to a Wall Street bar where they're told by three finance guys that there's no reason to thank the President for saving their jobs. Planet Money is a co-production of This American Life and NPR News. (14 minutes)  
A Populist Pressure Cooker 
Overall, a poor economy stresses its constituents. People are unhappy and looking for change, but finding themselves powerless to make changes. Stuck in an underpaid, overworked job with increasing productivity expectations? If there are no jobs, you have no freedom to change jobs or find a better situation, and there is no pressure on the employer to make your work environment better. And like a stove with the burner on high, tensions and stress within our society keep increasing.

Take California as an example. We have a situation where the laws and ballot initiatives have mandated levels for the majority of spending for the state, making real change impossible. Meanwhile, term limits, super-majority requirements and the demographics of the legislature mean that most budget 'problems' get rewritten and pushed into the future. Several years ago, frustrations with this situation exploded in the recall and the election of a populist reformer. And yet, despite publicity, a famous name, and host of proposed reform programs, nothing really changed and no problems were solved. Nowadays, you often hear proposals of revolutionary reform like a Constitutional convention, but I haven't seen the signs of a real movement for anything like that. And so, with politics what you have now are people spinning messages of reform on top of a system and product that isn't really going to change fundamentally.

In Reich's interview, he noted that the current policies were not reforming the economy sufficiently to change the imbalances highlighted in his book. However, he was optimistic that, over time the government would come to understand that the reforms-to-date were not sufficient to correct the bigger picture, and begin implementing stronger reforms. I don't agree with him on this point. A conspiracy theorist might suggest some sort of overarching system that benefits from keeping the pressure cooker on high, but I think that the truth is much simpler. Like a business with shrinking markets and uninspired products (fill in your example here), government and politicians intrinsically avoid bold vision or substantial change. Imagine if we had some sort of entrepreneurial start-up incubator model for new government policy and reform.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Leading Indicators of a Craptacular Marketing Job

When you're a marketing goomer that gets wrapped up in projects that involve the finance and accounting side of the business, you often find yourself rubbing shoulders with the people that Dilbert called "the trolls in accounting." And you're probably also likely to find that they have an almost religious hatred of your role and all it represents (spending money). That being said, over the years I've worked with a lot of people in finance and accounting and got along well with most of them. Often I find that we share a sense of practicality and an overall disdain for puffery that tends to mask a lack of real substance.

One of the funniest places to find this kind of puffery is in job listings. As an example, I recently came across a listing describing a necessary skill as being able to leverage adoption techniques and four key performance indicators of a successful Customer Value Journey (I probably can't use that phrase -- it might be trademarked). And while there is probably a line of candidates forming with platitudes on their lips and gold in their hearts, you won't find me digging into the resources of my background looking for Carlos Castaneda books or channeling my business-metaphysics background.

Sometimes this stuff just seems crazy. I once worked for a company that based their performance reviews on values that fit an acronym of the company name. Imagine if the Constitution had been written like that. Back in the era, I interviewed with a company that basically had no idea what they did, and I couldn't even get a sense of their direction during the interview (we mutually agreed that we weren't a good fit). The saddest part of the whole thing is that, when you see stuff like this on TV it seems funny, but it's different when you know that there are so many people who are desperate for work and willing to take even the suckiest jobs.

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Mythology of Product Positioning - Freedom, Rooting, and the Evolving Android Ecosystem

Right now, your head is swimming with lies and half-truths. But it's not just you, it's everyone that you know, everyone that you've ever met. You didn't plan it. It just happened because your brain is sucking up information like a sponge, absorbing the data your exposed to without the capacity or ability to effectively analyze it.

Every day, we are like a computer on the Internet connecting to web sites and servers that our computer thinks it knows -- we take in information from sources that we deem credible and assume that there are no underlying messages in the bits of code, no malware. Many established marketing practices count on this relationship -- from celebrity endorsements to astroturfing -- there are a wide range of techniques designed to "spoof" your information authentication credentials.

True, false, or somewhere in between, these pieces of information come together inside our heads, forming the mythology of things that we know (or think that we do). This mythology lives inside of our heads, providing structure and guidance for how we perceive things and how we handle new information -- our ongoing set of authentication credentials.

Product Positioning and Baseline Product Mythology
Most people don't make substantial rewrites to their knowledge mythology. With products and marketing, this often means that the first messages that they receive function as the ruler by which all future interactions are measured. Talk to someone about your iPhone 4 and they will probably ask you reception problems. If you talk with someone who doesn't use Facebook, they'll probably touch on privacy concerns. Sometimes these mythology memes may be constructed out of a single experience, "that company was late delivering my product once. I know that they are not a reliable supplier."

The battle for product positioning starts early, and those first experiences can be critical. If your price is too high or your product is too buggy, most people probably won't give it a second look. On the other hand, if you can create favorable impressions early, you can probably ride that mythology long past any connection to reality -- and the emerging market for Android phones is proving to be a great case study in that behavior.

Android Phones and the Myth of Free and Open
In the early positioning of Android phones by Google and the media, the meme was basically:
The iPhone is a closed system, limited and controlled by Apple. With Android, you have an open source phone OS that enables you to unlock any capabilities of the phone and use it however you want. All of those limitations that Apple has imposed like what software applications you can run on your phone are not limitations of Android. Multitasking, video streaming over your cellular network, Wifi hotspots -- whatever you want, downloaded from wherever you choose. 
Now, as you start to see Android phones propagating across the various carriers, you're also seeing where the carriers have applied the same approaches to Android phones that they have traditionally used for other phones -- limiting capabilities, locking the hardware down, and tightly coupling unique carrier-based software that can't be removed. Some have even opened their own application stores so that they can control that revenue stream. In short, they have taken the "open" platform and closed it. But, while it has some of the gadget-focused tech media upset, Android unit sales continue to race along.

Here's a link to a recent post on Techcrunch's "MobileCrunch" site. John Biggs has noted, along with a number of commenters, that T-Mobile has basically implemented a version of Android that prevents you from "rooting" the handset. If you try to "jailbreak" these handsets, embedded hardware will restore the unit to it's default state. MG Siegler has authored a number of other posts with concerns about the evolution of Android in the carriers' hands. The long and short of these concern's boil down to this -- that the carriers have looked at Android and recognized it as an opportunity to produce handsets with an advanced OS and minimal (if any) licensing fees.

What transforms this from a win-win for the carriers into a win-win-win is that consumers still see this as the free and open alternative to the iPhone. It doesn't really matter what the interface looks like. It doesn't really matter whether they would ever root their phone (or jailbreak their phone if they had an iPhone), they have already bought the sales pitch on the "free and open" OS message, and it will be about two years and a completed contract before they have the freedom to change their minds.

My point with all of this is that it no longer matters what the original position really was. It doesn't even matter if some (or most) Android phones just suck. It doesn't matter because, in their campaign to sell the "it's just as good as a xerox", they found a soft feature that they could promote and differentiate on.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Multi-tasking Projects, Time Management and The Invisible Gorilla - What Are You Missing?

In this recent post, I posted some videos and links to The Invisible Gorilla. And while the site features a number of interesting videos that highlight what we see and what we don't, since watching those videos I've found myself reflecting back on them quite a bit.

One aspect of the Invisible Gorilla tests that I think may be a bit understated is the way that the test engages your brain with deeper thought processes. I suspect that when the test gets you to count, your brain shifts gears from basic experiential observation into a more conceptual, internally focused mental process. While counting is probably one of the simpler functions like this, anyone who has found themselves lost in thought for extended moments in time has undergone a similar brain-processing experience. It's a little bit frightening if you've ever experienced it while driving.

While it's easy to connect this concept to the point of "why you missed all of these little details" that were going on around you, what I think get's lost is sort of the reverse side of the equation. If you create an environment where you expect someone to keep up with little details, they are never going to be able to lock in and engage in the deep thinking tasks. You'll never get an accurate count if you're watching for detail changes. And if you're expecting creativity, analysis, or complex code, you need to create an environment that frees your processing engine from these types of distractions.

In today's modern business environment, creating that kind of environment can be difficult. Most businesses attempt to minimize G&A expenses, so that usually means fewer resources to offload administrative tasks on or to route interrupts through. As we've democratized tools for managing our own activities, we've added interruption outlets. Finding ways to mitigate these distractions is a real management challenge.

It's also worth noting that as a creative manager, if you're dealing with management and administrative issues, it's probably going to be difficult for you to mentally shift gears and visualize complex creative or code interconnects. Instead of attempting to jump from complex analysis of one project into the other, consider some strategies to help you mentally shift gears into the type of mental processing that you need for the task at hand. Sometimes, this can be as simple as taking a moment to "refresh my memory on this" and reviewing the entire issue before responding or making a decision.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Who Needs Social Networking Anyway?

These days, you can't throw a rock without hitting yet another software service pushing social networking features. Social is the next killer app, or so we're told. Social is the feature that will vault your ho-hum service into the realm of Facebook or Twitter. Social is the must-have feature for services like touch is for smart phones.

The problem with social is that, while it makes sense to some, some isn't everyone. For all of those that are interested (or should be interested) in what somebody else is doing, there is an equal or larger number (I'll let you estimate the multiple) of people who not just don't care or can't be bothered -- knowing is an inconvenience. This is particularly true in the business world -- understanding why social is relevant can be difficult for many business users.

This issue is getting pushed to the front burner with the newest update to, Winter 11. With the Winter 11 release, Salesforce has activated Chatter for everyone -- force-feeding it to their customer base so to speak. If you're dealing with a user base that get's freaked out by changes or new technologies, this may have dropped you into a hurricane, but is it actually a tempest in a teapot?

Social Networking for Business
In the early days of Twitter, many of us dove into the technology, thrilled by the power of "follow". For many business users, follow was a cool idea, but Twitter wasn't secure for business communications. Then there was start-up company Yammer, and some similar knock-off companies that followed -- basically Twitter for business. We did some experimenting with Yammer, and while it did perform like Twitter, we struggled to find an effective use case for the platform. With Yammer -- simply basic Twitter functionality -- we found that emails and direct communications tended to supersede Yammer posts. Essentially, the problem with social was that it was like adding a layer of social to our social business interaction.

When they were first introducing Chatter at Salesforce's Dreamforce conference last year, initially I had the same feeling. Here was something that wouldn't really change the way that we use the software, instead acting like yet another add-on. But as I realized the potential impact of being able to follow key account or opportunity records, I started to get really excited. Here was an opportunity to roll up all of your important business activity into a single feed.

When Chatter first rolled out, I pushed and pushed to become part of the beta, and when we finally got it activated, my excitement turned to disappointment. While I had envisioned a system that, if you follow an account, would let you know when there were any related records that appeared (or were updated), the actual implementation didn't work that way. Currently in Chatter, you have to follow specific records to receive feed updates from those records, and it only generates feeds based on that record. In order words, you can follow an account and still not know if anything has happened (in terms of activity) on that account. Theoretically, this functionality will be implemented in a future release, but until that time, Chatter remains yet another social layer.

Don't get me wrong -- Chatter stands unique among most social networking tools for business in that it integrates business records, not just people. This has the potential to swing the balanced for business users that don't think that they care "what other people are doing." I'm truly looking forward to the future implementation of this functionality -- assuming they don't get side-tracked by adding some of the other "social" functionality features.

The Real Cornerstone of Social
While people and follow are often considered the core for social networking, I think that the real cornerstone of social is the aggregate feed. Whenever people ask me about Facebook or Twitter (particularly questioning their value), I try to explain it to them in terms of the feed. By simplifying and aggregating brief updates of all of the things that you follow -- and creating your own headline news -- you can more easily feel connected to the things that are important to you.

When Salesforce can get this functionality fully implemented into their platform with Chatter, it promises to be an incredibly powerful tool. Imagine following a key account in Salesforce and receiving an update whenever an invoice is sent to that account from an integrated Oracle system. Or maybe you need to see when your parts shipped from China. Imagine being able to get that data and review it on your iPhone while you're standing in the checkout line at Costco. Meanwhile, your account manager can customize their feed to follow any new cases created at their key accounts.

Simply put, the key to social is the customizable follow-feed relationship. With, Chatter, and your key business objects, you can see the lights coming, but there's still some time remaining before it runs over everything else. Hopefully they can get it implemented before they alienate the anti-social business users.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Pawn to Queen's Four

There's no need to over-think this. You simply need to execute...
When I used to play chess more frequently, I always liked the Queen's Gambit opening. Rather than simply making the standard pawn to King's four opening, the Queen's Gambit can be a disturbing experience for casual players that have come to expect a certain rhythm to the opening of the game. "Is it a mistake," they wonder. "Why would he do that?"

In business, we often play a predictable game, not really executing moves as much as mindless stepping to a choreographed dance. While these mindless rhythms can help relieve us from a need to focus on unimportant details and provide us comfort in the stability of the process, they can also mask problems with analysis and strategy. Sometimes the people that you have to work with just want to keep it simple because they don't know any other way. Sometimes you can be successful in the business world by following predictable steps and telling everyone that you are a chess master -- and that's probably why I enjoy the Queen's Gambit so much.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

What's Wrong With Meg Whitman

The political season is starting to ramp up and, as with other election cycles, I sometimes find myself surprised by the things that happen. One of my greatest disappointments this year happened when Techcrunch published a "guest author" with an endorsement of Meg Whitman. While Techcrunch has published some political posts in the past, my recollection is that most of them were much more issue-focused, typically centered around tech or policies that impact VCs or start-ups.

Of course, I wasn't the only one surprised by the post; the comments section raged. For me, the most amusing comments centered around blunders she made as CEO of eBay -- like in the execution of the acquisition of Paypal or the complete failure of the acquisition of Skype. While your average member of the public might equate "successful company, former CEO" to "CEO produced success", here in Silicon Valley business is one of our pastimes and it probably gets more coverage than sports.

But I found that the greatest irony of the Meg Whitman post was the positioning. The Techcrunch post (and others that I've seen) positioned Whitman as "the Silicon Valley candidate", leveraging her experience here as justification for her candidacy. Of course, if you look at the polls, Whitman isn't leading here in the Bay Area. Instead, she polls better in the central valley and conservative regions of the state where they're happy to eat up her parroting of Fox News-Tea Party positions.And when she did a press event in the offices of Yelp the other day, she faced a cynical audience who questioned her misrepresentative advertising.

Considering that Whitman has spent over $100 million dollars of her own fortune to put her campaign into the position she now holds, one marketing lesson that you can take from this whole experience is that, with a large enough marketing budget, you can buy some level of market adoption. This strategy seems oddly more in line with some of the tactics from Microsoft, like with Bing and Internet Explorer. Maybe instead of being Silicon Valley's candidate, Whitman should position herself as the Redmond candidate.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

We Don't Need That Type of Marketing - Changing Cultures, Changing Minds

To a marketing pro, the absence of an established marketing program can look like a gold mine of opportunity -- no expectations, no limits, your opportunity to build and shape things, to put your stamp on everything. There's just one problem, that absence of program means that either someone (or a group of someones) didn't think it was a good idea; or they had no concept of it -- which, for them, probably translates as not a good idea.

On first glance, you might go into a situation like this with an eye on the gold mine and a belief that changing the culture might be challenging but not impossible. In all likelihood, what you are embarking upon is a sisyphean task with few rewards and very little gold.

You may have capabilities and personality traits that make it worse
Perhaps you're like me, sort of a marketing special forces unit. By that I mean, drop you into a chaotic situation where things are spinning out of control and objectives look difficult to obtain, and you are able to rescue things, to produce results, to make lemonade look like a cornerstone of the menu. Do people often call on you to rescue projects and activities that are in a desperate situation?

It's a great skill to have in a start-up environment, but when you're in a culture that doesn't understand how it got into the chaos, it probably won't understand the scope of your accomplishments. If things fail, nobody understands why they failed. And if everything is successful, there wasn't a tangible cost to getting there the wrong way.

The Problem With Marketing Recipes
If you cook, then you understand that when you're following a recipe, you often find yourself lacking one ingredient or another and substituting as appropriate. When you substitute, you usually attempt to stick within categories of ingredients based on function; substituting sugar and you might use honey, or molasses, or Nutrasweet; need an acid and you might substitute lemon juice, vinegar, or wine. We all understand these substitutions because we can taste them and tangibly understand them.

People don't understand marketing on the same level. They don't understand the difference between product marketing and PR. Where we see an ecosystem, they see a word -- marketing. While they can taste marketing in outbound deliverables, everything that went into that deliverable is umami, that sense of richness and depth of flavor that makes things taste good. And just like many modern eaters, people who don't understand are willing to eat bland, mediocre food simply because it looks like food.

Your Arguments Can't Save an Ecosystem from the Unenlightened
Your ideas are complex. They have inter-linkages and building those inter-linkages is the essence of marketing execution. People who don't understand can't see the inter-linkages; they don't understand fundamental concepts. And while you may envision a linear path to enlightenment through one piece of the puzzle at a time, few will grasp the ecosystem -- the Marketing Gaia -- unless they can see it in it's entirety ("can your team set that up in the lab so that we can review everything?"). And there you stand, like Al Gore giving his Inconvenient Truth presentation, trying to sell an audience not only on the interrelationship of things, but to bring them to the point of taking action and making a change...
  • We haven't introduced any new products, so we don't really need product marketing...
  • We're thinking about launching an ultra-low price model to compete with our low-cost competitor...
  • All we really need is an updated catalog... no a datasheet... no a catalog... can we get both...
  • This product isn't new, it's just something we've been working on for a while... can we get it out there so we can sell it...

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Long Tail Is Connected To The Big Dog

With yesterday's announcement of Blockbuster filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, we pass yet another milestone in the disruptive path from the world of before the Internet to our modern online world. And while Blockbuster's announcement isn't much of a surprise -- travel through any neighborhood strip mall and you can find an empty shell of a store that once was a Blockbuster or a Hollywood Video -- it still stands a noteworthy milestone.

The subtitle of this whole story might be "the one-time big dog of the video rental industry was brought down by the Long Tail." Or maybe a variation on Clint Eastwood's line from A Fistful of Dollars, "the Long Tail on the one side, a vending machine on the other, and Blockbuster in the middle." Of course, it didn't work out for Blockbuster like it did for Clint.

You can look at the fall of Blockbuster from a variety of angles. From a customer experience marketing perspective, I like to reflect on all of those times when Blockbuster took an arrogant, self-serving approach to customer service. Many of their worst customer service issues could be rolled up into one phrase, "late fees." If there were no late fees, there might not have been a Netflix. Late fees inspired Netflix and served as a key differentiator early on. Think about the number of those angry, frustrated Blockbuster customers, just growing over time. In the end, did they have any passionate brand champions?

For me, the other interesting take-away is the traditional media versus the Internet. Whether it's retail, movies and music stores, or traditional media, so many of the businesses have built revenue models based entirely around content delivery. The Internet has changed that and is continuing to change that. Successful businesses have this integrated into their framework. Traditional businesses that innovate around this notion continue to thrive. What's comic is watching some of these companies and businesses that try to dig in their heels, build bigger walls, and hold back the oncoming wave.

Early this year, one of the major studios signed a deal with Netflix and Redbox to delay the availability of their new release movies for 30 days. The idea was that, during that 30 days, more people might buy new release DVDs. Blockbuster was exempted from the limitation.

Speaking for myself, I did not buy a single new release DVD or Blue-ray disc (not a significant change in my buying behavior). I also didn't make an effort to find a Blockbuster to rent a newer release movie -- I simply didn't care. My Long Tail of content is much broader than they see. Whether it's blogs on the Internet, 400 channels on the cable television, video games, or simple quiet time, I have so many more options for my attention that I simply don't care about most movies as content. As content, they haven't done anything exceptional to win my attention recently. Meanwhile, their content deliver business continues to search for ways to further confound and frustrate me.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Search Engine Optimization and Google Instant

Here's a link to a post on Techcrunch written by Eli Feldblum, the CTO & Co-Founder of RankAbove, a provider of scalable SEO solutions for SEO professionals working at or on large web properties. In this post, he provides some analysis of how your keyword results may change as a result of Google Instant.

Guest Post: How Google Instant Can Help (And Hurt) SEO

Monday, September 20, 2010

On Code Monkeys, Technology, and Your Audience Culture Vocabulary

Over the years I've run into a number of former colleagues who say something like, "I still remember that fill-in-the-blank design that you did. It was so funny. That was great." I even had a colleague from my work 10 years ago approach me recently, asking for help in creating an new cool t-shirt. It's a narcissistic temptation to take on a project like that, but keep in mind that the project path is filled with pitfalls, not the least of which is your vocabulary.

While we are all extremely proud of the creative genius that lives inside of us, it's easy to forget that your creative trophy was the unique convergence of ideas in time. There was you and your audience. Your creative piece said something in a language that you held in common. You could understand, they could understand, it wasn't too far out and it wasn't cliche.

Creatively, the danger you face when you try to communicate with a culture that you aren't immersed in is, that even when you use the words, you won't actually be communicating. If you don't live in the world of code monkeys, you won't really be able to talk with the animals. It's like when your parents tried to talk to you using 'your' vocabulary -- they just sounded silly. But just as generations of parents have tried to communicate with kids using 'their' vocabulary, marketers, designers, and communicators try to connect and capture audiences that they don't understand. Probably the most common result is cliche.

Now the cool thing about cliche is that many people can't really tell the difference between art and cliche. Often, if you create a "cool" work of art that is similar to "cool" stuff that your audience has seen or design in a context that is familiar to them, they will accept it -- perhaps even be very pleased with it. As designers, this is our bread and butter, the thing that keeps food on the table -- but don't confuse this with the art that speaks.

Great Ideas Aren't Limited to Niche Specialists...
While it may seem like I'm saying that you need to have an niche specialist in order to produce memorable creative, that's not the case. A one dimensional view of a niche will also produce flat creative. Great ideas connect with our humanity and communicate to the parts of us that exist beyond stereotypes and categorizations. They draw upon our cultural knowledge, carrying us in a rhythm that we understand, only to surprise us with something new.

As designers and communicators, ultimately our most effective connection point is that common humanity -- we may be engineers, we may be executives, or we may be consumers, but we are all human. Sure, we may want to believe that fart jokes are low-brow humor and that we're above it, but this same commonality helps carry many Hollywood movies and sell iPhone applications. That's not to say that your next ad campaign should be based on a fart joke -- but it might make more sense than those initial ads for the Palm Pre.

More Net Neutrality - T-Mobile's Text Tax

Here's another good technology post from Techcrunch. This is a guest post from Scott Jones, CEO of ChaCha. ChaCha provides a service where you send questions and they send you a text with your answers. This is a good breakdown of Net Neutrality and Mobile -- Why Net Neutrality Needs to Be Extended to Mobile Platforms.

Remember when mobile Internet was thought to be the savior of an open Internet and Internet broadband. Mobile Internet was going to free us from the limited number of offerings available from the wired carriers. Don't worry -- the carriers will fix that...

A Good Analysis of Intel's Recent M&A Activity

Most of us around the valley always look at these Intel acquisitions and roll our eyes. They always fail. Of course, it's one thing to say that, it's another thing to write a more in-depth analysis of it. Here's a great one published yesterday over on TechCrunch. Why Intel’s M&A Binge Will Fail – Buying Growth is Not a Strategy by Steve Cheney is worth a read.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Multi-tasking, Distracted Driving, and How We Pay Attention

NPR's Science Friday program this week featured an intestesting segment on How We Pay Attention. As part of the show, they included these two video tests available on their site.

Watch the first video, then watch the second. I wound up wrestling with frame drops from YouTube, so you may want to try and let the entire video load before you watch it.

1. Here's the first video:

2. Here's the second video:

Here's a link to the Science Friday segment on attention on NPR.
Here's a link to the book that's referenced in the segment. I won't mention the title as it might work like a spoiler for your video tests. FYI, there's more great stuff on their web site.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

An Interesting Look at How Google Does Hiring

I came across this post from Don Dodge on Twitter earlier today -- or I should say that I came across it because Google retweeted it. It's a very detailed overview of the Google hiring process. It's worth a read. While I don't think that there are any great revelations in the piece (to me it feels like it was drafted by their PR group), it's interesting overall.

Also noteworthy is his reference to the practice of asking phone interviewees their GPA and SAT scores. The SAT question was new to me but you can file that one under reason number 421 why I won't be hired at Google any time soon - I don't remember my SAT scores. Of course, back in my day, all the schools in the south used ACT scores - I took the SAT for my own amusement and I don't remember what I got, but that won't matter. The underlying subtext of this piece -- and many of these tests and questions -- can be summarized in one simple statement from Google hiring master Yoda: too old; too old to start the training and enjoy the compensation and the benefits or the cafeterias; too old.

Sent from my iPhone

Monday, September 6, 2010

Tax Incentives and Economic Stimulus - Macroeconomics from a Marketing Perspective

As we sit here on Labor Day weekend, there are a lot of news stories being published about the poor economy, the high unemployment rate, and about how much these things suck and that they don't seem to be getting better with any speed. In politics, the current economic situation typically get's split into two solution paths:
  • For Republicans and conservatives, it's all about tax cuts. The strategy basically boils down to the proposal that, "if we can just make it less expensive for business to buy new equipment, they will buy new equipment, grow their business, and that investment will trickle down through the economy."
  • For Democrats and some liberals, it's about economic stimulus. This strategy basically boils comes down to the idea that, "if we spend money to fix roads and the transportation infrastructure, then all of those people who build roads will have money to spend. When we fix the roads, it will make transportation easier for everyone and society will benefit. In addition, it will make it easier for manufacturers to transport their stuff."
Now I realize that these two positions overly simplify the debate over economic stimulus and how to fix the economy, but this simplified approach will make it easier to get to the issues that I want to focus on. Keep in mind, I'm not an economist, just a marketing professional with an understanding of politics and some common issues that businesses wrestle with.

Tax Incentives, Infrastructure Stimulus, and The Myth of 'If We Build It, They Will Come'
Everyone remembers that quote from Field of Dreams, but this is a common theme in the business world. Despite MRDs, PRDs, user profiles and various other customer requirements documents, business people (sales, marketing, and engineers) love to design and build without taking customer usage or markets into account. Often, these forays into bad design result from good intentions, but like kitchen-sink functionality, the sum of it's parts is often worse than a simpler, more well-designed and focused product. That being said, let's ask some questions and do some target market analysis to evaluate the actual opportunity for success from the various approaches.

For me, the tax incentives for businesses to invest in their capital equipment is fairly easy to deconstruct. While it's easy to see that businesses have a lot of money and business spending certainly drives the economy, businesses don't behave like individuals. You won't find a business sitting around waiting for the price of an XBox to drop $50 before they buy one. Instead, if there is a market, or a demand that they can't meet with their current equipment, then they will invest. And while the tax incentives may help tip the scale in terms of some ROI edge cases, it isn't the kind of thing that you can count on for long term growth -- if you could by a refrigerator every year because you got a credit on your taxes, would you go through the hastle and cost to do it particularly when this year's model doesn't change functionality much beyond last year's model?

Meanwhile back in the other camp, while I like the idea of smooth roads and infrastructure, at best this is only a partial solution -- like the number of companies that added 'app-stores' in the wake of Apple's success with the iPhone. While it's probably a feature that has been long neglected, is it a platform-changer? In other words, does it change the status quo enough to open up new investment, new growth, new technologies and markets? Instead, I would suggest that it's akin to trying to solve the problems of traditional media by having the government buy new printing presses.

Market Successes in the Heart of the Economic Downturn
If you want to find the engines for economic resurgence, look at the markets that have been successful in the past year or two and what's driving them. Here are a couple that I would highlight:
  • Green Tech
    • Solar
    • LEDs
    • Hybrid vehicles
  • The Smart Phone Economy
    • Smart Phones
    • Applications and software for smart phones
    • Social networks
These market segments have been growing in spite of the struggling economy. What's driving them? What's the secret to success? Why are average, everyday consumers spending for precious dollars for products in these segments in spite of the bad economy? More importantly, what can we do to facilitate these markets? Or markets like them? Here are a few topic areas -- some of which have come up, others haven't.
  • Expanded wireless spectrum availability or mandated investment
  • Expanded broadband coverage
  • Expanded communications network bandwidth
  • Network Neutrality
In the end, should we be focused on paving the highways or the 'Information Superhighway'?

Monday Morning Reading: Paul Carr's Post on Techcrunch on New Journalism

Skimming through Techcrunch this morning, I came found myself reading through Paul Carr's post, Rollover Minutes: How Adam Penenberg Has Legitimised New, New, New Journalism. Again. It's an amusing read in terms of the state of journalism, traditional media versus online media, and the great myth of the firewall between editorial and advertising.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Compare Best Buy in-store pick-up to Barnes & Noble

I happened to be out shopping and I noticed this in front of the Best Buy at Santana Row -- a reserved parking spot.

Bait and Switch: How I Almost Bought a Book at Barnes & Noble, Then They Lost My Business

So I'm doing some analysis and putting together a roadmap presentation for future implementation of In doing some research and trying to build some graphics, I came across an interesting site that lead me to an interesting book, Enterprise Architecture As Strategy.

The more that I looked at the book, the more I realized that I was interesting in buying it. A quick found that Amazon offered the lowest price, but Barnes and Noble wasn't that much more expensive and they offered the option of in-store pick-up. Since we're on the front end of a 3-day weekend, it seemed like a great opportunity to catch up on some reading. The web site noted that one of the local Barnes & Noble stores had the book in stock. However, as I started to reserve a copy for in-store pick-up, I noticed that the price had jumped from the competitive online price, back to the list price which was significantly higher.

Just to check that this wasn't some sort of error, I made a quick call to the store and they confirmed that the price would be higher for in-store pick-up. The store would not honor the lower price.

Needless to say, I'm not going to buy the book from Barnes & Noble. Further, now that I understand their pricing policies and the difference between their online price and their in-store price, I don't expect to shop there again. Don't get me wrong -- I appreciate the concept of a brick and mortar bookstore, of being able to wander and browse. I don't even mind paying a premium for a good in-store brick-and-mortar experience. The biggest problem that I have is that, with this online reservation system, I've essentially bought the product online and, as a convenience for both B&N and myself, I make the effort to go pick it up.

It's possible that this pricing strategy makes sense when you add up all of the costs in some complex number and accounting analysis, but in plain old consumer speak, the underlying message from B&N reads like this:
We have a great resource for finding books online. We are also very competitive with other book stores on the internet. But we're better than the internet because we have actual stores, so you can come pick up your book. Oh, we forgot to mention -- if you are going to make the extra effort to come to our store and get your book, we're going to charge you more for your extra effort.
Other retailers have found ways to successfully sell online and brick and mortar without using this two-tiered pricing scheme. Apple, Best Buy, and Costco are just a few of the companies that operate effectively in both worlds. In that way, the Barnes & Noble pricing strategy may be one of the best indicators that B&N's business strategy still hasn't adapted the Internet.

In some ways, B&Ns approach seems like a surrender to the idea that their retail store experience offers no value add, no opportunity to upsell or to add items to the customer's cart. Now it's likely that they have done much more in-depth studies on their customer's behavior, but it truly seems like their pricing strategy was designed by someone who was more worried about in-store customers using the online system to cut into their margins. Compare that with Apple, where you can schedule an appointment online for an in-store shopping experience.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Breaking Bad: the AT&T MicroCell and Your Craptacular Mobile Signal Strength at Home - Initial Review

If you found this post, it probably means that you have poor cell coverage at home and you're wondering whether the AT&T 3G MicroCell can solve your problem. I've had the AT&T MicroCell running for several days now. While my time on calls using the 3G MicroCell is still somewhat limited, I wanted to share some operational experiences with you.

General Background
The 3G MicroCell has been offered by AT&T as a solution for improving your coverage in areas where the existing cell signal is week. Functioning like a wireless router, the device connects to your broadband connection and provides an access point for up to 10 AT&T phone lines. Note that these phone lines must be registered with AT&T, and it only works on 3G phones. Also, like a wireless router, it's signal radiates out from the unit and walls reduce the distance that the signal can go.

Set-Up and Configuration
As noted in my earlier post, set-up and configuration were fairly straightforward. You need to be able to log into your AT&T account on line to register the unit, and when you first set it up, it wants to be close to a window so that it can get a GPS signal. It uses GPS and a registered location for 911 tracking. My only comment on this is that I'm surprised by how long it takes for the unit to train.

Basic Performance
Once I activated the 3G MicroCell, I've been getting 4-5 bars throughout my home. The unit alerts you when you are connected to the MicroCell by changing the network display indicator on your phone. However, even with the unit centered inside my home, when I go outside, I find the signal falls off quickly.

I haven't dropped a call while talking on the 3G MicroCell when I've been in 'strong' coverage areas of my home, but I have experienced several calls where the call quality had issues. Basically, the call seems to experience some sort of packet drop -- like someone turned on a metronome and every click is a moment of silence. A couple of times, I've wound up redialing the person in an effort to correct the issue.

The place were the 3G MicroCell causes the biggest problems is when you get close to the edge of coverage. Theoretically, the MicroCell should shift your coverage over to the strongest available 3G cell signal (your local tower); however, if you have been on the 3G network for any length of time, you probably already know that switching networks is one of the times when calls frequently drop. And drop they do -- so far I've dropped nearly every call near the edge of the 3G MicroCell coverage. Of course, even if the switch between networks was seamless, you are probably still moving into an area with craptacular coverage, so you'd expect some issues.

Yesterday, I actually wound up unplugging the 3G MicroCell.  For whatever reason, yesterday my iPhone decided to stop receiving incoming calls -- this has happened to me before. Instead, I would simply get an alert that there was a new voice mail on my phone. After restarting my iPhone several times and wrestling with the same issue, I decided to unplug the 3G MicroCell.

Is the 3G MicroCell the Solution for You?
If you have really bad cell service in your home (0-2 bars), you might want to consider the 3G MicroCell. However, the decision may not be straightforward. Here are some guidelines that you might use to make your decision:
  • If you are in a location where the 3G MicroCell is all that stands between you and no coverage (like your cabin in the mountains), you may want to consider it. The device will create a cell signal. However, it definitely has issues with range and it's not clear how much bandwidth requires on your broadband connection. If you have multiple people using the 3G MicroCell at the same time, I don't know well it will perform.
  • If you are in a location where you have spotty coverage in your home and you can expect to be inside or within the 3G MicroCell coverage area for extended periods of time, you might want to consider it. The device would be a better supplemental solution if it didn't take so long to activate.
  • If you have spotty coverage but you frequently run errands while talking on the phone (going in and out of the coverage area), I wouldn't recommend the device unless you intend to plan periods of time when you don't leave the coverage area. I experienced too many call drops at the edge of the 3G MicroCell network to recommend it as a solution.
  • If you have 2 or more bars of coverage in the area around your home (inside will always be worse), I wouldn't recommend the 3G MicroCell. The dropped calls that you experience are inconvenient, but you'll probably experience more headaches with the device than without it.

Monday, August 30, 2010

A Few Weekend Links You Might Have Missed

Here's a quick roll-up of some good reading you might have missed over the weekend:

Behind The Bidding War: The Real Reasons Why HP And Dell are So Desperate For 3Par - This is a nice overview of the quest to purchase 3Par.

Founder Institute: How To Launch In 10 Steps With Less Than $2,000 - A nice recipe for baking a start-up.

And some hiring / employment culture posts from Techcrunch:

Too Few Women In Tech? Stop Blaming The Men. - An interesting read from Michael Arrington on the lack of women who lead start-ups.

Silicon Valley’s Dark Secret: It’s All About Age - is an interesting look at the age and salary in Silicon Valley. It profiles a study out of UC Berkeley. The general take away -- don't expect to grow old as a code monkey.

Last but not least, there was this very cool gadget / artwork post -- check this one out:
An Interview With Japanese Steampunk Artist Haruo Suekichi

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Playing to Your Inner Geek - Fun Stuff

I've been working on this post on cultural vocabulary off and on for some time. As I write, I keep facing the realization that there are a couple of things that I want to post that just don't quite fit in. For that reason and no other, here are some things work checking out:

The Think Geek Web Site
This site is, in a word -- AWESOME. It's filled with so many amusing things that you can spend an entire day just browsing. I like the site so much, I've even thought about becoming an affiliate.
Killer Coding Ninja Monkeys t-shirt
from Think Geek
Code Monkey - The Song
After a YouTube search and watching several video versions of this song, I liked the animation in this video version the best. Enjoy!

Friday, August 27, 2010

The FTC Settles Another Case Over Reviews and Endorsements by Online Marketers

I was listening the Marketplace Money radio program on NPR, and they highlighted a settlement yesterday in the world of Internet Marketing and app review on Apple's iTunes store.

Here is a great link to a post that wraps up the entire story from the Citizen's Media Law Project (CLMP) -- it's worth a read.

They also highlight an earlier case where the FTC went after Ann Taylor Loft for creating an affiliate-based offering that provided bloggers with "a special sneak preview" that would then offer them a gift, followed by participation in a drawing for a special gift if they posted about the event. Here's a link to the Citzen's Media Law Project's post on that article.

However, if you're reading this, you might also be interested to note this comment from the CMLP in the Ann Taylor post:
As noted in CMLP's legal guide, after adopting the rule the FTC assured bloggers and social media contributors that it was not likely to pursue them for not following the disclosure guidelines.  Instead, the Commission said that it would target the advertisers who offer the freebies (PRNewser; Dow Jones Newswires). 
For reference, I've also included a link to the CMLP's legal guide, Is the FTC Really Going to Sue Bloggers.

AT&T MicroCell is now Up and Running

Just a quick update on my earlier posts -- I now have the AT&T MicroCell booster up and running. While configuration and set-up were pretty straightforward, I was surprised by how long it takes for the unit to train to the AT&T network. When you go through the activation process for the first time, AT&T tells you that the process could take up to 90 minutes for the unit to get a GPS signal and activate. It seems like the thing that takes the longest time is for the unit to decide to start broadcasting a 3G signal.

All that being said, as I walk around, I have 5 bars throughout the apartment. In terms of that, everything seems to be good.

A couple of things that I came across in the manual that are probably worth noting:
  • When you're on a call on the 3G network, your call won't automatically transfer to the MicroCell. This means that you may need to hang up and redial if you go from a call on the road to the MicroCell coverage inside of the house.
  • Calls initiated on the MicroCell will transfer to the 3G network when you move outside of the covered area. The signal will automatically transfer to the strongest 3G signal. However, once again, if you go in and out of the area, I don't expect that it will transfer back once it has left the coverage area.
In all though, initially the coverage boost seems to be helpful. So far, the only signal anomaly that I have experienced while on a call -- I picked up a digital signal hick-up in the voice transmission during one ongoing phone call. But the bigger question -- how many drop calls have I avoided?

Getting Ready to test AT&T's Microcell Booster

After some back and forth negotiations with AT&T customer service, I was able to come to an agreement with them and I've purchased a Microcell booster. After I finish lunch, I'll set it up. Look for my review soon to follow.

Sent from my iPhone

A Quick Tip For Using Blogger

This morning I was working on a couple of blog posts that I've been writing. As I worked my way through a draft, I realized that, essentially, I wanted to revert to the version that I started with, and I started undoing the changes that I had made. Unfortunately, Blogger seems to remember only a select number of those changes -- once you go beyond those, it basically deletes your entire post and lets you start from scratch. Follow that up with a quick, software-based auto-save, and the next thing that you know, you have gone from making edits to rewriting your entire post.

Some Blogger features that could stand some improvement:
  1. Control over the auto-save settings -- while it's great to save frequently, it would be nice to be able to control a timer or provide a setting that enabled you to block autosave.
  2. A revert feature -- sometime similar to subversion that allowed you to roll back to previous drafts would be really helpful. This is basically a standard feature in most design and publishing software. 
Hopefully, this will be helpful for you. For me, it's back to the drawing board on two posts that I was working on.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Updated Integration Between Blog, Twitter, and Facebook

I was doing some experimenting with the blog today and I've updated Marketing To Me with some new publishing features.
  1. I've created a page in Facebook. With a quick Google search, you should be able to fine some fairly straightforward instructions for creating a page in Facebook and linking it to your blog. I used the notes feature in Facebook to publish new content from the RSS feed. We'll see how the whole thing takes off.
  2. I've updated my Feedburner settings to automatically publish a Twitter post whenever I publish a new blog post. This is a new setting in Feedburner, and if, like me, you find yourself going jumping across different applications in order to publish links to your new post, this is a big time saver. Cool features include automatic link shortening and the ability to automatically write text at the beginning of each post.
I'll let you know how in all works out.

A Netflix App for the iPhone is now available for download

I saw where the Netflix app is now available for the iPhone. I just loaded this on my iPhone4 and watched a quick round of Wallace and Gromit over wifi. Let me just say, it's pretty awesome. I highly recommend it.

As I write this, I'm sitting back with a smile, reflecting on a time when I couldn't imagine watching video on my cell phone and now feeling like I've been sold on the concept. 

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

On Google, Net Neutrality, Political Activism and Brand Identity

With the recent news on the Google-Verizon agreement on Net Neutrality, across the Internet there has been an explosion of outrage over Google's position. People are angry at Google. I've seen several posts highlighting how this new position completely contradicts their previously stated position.

It's worth noting that all of the outrage coverage has been directed at Google, not Verizon. I suspect that the reason for this is brand identity and expected position. In the general public, there is little question that Verizon is a business focused on their earnings and profits. Verizon doesn't promote itself with messages like "Don't be Evil." And while Verizon probably participates in charities and social philanthropy at a level similar to most large corporations, I don't think that you'll find anyone who believes that Verizon is aligned to a moral compass. It's a business, and as a business, you expect the company to pursue goals that will yield more income, more profits.

Google, in contrast, has been at the forefront of numerous moral and ethical debates. From privacy to it's business in China, Google has found itself delicately trying to balance moral compass with business expediency. In that way, the problem for Google with it's recent position in the Net Neutrality debate is that the business looked at the opportunities and business potential and chose to compromise. From a business perspective that's understandable, but from a moral compass standpoint it falls short.

Blending Politics and Business Can Become a PR IED
While many businesses invest in lobbying and the politics of attempting to shape the business climate, recent court rulings like the Citizens United case have broadly expanded the potential scope of political spending. It's now possible for businesses to contribute to political campaigns with limited restrictions. However, just because many of the legal spending restrictions have been removed, it doesn't eliminate the branding and PR landmine that can result from this kind of activity.

The easiest example of this danger happened during the Minnesota primary elections (here's a link to an article with some back story). Whether it was a business decision or driven by the politics of their CEO, Target decided to contribute to the campaign of a "pro-business" Republican candidate. Here's a quote from the ABC article with the rest of the story:
Target Corp. sparked a firestorm  in recent weeks after gay rights advocates, employees and some customers protested the company's financial support for Emmer, who opposes same-sex marriage. The company's CEO Gregg Steinhafel later apologized.

Schultz said much of the backlash at Target may have been due to the image they have been publicly cultivating with their customers. "You didn't see much backlash at Best Buy or Polaris because they aren't billing themselves as socially-responsible," he said.

"Different businesses will face different public relations problems with their political contributions," said Schier. "Going forward after the Target flap, I think you can expect fewer conspicuous corporate donations from high-profile businesses."
Now it could be that the entire issue will simply pass once the election is over, but it's clearly a potential hazard associated with this type of spending.

In the case of Google and Net Neutrality, regardless of the position that they decide to take with respect to where there business interests lie, it's worth noting that when it comes to advocating Net Neutrality, if not Google, then who? What other company or political entity has the position and standing to advocate for all of our interests and the future of the Internet?

Product Management: Manipulating Your Product Through Packaging

I was in the shower the other day when I had one of those ah-ha moments -- about product packaging and manipulating customer experience. As it happens, I've been using this Pantene Pro-V Restoratives Time Renewal shampoo. It seems like it's a very concentrated product designed for "specialized, limited use", and so one of the things that I like about it is that it doesn't take much shampoo to wash your hair. While the shampoo was priced higher than some of the others in their product line, it required so little product that it still seemed like a good value. Needless to say, I went from sample pack to tube to second tube.

It was my experience with the second tube that sent me into this ah-ha moment. As I opened the cap and started to squeeze out shampoo, I noticed that the product seemed to flood my hand. Since I had just finished the previous tube, I did a quick comparison. Sure enough, the dispenser hole on the new cap was 1 or 2 mm larger in diameter, enabling the product do dispense faster, increase shampoo consumption, and make the customer (me) purchase more frequently.

We're all familiar with this tactic. We learn early in our youth comparing the large diameter straws at MacDonalds with other fast food restaurants (I think that this experience is at the heart of the great "they're trying to fill me up on bread" conspiracy).

But don't underestimate the awesomeness of this tactic. As a consumer, while I might be frustrated for a brief moment when the light bulb goes on, it's probably not going make such a negative impression that I will jump ship and change brands. And while you can argue that it's designed to increase consumption, the branding devil's advocate could easily argue that it doesn't necessarily increase consumption -- you the consumer still have control over that -- it simply makes it easier for you to dispense the product which may lead to an increase in consumption.

What's more, compare increasing the diameter of the hole to doing something like diluting the product. By diluting the product, you're potentially introducing change into the performance of the product, the look and feel, etc. All of these factors are far more likely to spur your customer to jump ship.

Unfortunately, we don't all get to work with products with usage models that enable us to increase the diameter of the hole. But remember, creativity means that we're working with analogies -- can you find a way to increase the diameter of the dispenser hole on your product?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

What Lies Beneath - The Potential of Embedded Software Hidden in the Net Neutrality Debate

The recent announcement from Google and Verizon has brought Net Neutrality back into the public spotlight. From a branding and marketing perspective, it's probably worth a look at the broad negative reaction to Google and why there isn't the same sense of outrage about Verizon. However, rather than exploring that topic, I want to dive deeper look into the technology and point out some deeper areas that this issue touches.

NPR did a quick clip on Net Neutrality the other morning. One thing that always drives me crazy is when reporters characterize the regulation as something that network providers "might do". They like to characterize the whole thing as, "sometime in the future, network providers may use traffic management techniques to provide you with a paid version of the HOV lane so that you can watch Hulu without packet loss." Or they characterize it as, "those kids downloading files on Bit Torrent are crowding your Internet tubes and slowing you down -- we're gonna make'em pay extra for using up your tubes!" What they never mention is that providers use traffic management and manipulation now -- and there are no laws that prevent them from doing that.

The real impact of this manipulation is much broader than simply lag time when accessing high-bandwidth services. The easiest example might be with a service like Skype. Imagine a world where your carrier decide that Skype is a threat to a key profit center -- like long distance. Why not block the service (as AT&T initially did with the iPhone app on their 3G networks)? But perhaps complete blocking would be too obvious and gather to much public outrage. Suppose that they simply selectively degrade the service, making it appear to perform poorly or interrupt calls so that you're experience using the product makes you think that it sucks?

How To Personalize a Bad Experience
Several month back, I published links to a Techcrunch series that they called "Scamville". One aspect of that series that might be overlooked is a technique used by "Scammy" advertisers to avoid getting their ads shut down. What they did was look at the location that the IP address and then filter to block scammy ads from appearing to users from areas where the ad auditors might be.

People often underestimate how much the software that's running the device shapes their perception of the device. In our simple approach to understanding complex technology, we often look at sophisticated devices like our cable TV receiver or our broadband modem and imagine it working like a toaster -- you turn it on, it starts working. In reality, modern electronic devices conduct sophisticated communications back and forth between the unit and it's home base.

Take DSL signaling as an example. Back in the days when I worked in the DSL industry, there was one company that made a chipset that was widely adopted as the industry standard. DSL signaling requires that the chips in the phone company equipment speak the same language as the chips in the modem. When some other companies tried to make interoperable equipment, they often found that, while it was possible to mimic the market-leading chipset for a short period of time, the market-leader's chipsets could 'figure out' that there wasn't a matched chipset on the other side and would then reduce the performance of the connection. This is part of the reason why you can't just use 'any old modem' on your broadband connection and your network provider gets to decide what hardware will work.

Increasing Revenue by Getting Your Existing Customer to Buy More
What happens if your network provider decides that they want to farm a little bit more revenue from you? Consider this example: back when I had DSL, one day the DSL modem just stopped connecting. Lights came on, unplug, replug, all of the usual fixes -- but no connection. Eventually, the service tech came out, said that the modem was dead and that we needed a new one -- our cost, only $200. What I realized at the time was, how do you know what caused the modem to die? It could easily be affected by software on the network provider's side.

But imagine this same strategy using the added information provided by today's increasingly intelligent devices. With today's smart phones, network providers have the increased access to location data. What happens if AT&T, in an attempt to sell it's Micro-cell signal booster device, tweaks their network performance to drop your calls more frequently when your location is "home"?

Next Generation Product Life-cycle Management
Today's smart devices offer manufacturers increased potential to manage user experience and product lifecycle through ongoing communications with the product in the field. And while many people have read about jailbreaking their iPhone (and Apple's efforts to update their software to block jailbreaking), what happens when your blue-ray player manufacturer decides that you need to upgrade? Or maybe they want to coordinate 'device failures' with a next generation product launch? But it might be even more subtle than that. What if, in an effort to get existing customers to purchase more blue-ray discs, the manufacturer subtly changes the DVD decoding algorithm so that it seems like your DVDs are 'wearing out'?

Does it all seem too far out, too far fetched? If you can't see the connection between manufacturer and media, keep in mind that this is the area where corporate alliances are driven. And going back to my DSL modem, consider this scenario: the decision to use software to force a hardware change could be made at a high level -- the customer-facing tech may never know -- in that way, he becomes a believable, honest word-of-mouth product specialist stating, "these things just die."

This kind of manipulation is a subtext of Net Neutrality. While this level of product manipulation may carry a host of moral and ethical questions for you, as more devices add intelligence and sophistication, more and more platforms will be available for this kind of manipulation. However, as someone in marketing, you need to realize that this also offers the potential for new ecosystems and new revenue streams. But before any of that can happen, you need a product that has intelligence and can communicate. So before you find yourself in your own Net Neutrality debate, the real question is: do you have intelligence, communication and end-user awareness in your product roadmap?

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Unexamined Life

For the past few weeks, I've been working with an intern from one of the local universities. I have to say that it's been a lot of fun for me -- I've always enjoyed teaching, analyzing things, and so much of the actual process that goes into marketing. For me, it's also always interesting to see the world through a new set of eyes, even on those days when I'm swimming in a sea of 'Oh My God!'s.

In the past week, there was an age discrimination case against Google that made it's way to the front of the news. Roughly, a senior director of engineering wound up leaving Google alleging that the work environment and his colleagues there discriminated against him for being too old and a fuddy duddy -- apparently, he was even struggling to chain at least two 'oh my god!'s together in a single expression.

For those of us who are neighbors of Google and Silicon Valley veterans, Google's culture and hiring practices can be a source of both amusement and frustration. It's amusing when you hear stories of the benefits that they offer their workers -- the cafeterias, on-site laundry, 20% time, and everyone pedaling around the Google campus on bikes -- it's the valley culture we know and love. The frustration comes from knowing aspects of their hiring practices -- like wanting to know your undergraduate GPA, an emphasis on hiring people with advanced degrees, and a focus on building a youth culture. Around the valley, we often hear anecdotal stories of people who leave Google because they felt too old.

But this approach isn't unusual. Many Internet / social network start-ups look at age when they're looking at hiring. It's like there's this unwritten rule that if you've been doing what you've been doing for more than 10 years, you can't understand the value proposition of social networking software. Or the cloud. Or location and check-in.

And the worst thing about it, this age-based mindset, is that these guys -- the ones who think that youth and GPA outweigh experience -- have no idea what they are missing. Sure, I'm a twenty-year veteran of the valley, but I actually get along better with the youngest guy in the office. We speak the same language of in terms of software, computer games, technology and culture. And while I may not share your love for Lady Gaga or Smirnoff Ice; maybe, if you try really hard, you might begin to share my appreciation for the culture of the valley.

And this brings me back to what I learned from the intern -- smart, entrepreneurial, hard working -- it doesn't matter. I can teach. I can tell stories. I can talk and explain through the next downturn. But at the end of the day, you can't just transfer years of experience like a document archive or a project folder. Practically, we all know this, but some people want to pretend that it's different. And that's why Google and some of these other start-ups will never see some very talented, experienced people -- they simply won't get a second look.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Po Bronson on Techcrunch TV

Here's a great collection of video interviews with Po Bronson, author of The Nudist on the Late Shift: And Other True Tales of Silicon Valley. Lately he's been focused on education and creativity. This post on Techcrunch features five video clips that are worth watching.

Techcrunch -- Po Bronson: “That’s why academics are so boring” [VIDEO]