Knowledge Harvesting

Sunday Linkfest- Tornado Watch Edition

If you go crazy for Bravo's reality TV, you likely fit into one of three targets of theirs: “Wills and Graces” “P.T.A. Trendsetters,” “Metrocompetitors” or “Newborn Grown-Ups” Fascinating analysis of the power of deep research and over-serving a small and passionate target in We’ll Make You a Star (if the Web Agrees)

 I usually enjoy Corner Office, but this one point really resonated with me: company culture is that power of thinking you can win when the odds say you're going to lose big: Corner Office with Jen-Hsun Huang of Nvidia

Harvard Economist Gregory Mankiw lays out a very sound analysis of the things we tax, and why we tax them in Can a Soda Tax Save Us From Ourselves?

For further study, an infographic Health Spending vs. Results

Happy tornado watch!

Cause Marketing: We see you!

A facebook friend liked a Facebook ad by a Philly-based Bongo Agency, so I went to see what this agency was doing with Facebook.  I discovered an interesting question about Cause Advertising.

KFC's pink buckets are a great example.  My response in the FB thread:

What continues to baffle me about KFC is the unhealthy element of their food. Even if they are supporting breast cancer research, I feel like the brand is mobilizing moms to make their families fat.  Breast cancer is a worthy opponent (my mom is a survivor), but what about obesity and heart disease?  What about teaching kids healthy eating habits?!! 

I think a more thoughtful tie-in between the brand/product and the cause is key to making cause marketing successful.

I read the other day that the American public is essentially addicted to low prices and discounting in retail; until we agree that we will pay more for higher quality, healthy, safer products, that are better for the environment, I think marketers will rely on Cause marketing to use philanthropic sentiment to justify a premium price.

What do you think?

PS: don't miss, from the new Saatchi blog: 10 Ways to Communicate with Moms.

Airlines bring human contact back to marketing

NYT image of a Delta Red shirt assiating customers

Travel just stinks.  While airlines thought that we didn;t want to talk to a person, and set before us phone trees and incomprehensible kiosks.  This NYT story is about bringing the personal back to airline customer service, such as Delta's revival of the Red Shirt program which previously was b. 1969- d.2005

Cue mobile checkin, print at home boarding passes.  With merger after merger creating a mess of backend systems that won't talk to each other, and the overloaded ATC systemwe're stuck with.  Sometimes, automated customer service either can't keep us happyor can't keep up with the problem.  Or it IS the problem. 

Very exciting to see airlines realize that by focusing on the customer experience in total and attacking the morass of air travel with people and love rather than phone trees, something brilliant could be happening.

Monetizing User Karma

A Twitter direct message from a friend suggested to me that I check out Spymaster- a twitter based game that asks you to participate in a global covert espionage war against your...twitter friends.  You won't need a new video card or a crazy detailed mouse for this.

The game is played both on the web and also in the twitterverse, as you can interact with the game via twitter, and the game will update twitter when you do certain things.  Helpfully, the game not only tells the user up front about the possible notifications it will send to twitter, but also lists the rewards available for this permission.

As the user grants permission for more frequent access to his social graph, and a more prominent role for the game in his life stream, the game grants him more points and a more enjoyable (at least theoretically) game experience.

Wouldn't it be nice if more services worked like this?  Told you what kind of engagement they were looking for (for Spymaster, say, it's getting users to both enjoy and publicize the game experience) and amplified the site's response and reward for these activities?

Heavy doses of WIIFM here, to be sure.  Don't you wish your bank thought about this occasionally?

I took a look at who is behind thes site, and it appears to be classifieds site, which had this to say in their blog post called  Got Karma?

What is it?
Karma is the unique point system used by iList to reward users for their activity in the community. Click on “Karma” at the top of each page for a quick rundown.

How do I get it?
Earning Karma on iList is easy: treat others the way you would like to be treated. You want as many people to see your listings as possible, right? Well, so does the rest of iList. If you help others promote their listings they will likely do the same for you. Then, not only will you be rolling in Karma, but you will also have more people viewing your listings.

Other ways to receive points include completing your profile, posting listings, and inviting friends to join the iList community. The more the merrier.

What do I do with it?
You tell us. Now that you’ve got all these points, we want to know what you think you should be able to do with them. We already have a  few of our own ideas simmering on the back burner, but we’d love to hear from you as well. So, if you know you’ve got some great ideas and want your voice to be heard, get to sharing and leave us a comment.

I like firms that understand the value of rewarding visitors, making engagements, even the small ones, matter.  The marketing is part of the user experience-the product isn't just a classifieds site; it's loving customers.  Producing customers who love you?  Now THAT's good Karma.

Facebook's Long-term Bet on the User Experience

Thinking about the news that Facebook is introducing an alpha test of a payment system, I keep thinking that the one thing facebook has left is to make a play for the wallet.  They've earned the attention- around 30 billion minutes in the first quarter of 2009 (comScore)- of the world's internet users, and an intimate relationshoips with those users's entire online life.  Facebook lives and dies by the assent of these clicking masses, as revolt afetr revolt has shown, over site design, privacy, and even its esoteric terms of use.

Facebook's reach is exploding- but monetizing attention hasn;t worked especially well.  With display ad rates plummeting, an unproven social ad model, and a long term growth strategy, Facebook deserves some wiggle room.  Itchy investors calling for an IPO In 12 To 24 Months don't make it easy to bet the way Facebook has, but the company expects to be cashflow positive by the end of the year.

Amazon IPO'd early and grew explosively, provoking skepticism that it would ever turn a profit (big hat tip to the still-poignant  Founded in 1994, opening in 1996, going public in 1997, and finally turning a profit in the fourth quarter of 2001.  The company is unquestionably a juggernaut of commerce, logistics, and long term business strategy.  They've lasted all the way into web 2.0!

I'm drawn to the analogy between the two firms - can the industry at this point allow for the possibility that Facebook can build loyal users now and the profit later?

Without a doubt, the engine for Facebook's profit in the long term is a ubiquitous social graph, to be the identity that users take with them to sites across the internet.  If an e-commerce site fears abandonment, drop offs at the registration page, visitors who don't return, Facebook fears that its users will stop finding it useful.  As long as the Facebook on-site and off-site experience makes the web experience easier, social, trusted and secure, it can be an infrastructure player.

Amazon's constant optimization work, its willingness to please customers and create long-term value, as well as its back-end infrastructure plays, should suggest there is light at the end of the tunnel when you bet on your customers.

Twitter Backlash as Marketers Adopt and Automate

I read about Scoble thinking of killing his Twitter account, and it seems more and more like the anti-commercialism backlash that we hear with each new service- Going back to Canter and Siegel- the couple in who sent their Green Card spam to thousands of usenet groups in 1994. 

I keep seeing outrage posted on Twitter, in the form of "Why is [company] using twitter to [perceived spammy practice]? [hateful judgement]" It seems to have grown worse with the advent of bots for automating a corporate/for-profit twitter presence.  The ghost-writers/celebrity tweet phenomenon (seriously, Guy Kawasaki?) didn't seem to help.

The tools to automate an external social media presence (e.g. marketing or PR) are getting some traction but it's becoming painful to the user community.  Should we get mad at the brands, or Twitter?

It seems like a much better response to attempt to influence the strategies employed by firms to manage their social presence.  If Twitter doesn't want us to leave, the ads will be tasteful and/or relevant.  Not to mention that at the enterprise level, the opportunity to drive internal morale/knowledge should be just as large as driving brand love and PR externally.

But can we remedy the corporate, pretend to be a person presence?  Is this a possible business for Jeff Dachis new venture?  I'll keep an eye on that.

The future of NOT free

David Carr writes in today's NYT that "We need an iTunes for news" and I'm finding myself thinking very hard about what actually might help the struggling newspaper biz (bad news from Fitch ratings came out the other day, and it looks like the Seattle P-I is on the brink). 

Is it just "variable pricing" which Carr argues has allowed the music business to stick around, though perhaps not to thrive?  What the music business still hasn't really learned, is how to combat piracy by adding value in the distribution part of the business.  Apple figured the out- the device and the store are, for many many people, a top notch experience (I know there are people who prefer eMusic or other services) but the emphasis Apple placed on delivering value rather than delivering "content" is what gave Apple's iPod such dominance.

So can newspapers just turn around and create an iTunes-like store, charging for the convenience of reading the paper on an enormous iPod touch or the Kindle?  I think the issue is not exclusively supply-side.  That is, newspapers don't have to deal with precisely the same intransigence as the music business with respect to digital- they already (largely) give the product away for free online. When the NYTimes pulled the plug on TimesSelect, it looked like they were screwed.

I posted these thoughts to the nextNY list in December:

The BHAG here is to make enough of your content consumers want to buy your content even if there is some proportion of people who believe it should be free, wants to be free, or that they are entitled to consume it for free.  We are at the point where creators pass up the opportunity to extract some optional $ from many of their consumers while restricting the content to non-optional payers of $$$. 

Maybe we are at the point where optional $ from only some of your customers would make it profitable.  Suppose 20% of the people who visited the NYTimes online in October 2008 paid $1 for the privilege, that would be about $10 million in incremental revenue.  Would another $100 million every year be worth it? We can play with the numbers like this forever, but I think it's one direction creators should move.

I say all of this as a (GASP) paid daily subscriber to the print NYTimes. 

People need to get okay with not-free news.   The reporting of news organizations is indispensable, and high in value.  While the music business has the advantage of live performance and merchandise revenue- which do not suffer from the free copying problem- news has no such cash cow. 

We'll need news to recover from this serious free-rider problem.  A tip jar?  Maybe tying to distribution on a device, or just making the pricing more flexible, or making it just a whole lot cheaper and also easier to pay would be a step in the right direction.  I'm not convinced- just getting people back to paying for distribution seems weak.  They will somehow need to be non-free even if not subscription only, either.

One of Fred Wilson's recent posts mentions Time Oreilly's three rules:

1) Work on something that matters to you more than money
2)Create more value than you capture
3)Take the long view

I believe that in a similar way, newspapers  "create more value than [they] extract" but this has created a mis-pricing problem: users believe they were paying for distribution, distribution became "free" via the web,  but the value created only grew; we have not figured out how to recapture that. Wish I knew the answer to that one.

Strategy under uncertainty

Found my way from the futuramb blog post about strategic planning in the fashion industry to this McKinsey quarterly article about strategy under uncertainty which calls out two kinds of firms: shapers and adapters.  I've been thinking about corporate strategy from an uncertainty perspective since I read  Michael Raynor's excellent book, The Strategy Paradox- in which the roles of managing uncertainty at all levels of the corporation are examined.  Raynor's examples of firms who succeeded by creating options for success under many possible futures are powerful. I previously posted about them here.

In the current economic environment, Hugh Courtney wisely points out that not every firm is going to be able to get out in front of the significant uncertainty and financial turmoil that 2009 will bring.  Some of them will of necessity just be trying to survive.   They'll pursue "bold M&A plays, R&D that others can’t finance, and entry into new markets."  How can we identify the firms who can pursue a strategy of shaping the future rather than just adapting to it?  These are some of their characteristics:

  • very healthy balance sheets, potentially with lots of fully-depreciated assets
  • business models that generate a lot of cash and don’t have much debt
  • typical industries: high tech, service businesses, energy, utilities, and telecom

A very useful insight here is that these companies can re-shape their industry without re-shaping the macro environment- that will always be adaptive.  However, the adapter firms will rely primarily on adapting to the macro environment and hoping to ride it out.

I think startups probably fit into the shaper category as well.  Taking chances that many competitors can't, these firms are constantly investing, with every day, in re-shaping their industries.  A salute, then to the firms, large and small, who use 2009 to create something new and bold, take a chance, and harnessing the silver lining of the year's dark clouds.

CMO strategy in a downturn

My newest contribution to the Razorfish Headlight blog is now live.   I tried to look at many of the different elements affecting sales and marketing decisions online and in America; I have a very strong perspective that there MUST be a strategic opportunity somewhere for a company seeking to create value.  

These recommendations could translate to other industries, particularly durable goods which are typically financed.  See CMO strategy in a downturn at  

Also this month are excellent articles on digital advertising by my colleagues Neal Gorevic, who writes about dealers using video advertising, and Blake Kimball, who writes about new media planning tactics.

Out with the old, in with the new...employees?

As someone on his second post-university job, this BNet post is interesting.  My father, or my grandfather, could have expected to hold a job for 20 years if he wanted to. 

And yet, none of my classmates would ever expect that kind of job security - we're constantly being told "that's not how we do business any more."  Goodbye, guaranteed career employment.  Sayonarra, pensions. No more "lifers" or going career.

This article quotes a Knowledge @ Wharton piece featuring the following company dilemma

“a talented and highly trained adjustor from another insurance company. While the hiring company provided high-end insurance with a strong emphasis on customer service, the adjustor came from a company that was more focused on keeping costs down… the adjustor just could not help himself from “nickel and diming” customers on their claims, even though that attitude conflicted sharply with the firm’s strategic direction and culture.”

Part of me thinks this is a pretty inflammatory article- heck, I clicked on it!-  I think the company referenced made a poor hiring choice.  The helpful approach to this issue would be about how to see a previous company's culture in the screening process. 

Any company worth its salt should be willing to make a significant investment training and retaining employees committed to the company's goals and culture.  This article makes me wonder how a firm that feels it is facing issues hiring employees from outside should react - on a corporate strategy level- by creating a talent acquisition program for young employees and giving them the impression that the company can secure their future.

I know big firms like GE and IBM have programs like this, and I know a few people who got offers in various rotational training programs for Wells Fargo or the like, but the thing is: most of them didn't take those jobs.  If you want to have a compnay whose profitability is driven by adherence to a customer service culture, you're better off following Zappos example than by worrying about where your employees come from.

Early aviation routes in Europe, bold entrepreneurs

Posting a link to a new blog I found via an old friend.  It's interesting how surfacing himself on Facebook led me to discover this blog; to all those who think they have had enough of FB, I say Bah.

This is a cool post  inspired by a map of early aviation routes in Europe (ca. 1929).  It's a reminder that many "utilities" like railroads and aviation had moments of entrepreneurial exuberance, booms, busts, etc.  And here we are now with essential transportation (air travel) encumbered by rising fuel costs, and Amtrak really only turning a profit on the Northeast corridor, until their cars break down.

What might this mean for tech?  I think we're realizing that we can survive exuberance and that there can genuinely be some great things to come from that experience, but that the cycles are getting closer together.   I read somewhere that the speed of the flow of information means that what used to take a generation takes less than a decade.  We're in for a ride!

New Project Idea + All my projects are in Friendfeed

I had an idea today for something called the Semantic News Heatmap. I'm going to try to build it.

I am now thinking I should take stock of current projects:

  • The Stuff, my sketch comedy group and our ongoing video effort
  • my own video effort to record and post more video online
  • my new Tumblr project, Make1Up, in which I will take a photo every day of a 1up mushroom I have on my desk.
  • Re-design an undertaking I'm not sure I'm ready for, but it includes re-thinking my approach to widgets, thinking about making a SITE as opposed to just a blog.
  • Learn about, contribute to expertise in, and teach others about Twitter.  [Example: by my estimate it will be 192 days until someone posts the 1 billionth twitter update.  I want to collect more data to model this accurately.]
  • Use Friendfeed

What I notice is that these things all are going to find their way into friendfeed.  So, use friendfeed.  Find me on Friendfeed.

eMarketer immune to Irony

eMarketer sent our a newsletter titled "Lies, Damned Lies and Polls" this morning.  In the letter, we are treated to the myriad way sin which pollsters mis-predicted the results of the New Hampshire democratic primary.

First, I will say that my open hope is that the presidential election of 2008 continues to energize voters and that all the polls get a little off asa the result of increased turnout.  However, I am sure that smarter people than I are looking for ways to counter those effects, and we won't know for sure until election night.

Second, is eMarketer suggesting that its 5-year projections are never wrong?

NYT Roundup: Southwest Airlines, Silly String, Subway Cell Phones

While it's not going to assigned seats, Southwest Airlines is keeping the highly annoying incentive to stay up until just after midnight the day of your flight to get a low boarding number.   Southwest Alters Boarding Process - New York Times.

I LOOOOVE silly string.  That it could help our GIs find trip wires is a bonus.  Get our GI's some silly string!!!!!!! Toy Goo Might Save Some Soldiers’ Lives, but It’s Stuck Here - New York Times.

It had to happen eventually-our favorite gadget will work in MTA stations.  M.T.A. Makes Deal for Cellphones in Stations - New York Times.

The Role of Social Media

It occurred to me as I was cancelling the recording of an episode of the Daily Show (thank you, TiVo, for your overzealous efforts to record any and all episodes of this brilliant show, even the twelfth re-run the day after; in fact thank you to Comedy Central for running episodes of The Daily Show as bumpers between other random shows during the day) why appearances on the show are so helpful for politicians.

The rest of the news media is so utterly fake.  It takes a comedy show to make an impression of reality on

Learning new stuff at GoogleNY

Last night I had the pleasure of going to Google's New York offices, as part of NextNY .  This event was productive for me in several ways.

  • Insight into sales/marketing and product management organizations and functions.  Now I know they need industry vertical researchers.  They might need me!
  • Added no fewer than three books to the e-bookshelf to be purchased: Influence, Wisdom of Crowds, Tipping Point (currently reading Blink.)
  • Found new cool thing and discovered yet another example of Execute to the best of your ability and then sell style entrepreneurship,  Also, a 5-digit SMS code costs $10k.  Apparently the genesis of the idea was a thesis project of Dennis Crowley, of NYU's ITP program, otherwise famous for Pac Manhattan (Dennis was Pac Man).
  • While writing this entry, a fellow NextNY attendee sent another link to Influence - the spirit of collaboration is really catching.
  • Solidified some thinking about Pitch Camp, which I am helping to organize.  Helping people to solidify their message should be fun. 
  • Now more than ever, I think Google is in a pretty decent place to help non-dominant content players distribute their content.  Props to in this space also.  Apparently uGather's Jason Baptiste is going to be star of the next reality show.  If anyone hasn't seen the UK's The IT crowd yet, you should (head to a good bit Torrent site and pick it up)

And last, Why isn't Google evil?  In many media and otherwise corporate cases, the trend is either big->evil or big=evil or big != good.  I think Google is too concerned with making their products work and have users who are happy with the product.  If this is your big priority, and not "owning the desktop" or "getting a piece of the action" or "killing Linux"  I believe you end up with different messages- and very different results.  I bet lots of people also hate Google for merely delivering.  Sore losers?