Monday, December 23, 2013

'Good enough' improves computer efficiency too

The engineers at Purdue have built a deserved reputation for precision, but now a few of them are discovering some of the virtues of imprecision. Clayton Christensen and his Innovator's Dilemma/Solution colleagues have long preached the power of "good enough" products to disrupt the incumbents' product development and lifecycle pathways, so is it possible that the new Purdue chips will disrupt incumbent computing?

That's probably a long way off, but it's worth considering which projects you should pursue towards perfection and which you leave at "good enough" so that you can move on to others.

A New Year's Resolution?

I'm leaving this blog post as is.

To save energy, computers go for 'good enough' | Futurity:

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Monday, November 25, 2013

How NOT to do PR

Don't let this happen to you! "The Haggler" in The New York Times today tackles a complaint of his own: PR spam. This is the flood of emailed press releases that all reporters get and wearily delete because they're totally irrelevant to their beats. This time he decided to try and stop it before it arrived at his inbox, and quickly learned that most of the press releases were coming from just a few companies, led by Vocus and PRNewsWire. He wanted to know why a company would hire one of these firms to send out thousands of wasted emails, and quickly discovered that at least one client company didn't know that was what was happening on their behalf -- for a $1,500/month retainer. The CEO was not happy. This is one of the darker sides of disruptive innovation: it's possible to gather email addresses of reporters into databases, and automatically send thousands of emails for a relatively low cost. Traditional PR firms, which still pride themselves on building personal relationships with individual reporters, are seeing their fees undercut by Vocus and the others, which promise volume and not coincidentally, search engine optimization benefits for less. Some PR firms have taken to just reselling (presumably at a markup) the automated services, since like end consumers of medicine asking for antibiotics for every ailment or just the heavily advertised "purple pill," their client companies are (ignorantly) demanding the supposed benefits of the automated services. What should companies do instead? First, accept that there is no shortcut to press mentions and the buzz that lead to sales. Second, accept that some companies and their products are inherently "buzzworthy" or "buzz-magnets" -- and yours probably isn't. Third, accept that some success of others -- and yourself -- is due to luck. (Doesn't this sound like the "serenity prayer?") Finally, do your homework. Start small, not big. Read the media you think you should be covered by. Do they in fact write about your competition? Write down the names of the reporters. Do a search on Technorati for bloggers that cover your area. Can you see a way your product or service fits in with a trend story, or is relevant to a current issue in the (targeted) news? Be helpful. Sign up on "Help a Reporter Out" or HARO (ironically, now owned by Vocus) to get a sense of what reporters are looking for. Offer yourself as someone who can comment on topics without pushing your own company. Only then should you call reporters, and email selected bloggers, one at a time. Show that you've actually read something they've written. Ask if your topic is something they'd be interested in: ask, don't assume. Don't send attachments, unless instructed to. And don't use the subject line: "Press Release." There's more, but that should get you on the right track.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

How to cope with Google's removal of keyword data

The Search Engine Optimization (SEO) community has been going through the (supposed) five stages of loss for the last few weeks, ever since Google decided we could no longer be trusted with the information about which key words searchers use to reach our websites: denial, bargaining, anger, grief, acceptance -- if I recall my Kubler-Ross accurately. (Since her work with dying patients 40-50 years ago, some researchers have found that not only is there not a fixed order, but that these stages might not fit all people -- but that's another story.)

As many blogs have reminded us, Google started this a few years ago when it decided, in the name of privacy, to "not provide" keywords just for Google account holders' search activities (Gmail, Google Plus, etc.). That's when the phrase "Keywords (not provided)" started showing up in reports.

Now that the ban is near total (Bing with its small but creeping market share is still sharing keyword data), we have to decide how to cope. Here are the issues:
1. How do we optimize a website for searches without knowing the keywords and phrases that people are using to arrive at our (or clients') sites?
2. Why did Google do this (to us)?
3. How are we supposed to measure, improve and report how well we are doing at optimization?
4. And therefore, on what new basis, with what new activities, can we justify getting paid?
5. What will it take to achieve acceptance of this upheaval in our business?

Benny Blum of Sellpoint Analytics is one of many who has tried to answer these questions in his recent post,
Is Not Provided A Good Thing?

Blum argues that Google's goal always has been to deliver the answers (links) searchers will be happiest with. This implies that Google needs to understand what a human being has in mind when she types a string of words into the search box. At the same time, Google needs to defeat the attempts of marketers, nefarious to spammy to well-meaning but not as useful, to game the system and divert the attention of the people searching. This is why Google has decided to make it harder to know the details of the steps between intention (query) and satisfaction (finding the right web page).

The problem is that knowing the beginning and end of each search ultimately depends on reading people's minds. (Also, elevating the problem quite a bit, reading the minds of billions of people at specific moments in time.) Now I wouldn't rule that out for the future. But for the present, Blum argues that we should step back from the mechanics of the process and try to analyze the problem in human, that is to say, more complex, nuanced and subjective terms.

Blum suggests the terms "synonyms, themes and topics" can guide us to return to a focus on providing "quality content."

Now all that's left is to define, measure and report "quality."

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Monday, September 16, 2013

Every marketing consultant's (second) favorite question

Mark Schaefer of posted "The 6 critical questions guaranteed to drive your social media strategy" this morning, and as the comments show, most marketing experts focused on the first: "Can you finish this sentence? 'Only we …'” -- without regard to social media strategy. I don't think there's any question that this is by far the most helpful question for a business to answer, both to investors and marketers. The term "unique selling proposition" or USP has been around for decades, but too many businesses ignore it, or freeze up when asked. In fact, it can be very demoralizing to consider it -- and find you don't really have an answer. Here's the thing, though: Many businesses seem to do just fine without ever really articulating their answer. How can that be -- and what does a marketer do in these cases? Here's an example: Do you really believe, or perhaps I should ask do you care that Chevron unleaded gasoline has X unique patented ingredient, and Phillips 66 gas has Y? For most drivers, it's more likely that the USP they're responding to is "Only this gas station is on my route at the moment I need gas, and their price today is not so much higher than that cheap station that it's worth my time driving all that way." So the gas station you choose can boast a USP of "most convenient" -- but only for those drivers needing gas at the moment they're approaching that station. Of course this is why you very seldom see TV commercials for gasoline companies any more. The lighted sign with the price is enough. More on this topic soon. Oh, the marketing consultant's top favorite question: What's your budget?

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Remind me: what is the point of "content marketing" and "social media" again?

I once had a boss who told me that Facebook was a fad, "just like Crocs," and therefore wasn't worth our company's time. Does anyone remember when Crocs passed a billion dollars in sales? (2011). The company is now ten years old, according to its corporate website/. Facebook, by contrast, is only nine years old, and with over $5 billion in sales in 2012, just qualified to join the Fortune 500 this spring. Certainly there have been and will no doubt always be fads. Pet rocks is a great example. It lasted six months (in 1975), just long enough to make the "inventor" a millionaire. Last month, it was "sharknado." Did that last an entire weekend? So, getting to the point, are the current buzzwords of Internet marketing fads or something longer lasting? And how does one tell the difference? Does it matter? That is, should you invest in learning and using the latest buzzword, without worrying about whether it's a fad? Mitch Joel steps back from the specific question in his newest book, out this spring, "Ctrl Alt Delete." He says (literally, in this case, since I'm listening to the audio edition), that we're in period of uncertainty about all things electronic and commercial, which he calls Purgatory. What to do in a period of uncertainty, confusion, fear? Take charge of your own destiny. Don't bet on the collapse of a fad -- bet on change. In a word, reboot. Now. For one example: do you really doubt that your customers are using smartphones? If you have looked at the statistics, the trend is inevitable, even if the carriers are making it difficult with their data plans, and some people still resist. The question, in fact, should not be which screen will win (PC, tablet, phone), nor even how you should manage a multi-screen world, but which screen is the focus of your customers' or prospects' attention at the moment? While other companies are waiting for a fad to end, or for the winner to be announced, a few companies are out ahead of the waiters, just doing it. And they are the ones that will be the winners, no matter what the trend or fad. Oh yes, the title question. What is the point of content marketing and social media marketing? To put your brand in direct contact with your customers and to provide them with something useful. The key word is useful. If you accept that, Joel says, then you should realize that the overarching objective you should always be working towards, is how to make yourself or your brand more useful. It might not (probably won't) be just words. More on this topic later.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

So Many Social Networks, So Little Time

Business Insider has studied how people use different social networks, and gives suggestions and examples of how companies should vary their approach for each network.

Of course, for small businesses, it's difficult to make the time to participate in any of them, much less all of them, so these tips will come as a relief. They will help you make informed choices of which platforms to select, and which to ignore, at least for now.  depending on the nature of your business, and what mental/emotional state your customers are in when they're ready to consider your products or services.

For example, people use Instagram in a light mood. The report says, "To heighten specific qualities about your product or service, share photos of your product in action, or in an appealing environment. This can also include "behind-the-scenes" looks at how products are made, or simply a look at the company and people behind the brand."

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Monday, June 17, 2013

How to Sell (For People Who Hate Sales) | The New OPEN Forum

American Express is really trying to woo small business, by presenting themselves as allies -- running commercials promoting local shopping, and again, trying (with some success, I believe) to create a small business post-Thanksgiving sales day after Black Friday.

Their Open Forum showcases an excellent variety of answers to typical questions, blogs and  discussions on topics important to small business -- and none is harder or more important than sales. Oh, it's the "New" Open Forum. I've forgotten what the old one was like...which is probably why there's a "new" one.

Contributor Brian Moran (who wears two hats: helping "entrepreneurs run better businesses and marketers do a better job reaching entrepreneurs" -- and publisher of the magazine "At Home with Century 21") proposes what he claims are three simple but sufficient steps to being able to sell:

1. Understand Features vs. Benefits: see the quarter inch hole, not the quarter inch drill.
2. Help Others Help You: solve a problem
3. Deliver Exceptional Customer Service

 These are all critical, no question. And as much as I like to sum up points in groups of three, I think for most inventors, there are two more critical points, not quite captured in these three:
4. Say "Hello," and
5. Ask, "May I take your order?"

It's true that many inventors can think only of their product and its features. Most, though, I would guess, think that they are offering a solution to a problem. It's true that I can recall more than one entrepreneur who got angry at customers who "don't get it," which is not the way to earn positive word of mouth.

But to overcome the fear of walking up to a stranger (or call one up) -- that's tough. And asking for the order should be simple after you've conquered the initial fear, focused on what the product does for your customer, solved her problem, and twisted yourself into pretzels to deliver great service. But it's not.

It's a cliche' of shy-boy-trying-to-pick-up-girl movies, but I think the best approach is rehearsal. Start with family, then friends, then relatively small customers -- who if they don't buy, won't hurt your prospects noticeably. (Of course, there are no unimportant customers -- that's one of the secrets. Treat them all well, and you'll be rewarded down the line.)  Only then will you know what to say when you approach a bigger customer.

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Monday, June 10, 2013

4 simple points to make sales proposals (or any proposal) actually useful

Useful in the four-fold but simple sense that it tells the target audience what it really wants to know, helps them make a decision, clarifies what's wrong, if anything, and doesn't waste anyone's time. And I think the list can be reduced to three.

Becker: 4 simple points to make your sales proposals actually useful - Kansas City Business Journal:

Spoiler alert:
1. Competitive pricing (not necessarily the lowest)
2. Proof that product/service performs as you say it will
3. Basis for trust in you and your company

However, I think this does actually oversimplify.  The examples the author uses, insurance and cellphone service, are usually well-understood. Or at least we think we understand. My point is, a good sales pitch will help the prospect understand that they do NOT understand -- that there's something they've missed (ideally through no fault of their own). That's the basis of the "challenger sale" -- which as its name suggests, pushes or perhaps nudges the prospect into slightly uncomfortable territory, making it more likely to gain their full attention and to be open to your new idea, which will relieve that discomfort. Lots of evidence and well worth considering.

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Sunday, June 9, 2013

Find the typo in the free faster airport wifi "Bing It On" ad

Thanks to the omnipresent Danny Sullivan for taking note of Bing's latest attempt to get us all to switch:

Bing Pushes To Build Marketshare Through "Bing It On" For Faster Airport Wifi:

And indeed, Bing's usage, as estimated by Quantcast, has grown from 60 million a month in October 2012 to nearly 76 million in April, just six months later. And half or more of that growth took place from the beginning of March: almost 9 million.

Of course, Google grew too, just not as fast in percentage, nor in total numbers: from 198 million to 211 million. (Note that Google is "Quantified" and Bing is not.)

But what about that typo? It's the most common mistake even educated people make, I believe -- and there's a clue in this sentence...

Yes, "it's" where it should just be "its." So I'm taking points away from Microsoft (and its ad agency) for that.

Its (Bing's) directory has changed again, by the way: it's now Bing Places. Sounds Google Places? But at least I can't remember what it was before. (Always trying to look on the bright side!)

Friday, June 7, 2013

Social Commerce is taking off -- beyond Pinterest

We're starting to take all these things for granted -- for someone else's business. No one here would ever offer a Groupon, but stop and think: it didn't even exist a couple of years ago and now it's an unremarkable household and yes, small-busineess term. Note that Groupon is still in business, and could still find a pivot to take advantage of its huge awareness.

Then there's Pinterest. People in the online business know that it has passed Facebook in sales effectiveness, but do small businesses realize that? Let's enlarge those product photos! Now Tumblr is in position to start making money by "privileging" brand posts. You can read about these and many more in detail, for the fair price of a free trial of Business Insider.
Social Commerce Daily Deals Photo Apps - Business Insider:

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Sunday, June 2, 2013

Why Rotating Picture Sliders Could Be Killing Your Conversions | Crowdvert Blog

My instinct has always been against such a huge commitment of real estate on a home page, but now there is hard evidence from multiple witnesses to support my position:

Why Rotating Picture Sliders Could Be Killing Your Conversions | Crowdvert Blog:

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Friday, May 31, 2013

Imagine your customers...or meet them?

Both Steve Blank (Startup Manual) and his former student Eric Ries (Lean Startup) preach simplicity and focus as key to your "Minimum Viable Product." But how do you decide which features to keep and which to postpone? Jolay Welner and Ilay Avni want to help you identify your killer feature. Welner and Avni suggest constructing a simple graph by asking yourself and your team (you do have a team, don't you?) what value each feature would have in the minds of your potential customers, and what percentage of customers would use them. This process should scatter dots and make it clear which rank highest on both scales. The problem, of course, is that, as Steve Blank says, you haven't "left the building." You've imagined leaving the building, but you can do better than that. Get up, get outside. Talk to someone. Or use that neglected feature on your pocketsize communications device - the "telephone." Now you can compare your imagined customers with a few real ones. It's a great feeling when your "feeling" for your future customers is confirmed, but you should be just as happy with whatever you hear from the real world. After all, that's where your product will actually live.