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.