Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Pricing Innovation at the Post Office

I rarely expect marketing innovation from the US Postal Service, but I think that their "Forever Stamp" idea is a winner. (And yes, it's marketing - remember your Four Ps!)

Postal officials pitched the idea of creating a "forever stamp" that would be good for sending first-class mail no matter how much -- or how often -- the cost of a postage stamp goes up. The announcement came on the same day that the Postal Service said it would seek to raise the price of a first-class stamp for the second consecutive year.

The forever stamp, which would cost the same as a first-class stamp, would provide a hedge against future postal rate increases and end the search for 2- or 3-cent stamps that usually follows a price increase. The stamps could pose unusual challenges for the Postal Service, however, and officials say many details still have to be worked out.

No more 2 and 3 cent stamps! That's a great thing.

The risk, of course, is that people will stock up on the new stamps to avoid paying more in the future. I think it's a small risk. For most of us, the hassle of a postal rate increase isn't the money - sending a piece of first-class mail remains an incredible bargain - it's suddenly finding that your stamps are now useless  without the annoyance of getting smaller stamps to make up the difference for the new rate.

If you're like me, you don't send much by mail anymore. Bills are paid online (in fact, I don't even get paper bills from most of my utilities and such), most correspondence goes via email, and stamps are these things that sit in the drawer for those times you actually have to use postal mail. I certainly can't see buying more than 20 or so at a time - that's about a one-year supply (not counting Christmas cards), and I'd probably lose them in the back of a drawer before I actually used them.

B2B or Not B2B : Getting the Right Message Out

I think we've all pretty much got the distinction down between B2C (business to consumers) and B2B (business to business). But B2B is by no means a monolith, and, just as with B2C, you need to know your audience and respect the distinctions within that audience.

B2C actually does a pretty good job of knowing their audience. At least with their advertising, it's generally pretty easy to see who they're  after. Thus, when I see Dennis Hopper telling the baby-boomers that the generation that was born to be wild is now going to redefine retirement, I know that the add is aimed at me and mine. (Of course, we really have no choice but to redefine retirement, because most of us don't have pensions. But that's another story.)

And when I see the iPod ads, with their cool, contortionist, dancing silhouettes, I know they're after the young folks (and that they don't mind selling a few to the "forever young" brigade, either).

B2B is trickier, especially when it comes to technology sales. In fact, I've kiddingly "invented" categories for G2G (geek-to-geek) and T2T (techie-to-techie).

Kiddingly aside, you're really lucky if you can get away with pure G2G/T2T. If the techies are buying - and don't need sign-offs from the business or financial folks - you may be able to get away with having just one story line and set of messages. If you're just selling to technologists, you know that you'll have to focus your message on a lot of technical detail. You'll need to tell your audience what it does, how it's built, how it works.

Where marketers sometimes go wrong in their messaging is when they try to make B2B.

B2B

Somewhere along the line  - if I'm remembering correctly, it was in the 1990's - there was a complete about face with respect to marketing messaging for technology. No one, we were told, wanted to know about the product features, the nuts, guts, bolts, bells, and whistles. No, we were told, nobody buys features, they buy benefits. I don't know how many debates I got into about why you need to talk about both, and my mantra soon became "Someone, somewhere in the organization is going to want to know what the product actually does". That is, what the product actually does besides improve productivity, increase effectiveness, yield 90 day ROI, and all the other things that the business and financial buyers (supposedly) wanted to here.

Now, there is no denying that people - especially on the business side of a technology purchase - want to learn about the benefits. But sometimes the benefits are so high level and abstract that they mean nothing. The same benefits statements could be equally applied to SFM, CRM, ERP, compilers, testing tools,document organizers. You name it. Every technology-based product out there will save you money.

What marketers sometimes fell down on was explaining how their whatever-it-is provides these benefits. Now you may not be able to make a direct connect the dots in which every feature links to a benefits statement, but if you can't lay out your features right there next to your benefits and tell someone how the feature supports a benefit, you've got a problem.

What's the nature of the problem? Well, you may or may not have a features problem. But if you can't support a benefits statement with some level of features statements then you definitely have a benefits problem. (I.e., you may well be kidding yourself.) Even when you're selling to a business user, you need to make the connection to features. (And even when you're selling to the business user, in most cases IT will be involved in any technology purchase, so you need to have all the platform-security-scale-performance-features info at the ready.)

B2T

Where some marketers fall down is in selling to the technologists themselves. I've yet to meet a techie who wanted me to tell them what the benefits of a product are. The benefits they can figure out for themselves - and sometimes the benefit is just "this is cool." I've yet to meet a techie who didn't want me to supply all kinds of technical information.

In most cases, a B2T sale will also involve business/financial decision makers, so you need to make sure that you do have information on benefit and expected return that will help your techies justify their purchases.

The B2B Bottom Line

Nothing earth-shattering here. Just another reminder that, in B2B sales that are technology based, you need to make sure that you have messages and information that appeal to different audiences. And you need to make sure that those messages tie together so that people understand how benefits are derived from features. 

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Slowbucks

I see I'm not the only one who's noticed this trend at Starbucks - getting coffee there is slow, slow, slow. (Link to the Boston Globe's Business Filter blog.)

I think they need to have an express line in which no drinks over three syllables in name length can be ordered.

I love coffee - good old coffee. I also like traditional espresso drinks like cafe latte. I'm always kind of stunned to hear people order a peppermint no-whip skim latte with extra foam. What the heck is it?

Part of the brilliance of Starbucks is that they have so many candy-in-a-cup drinks that they can now appeal to people who actually don't like coffee very much, but like that coffee shop experience (in the sort of bland way that Starbucks provides it). It does, however, make the order process a bit long.

Part of the irritation of Starbucks is that they're so focused on those drinks that at my most-frequented Starbucks (in Houston's Montrose neighborhood) I can't order a latte without getting a full press sales effort to "upgrade" it to the latest flavored concoction (which has led me to explain to the employees there, "I like coffee. Real coffee. That tastes like coffee."). 

I think they see me as a crank.  

Blogtalk: Mary Schmidt, Doc Searls

Letting Customers Set the Price

This is fascinating: in Kirkland, Washington, the Terra Bite cafe operates on a "voluntary payment" system, the Boston Globe's Business Filter blog reports:

The Terra Bite Lounge in Kirkland, Washington has no prices on the menu and gives away free WiFi. "It’s up to the cafe’s customers to decide how much to pay, or whether to pay at all." Founded as a non-profit by Ervin Peretz, a Google programmer who says he's in the business of "good karma," the goal? To "finesse the largesse of well-off latte lovers to cover the tabs of the less fortunate." So far they've served 80 customers a day, who pay an average of $3. He says he needs about 100 a day to break even.

It sounds, of course, like idealism bound to end in financial ruin... but it sounds like they are approaching breakeven.

I don't have trouble believing that there are people who will happily pay - if they like the place, they understand that if they don't pay, it will go away and they won't get to go there anymore.

In a way it's citizen marketing to the extreme - people not just promoting somebody's products, but tossing the money into the till even when they don't have to because they like what they are getting.

And everyone paying must realize that there will always be those who don't - because they can't, or because they are just there for the quick hit of a free coffee.

Can it survive? Could this work for another kind of business?

Monday, February 26, 2007

Rats! All-time Marketing Challenge

By now, of course, you have no doubt seen the videos of the dozens a rats having an off-hours spree at a KFC-Taco Bell in Greenwich Village last week. Apparently, someone tipped off a TV station, which dispatched an indie videographer to run rat patrol and check the scene out.

I know that rats happen to restaurants. Many years ago, when I was in college, I waitressed at a rat-ridden restaurant. On occasion, that rats would appear on the floor while there were patrons in the restaurant, and we were warned that if we screamed at the sight of a rat, we'd be fired. Mostly, however, they came out when the place was emptied out and the waitresses were doing the final clean up. (A task that involved, for some reason, wiping the wooden tables down with hot coffee to cut the grease.)

To keep the rats at bay, we would pitch soup spoons at the rat holes after the last customer had left, on the assumption that the rats would hear the noise and stay away. But some nights, the spoon tactic didn't work, and the bold and brazen rats would start coming out while we were cleaning. Occasionally, the manager would come up with a little hand pistol and fire a couple of shots at them. Mostly we were left to fend for ourselves. If things got really bad, we were allowed to leave the clean-up until the next day.

On one occasion, one of the sinks was clogged up. A dishboy known as The Animal managed to unstop the sink by pulling a dead rat out of the drain.

As I write this, I can't imagine how I didn't just walk out the first day, other than to say that it was only for the summer and I really needed the job. I will also say that this restaurant is still open, and I shudder every time I pass by it - and laugh to myself as I see the patrons queued up outside. My guess is that it has cleaned up its act, but I would not venture in to find out. The idea of eating there is unfathomable to me.

But I worked at this joint in a time long ago, when there were no video cameras or cell-phones. The Greenwich Village KFC-Taco Bell was not so lucky.

Newsday reporter Carl Macgowan chronicled the KFC-Taco Bell story, which was widely picked up. (As, of course, was the ultra-appetizing video.)

The camera man, Rafael Garcia, got right into the spirit of things. Macgowan quotes him as saying:

There were enough creatures in that room that they could have devoured a human being…. It was a frenzy. They were going up walls. They were jumping up and down.

I-Scream. You-Scream. We all scream for KFC.

One of the kickers, of course, was that the restaurant had actually passed inspection the day before the rat fest. Back for a redo on Friday, inspectors found:

...many violations, including rodent droppings, holes in the floor and ceiling, stagnant water on the floor and lack of heat, the department said.

Sometimes when you approach things with a fresh eye...

Yum! Brands - parent company for KFC and Taco Bell - is, according to its web site, "committed to go the extra mile to make our customers happy. Customer Mania!"

Customer Mania, alright.

Understandably, yum's  - make that mum's - the word on Yum!'s homepage, and they had a little less than a mouthful to say in their terse response to the incident:

This is an isolated incident at a single restaurant at 331 6th Avenue in Greenwich Village, New York and it is totally unacceptable. The restaurant is closed and we will not allow it to be reopened until it has been sanitized and given a complete clean bill of health. We want to assure our customers that nothing is more important to us than food safety and their health.

Well, just suppose this restaurant does get "sanitized" and receives that clean bill of health. Can you imagine the challenge of getting anyone in the City of New York to actually come back and eat there? Just trying to think of any other company that's been faced with quite this level of market challenge gives me both a headache and a stomach ache.

What's a marketer to do when the doors re-open?

I suppose that they could tout that it's opened under new management. (The rats that were running this place are gone.)

Or they could come up with a new motto. How about KFC: return to finger-lickin' good. (It's not just paw and whisker lickin' good, my friends.)

And how unfortunate a choice is it that the Taco Bell mascot is a Chihuahua, a dog who many consider to be the canine equivalent of a rat.

Yum! Brands will obvious try to put this story behind them, but I can't imagine that anyone will be going into any of their restaurants for a good long while without thinking just what is in this batter-encrusted, bony, salt infused morsel of deep-fried gunk?

From a marketing perspective, I guess this is just a story that Yum! Brand marketers have got to pretty much ignore from this point on. Although I think they would have done themselves a bit of good by announcing that they were closing down their Greenwich Village restaurant forever.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

RSS readers dead? Depends on how you define "reader."

Here's a headline that grabbed my attention: The RSS reader is dead.

I'm a big fan of RSS in general and readers in particular; my reader of choice (Google Reader) has had a huge impact on my ability to find and sort through all kinds of information, from blogs to news.

Ed Bott offers some statistics to support that claim, and they're interesting... except that I have an issue with his definition of "RSS reader," which seems to be standalone reader software, but not web based applications (like the aforementioned Google Reader).

That is, I think, a distinction without meaning. What I see in the stats is that most people are consuming RSS feeds through web apps like Google Reader, Bloglines, Newsgator Online, browser tools like Firefox's Live Bookmarks and IE7, and portals like Google and Yahoo home pages.

I'd say those are all RSS readers. Now, I agree with the idea that the standalone reader is dead... sort of. I don't think it was ever alive; they serve a niche, but for most people, they weren't ever appealing, and probably never will be.

So the "reader" is dead, but the reader rules! Long live the reader!

Technorati tags: , , ,

Friday, February 23, 2007

Dr. Pepper Guerrilla Marketing Gone Awry - And In Boston, No Less

Well, Boston is not just the home of the recent uproar over the Aqua Teen Hunger Force "bomb scare," we're now the site of a controversy over a Dr. Pepper promotion. According to an article by Raj Mishra and John Ellement in today's Boston Globe,   treasure hunters hoping to win $1 million dollar prize stormed the gates of a 347 year old cemetery in downtown Boston looking for a coin that all clues suggested was hidden there. When no one showed up to open the cemetery, anxious treasure seekers -  who had begun gathering at the cemetery at 3 a.m. when the clue was released - called City Hall and demanded entrance. That's when the city found out about the promotion - and decided to keep the Old Granary Burial Ground locked.

Those who thought the coin hunt was in the cemetery were right.

Cadbury Schweppes canceled the Boston portion of the 23-city coin hunt promotion yesterday after acknowledging it had stashed the coin, in a leather pouch, amid the remains of Samuel Adams , John Hancock , Paul Revere , and other historic figures.

"The coin is inside the park," Cadbury Schweppes spokesman Greg Artkop told the Globe. "We agree with the Park Department's decision to lock the gates. We wouldn't do anything to desecrate this cemetery."

And, as it turns out, the Boston coin was worth only $10,000 - the $1 million coin was in Houston. The Boston coin has, meanwhile, gone missing, so Cadbury will randomly draw a Boston winner from among those registered as contest participants on their web site.

As with the Aqua Teen campaign, Dr. Pepper's parent, Cadbury Schweppes had farmed out the on-the-ground marketing to smaller firms which made the decisions on where to place the clues. As with the Aqua Teen campaign, this one pushed the edge of the envelope a bit to far. (For those who've already forgotten Aqua Teen, guerrilla marketers placed electronic signs with dangling wires and batteries beneath an overpass above a transit station. While the signs - aimed at the young hipsters who watch this cartoon - had been around the city for weeks in places young hipsters frequent, the guerrilla marketers had decided to step things up and put the signs in slightly edgier places. Someone called the bomb squad and Boston was in the midst of a million dollar terror alert.)

It's interesting that both the Cadbury spokesman ("The coin is inside the park") and the spokesman for the marketing company said ("We had no intention of creating any problems within the park") referred to a cemetery as a park. That's a dandy little euphemism. (The Cadbury  spokesman did also say, "We wouldn't do anything to desecrate this cemetery.")

Well, here's some news: a cemetery is not a park. It's a place where dead people get buried. In this case, it's a 347 year old place where a lot of famous dead people got buried. It's a beautiful old cemetery with some large granite monuments and many fragile old slate markers. I can only imagine the damage that dozens of people, hoping to win $1 million (since they didn't know that the Boston coin was worth a piddling $10K), could have done rampaging around - especially if, when they couldn't find the coin in plain site, they'd started digging. ("Oh, crap, I was hoping to win a million bucks and all I got was Paul Revere's ulna. Wait, maybe it's worth something on eBay.") And digging aside, this is not a location that could handle a large group of people pushing and shoving and racing around to find "it". The cemetery is small, fenced in, and, as I said, contains many very old, very fragile, very historic grave markers.

Edgy marketing is one thing, this is quite another. Come on, hide the coin where no one would mind if you did a bit of looking around, maybe even a bit of digging. But a cemetery? This is one idea I'm dead set against.

It's not as if I'm going to boycott Dr. Pepper, which is one soda I would only consider drinking if I were on my hands and knees crawling through the Sahara Desert searching for an oasis. (To me, Dr. Pepper is second only to Moxie, a local New England drink that tastes to me like a combination of boiled tire and tobacco juice.) But I'd like to see these guerrilla marketing companies do a little "what if" analysis when they come up with their brilliant ideas.

In this case, "what if" someone on the hunt destroyed something irreplaceable? "What if" people started digging? "What if" some old crank thinks it's a bad idea to desecrate a cemetery in general, and an historic cemetery where  Sam Adams (the man, not the beer), Paul Revere (the man, not the bowl), John Hancock (the man, not the signature), and the parents of Benjamin Franklin (the man, not the Mint), are buried.

I'm sure that, as with the Aqua Teen brouhaha, this will be all over the hip blogosphere as yet another example of how Boston can't take a joke.

Well, I can take a joke, and here's one of my favorite ones.

"Why do they put gates around cemeteries?"

"Because people are dying to get in."

In this case, people were dying to get in to find a prize in a soft drink company contest. That's not quite the same price of admission.

A Second Life Census

Yesterday's Second Life post was just a bit of snarky fun, but here's something more useful: Matthew Stibbe at Bad Language takes a look at what's really there in the virtual universe that's getting so much hype, commenting on this article from The Register.  

Matthew provides a nice summary, the gist of which is this: there's aren't many people there, and the Second Life "economy" is a sham.

This doesn't mean there's anything wrong with Second Life itself; I'm sure the people who are big users of it are enjoying themselves, and no doubt there are some types of businesses that will benefit from reaching those folks.

But a mass branding opportunity? Critical to your success? For most of us... sorry, no. Don't listen to the hype - take a hard look at it, and figure how much attention it deserves for your business.

Technorati tags:

Advice to Companies Blogging

Over on Marketing Profs, Mack Collier had a post yesterday entitled Company Blog or Online Brochure.

More and more companies are adding a blog to their marketing efforts. That's the good news. The bad news is, many of these companies aren't using their blogs as a tool to engage their customers, but rather as an extension of their Web site, as a way to simply promote their products and services.

Mack makes a good point here. If the "company blog" becomes the "company store," people are only going to visit when they want to buy something. No one will get in the habit of dropping by to hear what your company has to say if it's the same old, same old they can download in a pdf.

I work with a number of technology customers (mostly small companies), and only one - the least techie and most "youth oriented" -  is into any sort of blogging at all.

What I do advise my customers when they ask about blogging is the following:

  • If you're going to do it, you're going to have to commit resources to it. Most companies I know that commit to a quarterly newsletter are tearing their hair out by the time the third edition comes around. Blogging may require less formal content, but what it does require is frequency.
  • If you're going to do it, you're going to have to commit resources to it. AND I REALLY MEAN IT. Responsibility for keeping the blog fresh and useful means that blog-master has to become a function equivalent to web-master. It's real, it's part (or all) of someone's job, and not an afterthought or "while you're at it." And being the blog-master doesn't just mean pumping content, it means searching for interesting topics to post on, commenting on other blogs, etc.
  • Make sure the person blogging is knowledgeable. If you're providing technology to business users, the person blogging should be aware of what's going on in the users' business domain, as well as having understanding of your products and how they're used. Providing domain-relevant content is obviously easier if you're providing products in specific, more narrowly defined niches. For office productivity tools with broader scope and audience, the blogging will be more feature-focused.
  • Make sure the person blogging is knowledgeable. AND I REALLY MEAN IT. If you're providing technology to technical users, you will have zero ("0") traffic and build zero ("0") interest if you, say, have most/all of the content coming from marketing. Techies want to hear from other techies - and not just about your products. They'll want to hear what your experts think about Linux, search engines, Microsoft...Tips, work arounds, etc. are always welcome - for your specific software or for companion products: utilities, OS, networks...
  • Consider mixing it up a bit. If it's too much to ask one person to be your blogger, set up a regular schedule (and post it). Have Terry Tech post Mondays and Thursdays, Gary Geek on Tuesdays and Fridays, and maybe let Marky Marketing have the floor on Wednesday to introduce new features, post on customer successes (with useful tips).
  • Line up customers to act as "guest bloggers", especially if they're done something interesting with your products, can attribute real value to them, etc.
  • Use the blog as a forum for product suggestions. Have your product managers and engineers use the blog as a forum for laying out the product roadmap and solicit customer feedback. (Obviously you'd want to keep these sorts of sessions protected from the prying eyes of competitors. But have a regular "user group" meeting on your blog is a great idea.)
  • Lay out ground rules (no strong language; no caustic comments about customers or partners, etc.), but don't filter your blog into a boring, canned, antiseptic, and predictable space. Let your bloggers develop a voice and personality. That's what will get your customers engaged.

If you're going to be blogging, you're going to be doing so to develop a relationship with your customers. As Mack writes, blogs work

 ...when you respect your customers enough to tailor your content so that it appeals to them. That builds readership, and loyalty.

And it gives those readers a reason to want to interact with the company through their blog. That's when a blog's true potential as a communication tool can begin to be realized. But that potential can't be reached until the company is willing to examine its blog from the reader's point of view.

Before much longer, company blogs will no longer be a "nice to have", they'll be a "must have." Even those companies who aren't testing the blogging waters quite yet will be doing so sooner or later. And it's never too early to start thinking about what your blog strategy should be.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Second Life Ennui

Via wavLength, I found the best description of what Second Life feels like that I've seen. Funny. 

Technorati tags: ,

Making Lists

 Blogger Todd And has put together his "Power 150" list of "Top Marketing Blogs." (Nope, we're not on it, and no, we're not bitter, really. We haven't been at this as long as many of you.)

People love lists. We want to know what the most popular books, movies, blogs, and web sites are. Every year we see lists of the best cities to live in, the best companies to work for, and so on, and so on. Human beings have a propensity to rank things... even when ranking isn't terribly functional.

Todd's list is worth checking out because there's lots of good reading there. I intend to go check these blogs out when I have free time (OK, well, that could take a while). But as I read about his methodology, I started wondering, does this make sense in the context of blogs, and highly-customized web content and web communities?

Google PageRank (0 to 10) – Google PageRank is a link analysis algorithm that interprets web links and assigns a numerical weighting (0 to 10) to each site. High-quality sites receive a higher PageRank. The Power 150 ranking uses the actual PageRank as part of its algorithm.

Bloglines Subscribers (1 to 20) – Bloglines displays the amount of subscribers each blog has to its feed(s). Subscriber ranges were determined (i.e., more than 20, more than 30, etc.) and each range was assigned a number (1 to 20) that was used as part of the Power 150 algorithm.

Technorati Ranking (1 to 30) – Technorati ranking relates the number of sites pointing to a particular blog. The more link sources referencing your blog, the higher the Technorati ranking. Similar to the Bloglines Subscribers value, Technorati ranking ranges were determines (i.e., top 9,000, top 10,000, top 20,000, etc.) and each range was assigned a number (1 to 30) that was used as part of the Power 150 algorithm.

Todd And Points (1 to 15) – As the only subjective measure in the Power 150 algorithm, 1 to 15 opinion points were assigned to each blog. Todd And values frequent, relevant, creative and high-quality content. The use of audio, video and graphics is also heavily weighted in the Todd And Points.

Kudos to Todd for using some relatively objective measures. And bigger kudos to him for recognizing the subjectivity of this with that last category.

Because, let's face it: this is even more subjective than most lists. What makes a blog the "best" on your personal list? Let's be honest: many of are, on any given day, talking about the same things. "Best" often means "I love the way this author tells me the same things as everybody else."

And people read "marketing blogs" (talk about a category that covers a lot of ground) for different reasons. Some of us are looking for practical tips about how we do marketing. Some of us are looking for the kind of professional chit-chat that we used to get around the coffee machine, but now that we work solo there's nobody near the coffee machine to talk to but the cat. Some of us want to see what big advertisers are up to and what our peers think of it. (For most of us, it's some of everything.)

The nature of blogs is that they don't have to appeal to mass audiences: it's hundreds and thousands of content creators building small communities with thousands and occasionally millions of readers. Who are often fellow creators. Top 150? I'm not sure what that means.

But yes, I'm as fascinated by everybody else by what everybody else is looking at, so I'm having fun looking through Todd's list. Honestly, though, it's more meaningful to me if somebody like Mary mentions two or three blogs, because I have the context of reading Mary's blog, and if she recommends a small number of blogs, I believe that she's places real value on them.

Which reminds me - Maureen and I really need to pay some attention to our own list of favorite blogs on the right, because we haven't updated it in ages. Bad bloggers!

Technorati tags: ,

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Ads in Email: Yet More AOL Cluelessness

AOL has started  attaching ads to email messages sent by paying subscribers (that ever-vanishing breed) who are using their AOL 9.0 software:

The change, which began Tuesday, affects e-mails sent from AOL accounts using the internet provider's AOL 9.0 software, which is available to AOL's 13 million paid subscribers and others who have downloaded the program.

E-mails sent through AOL's Webmail service, which is available for free on the company's Web site, have had the ads attached for about eight months, said AOL spokeswoman Anne Bentley.

The 34-word tag suggests readers check out free AOL services at the company's Web site.

People understand that when something is free, you might have to put up with this; if you use Yahoo, you get an ad at the bottom of your messages. If you use Gmail (as I do) you have the contextual ads at the side of the screen (and your correspondents don't have to look at them; a major plus, I think).

The idea that people might not like having ads tacked onto their messages when they're paying for the service doesn't seem to have occurred to the folks at AOL:

Bentley said the ad is a reminder to people, especially those paying for AOL service, that many products like e-mail are now available for free. She said the current plan is to use the ads to promote AOL services.

She said AOL received "a smattering of e-mails" complaining about the ads but said the company plans to continue using them.

Yes, they're a handy reminder. This is somebody who's drunk the "ads are just helpful information" kool-aid and asked for seconds.

I'm sure they've only gotten a smattering of messages; after all, it's not their users who are seeing them, it's the people to whom they write. It will take a while before everyone notices it.

It's a stupid move that shows disrespect for customers.

Technorati tags:

Personalized Advertising: It's all about ME

Sunday's Boston Globe had an interesting article by Scott Kirsner on personalized advertising, which focused on how marketers are coping with the "DVR problem". I.e., with so many people recording shows for later replay, they're zapping right through the ads. (Kirsner also deals with another ad phenomenon: people voluntarily watching ads they like on YouTube and other video sites. Hard to believe but the wretched Super Bowl ad for Emerald Nuts - the one in which Robert Goulet appeared as a cadaver - has been viewed 1 million times. Make that 1 million and one, now that I've gone back to confirm how terrible the ad was.)

Marketers are dealing with the DVR problem in a variety of ways. More advertising online. More product placements in movies and shows. More "citizen marketing."

But the principal focus of the ads was on personalized and particularized advertising.  Some of the ideas mentioned in the article were quite interesting. Taking advantage of all those Big Brother data bases out there, carmakers could gear sportscar ads to kidless homes, while beaming ads for SUVs and mini-vans to households with children. The premise, of course, is that the more geared to YOU the ad is, the more likely you are to pay attention to it.

Ads could further be personalized down to the most micro of levels. Again, the example Kirsner used was for carmakers starting to move in on you when they learned that your current car lease was up in a couple of months. As long as they don't get too personalized. I'm fine with Dennis Hopper and his baby-boomer ads for Ameriprise, but I really don't want him saying, "Come on, Maureen Rogers. You really haven't saved enough for your retirement now, have you." When that day comes I will find my old camping axe and hack the TV set to death.

Among other possibilities mentioned in the article was the concept of having ads that link to the day's events, what's happening on Wall Street, the weather, the score of the game you're watching. Kirsner cited an experiment that Wendy's was running in which when the temperature was over 60 degrees, they promoted milkshakes; under 60 degrees, they flogged chili.

Spookily, there's now technology available that can let your cable/satellite provider tell with 95 percent accuracy whether a man or a woman is in command of the channel cruiser. (Guess which gender does more hyperclicking?)

Thus, by observing the clicking patter, the broadcaster can discern that the person watching that two-hanky real-woman movie on Lifetime - you know, the ones where Lindsay Wagner plays a wronged woman trying to find new meaning in her life as a single mom with a handicapped child  who meets this really nice guy who likes long, soulful walks on the beach, only to find out he's got 6 months to live, or worse that he's an axe murderer capable of destroying his TV when an Emerald Nuts ad comes on - was actually a man, not a woman.  Armed with this intelligence, they could swap out the ad for Oil of Olay or tampons for one for Old Spice other manly thing.

All of this personalized advertising is a response to the pressures on broadcasters to demonstrate that TV advertising is still  a good way to go. As Kirsner notes,

Until the targeters can trot out data that show how much more effective their approach is, and making the case that it can effectively combat ad-skipping, ad dollars may continue to migrate elsewhere.

Of course, all this technology is a two-way street, so people could filter out ads that they don't want to see. (First on my list: Emerald Nuts.)

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The Apple Product Cycle

Just something funny. A brief excerpt:

The haters offer their assessment. The forums are ablaze with vitriolic rage. Haters pan the device for being less powerful than a Cray X1 while zealots counter that it is both smaller and lighter than a Buick Regal. The virtual slap-fight goes on and on, until obscure technical nuances like, “Will it play multiplexed Ogg Vorbis streams?” become matters of life and death.

In Houston, We Don't Have a Problem

There are familiar phrases that are useful tools in your writing; they get a point across in a way that's familiar to readers, they illustrate something perfectly through cultural references. Then there are phrases so worn out that they need to be given a rest. And one of those is "Houston, we have a problem."

Maybe I'm just especially tired of it after hearing it used repeatedly because of the recent "astronaut gone wild!" news story. But this morning, when I was scanning ZDNet's tech update email, I saw a link to a story titled, Houston, Wii have a problem!

(By the way, the whole "Wii"/"we" thing is already getting tired.)

There's actually nothing in this story about Houston. If you do a Google News search on the phrase, you find similar pointless uses of it.

Enough, really. Houston has enough image problems without that phrase being the most common use of our city's name.

As a Houstonian, the name of our city conjures up all kinds of other things, all more appealing that that: Summer evenings sitting on a patio enjoying a cool beverage surrounded by foliage, muggy air, and the electric hum of the city. Watching the arcs of the bridges over the Southwest Freeway slowly moving through their color changes at dusk. Downtown silhouetted against the sky with two entirely different kinds of weather happening at different places in the background. A sudden heavy rain releasing the armies of frogs into my narrow street as the storm ditches overflow - before it all disappears ten minutes later. Bungalows in Montrose tucked among tropical trees. The median on Heights Boulevard crammed with people preparing for the Art Car Parade. A quiet moment in the Rothko Chapel, escaping a busy day for a few minutes of solitude, watching the light change as clouds pass overhead. Running over to 19th Street to get a sandwich taking twice as long as I planned because you have to catch up on neighborhood news with all the shopkeepers. People-watching on the patio at Cafe Brasil as the traffic starts and stops along Westheimer. Coming home at night past rustling palms listening to trains in the distance.

But for most of the world, it's "Houston, we have a problem!" Yes, it's a bit of sore point for us down here; we realize that this big sprawl of a city makes a horrible first impression, and visitors often leave having missed the soul of the city. We know that the world sees us as a big polluted sprawl.

Mostly, that's okay; it can be our little secret that this is a fantastic, dynamic town, that the people are the nicest ones you'll meet on this earth, that it's a mecca of diversity in an often polarized world, that if we tend to be large it's because there's just so much good food everywhere you go, and that if sometimes people are brash here it's because their city always makes them feel like they the world is just endless possibilities waiting to be seized.

Sure, we know our problems, but the soul of Houston is that they don't define us. Or, as a someone commented on the Houston, It's Worth It site:

If Houston were a dog, she'd be a mutt with 3 legs, one bad eye, fleas the size of corn nuts, and buck teeth. Despite all that, she'd be the best dog you'll ever know.

So please, enough with that tired old phrase. It's a long way to express a short idea. And if you have a problem... well, it's not Houston's.

Technorati tags:

Paradise by the CRM Dashboard Light?

Some marketers love metrics, and happily slice and dice numbers - the open and click-through rates from email campaigns, Google AdWords reports, sales reports that tie back to marketing campaigns. Others look at them as an unpleasant necessity. I think that reflects the different ways we all found our way into marketing careers - some of us from the analytical end, some from the creative end, all meeting somewhere in the middle.

But no matter how you personally feel about marketing metrics, they're important, and you need to understand them... and that makes "Lies, Damn Lies, and Dashboards" by Su Doyle at MarketingProfs worth a read:

Watching CRM dashboards is like monitoring stocks online—it's easy to get mesmerized by the merest up tick or downturn in lead flow. But like savvy investors, savvy marketers need to do the legwork to understand what's really being measured—before getting seduced by graphs and charts.

Marketers have never been more metric-driven. We obsessively check our CRM dashboard, and we know that the CEO and sales team are doing the same. How do we stay ahead of the numbers in a real-time world?

There's something important to understand about measuring any process: you have to have a solid underlying process, or the measurements are meaningless.

Here's what my experience with CRM systems tells me: the marketing and sales processes are almost never as tight as they should be, or as anybody thinks they are, and CRM systems usually show us that - if we know how to look at what they tell us.

Doyle gives an example of two groups within a company looking at the same numbers, and reaching two entirely different conclusions about marketing results. What she describes is all too common: people don't agree about what leads are. The handoff process from sales to marketing isn't working.

If you can, the time to figure this out is before the new CRM system is online and everyone is looking at reports and pointing fingers at each other. I won't repeat Doyle's good suggestions, but just offer this thought: much of this boils down to sitting down with your sales team and agreeing to how things will work.

Define the difference between an inquiry and a lead, and agree on it. Define the process for handling both (inquiries go into a marcomm-based nurture cycle, leads go to an appropriate part of the sales team for action) and agree on it.

If you do that, you won't have your CRM system pointing out the dysfunction in your organization, and reviewing reports and looking at dashboards may become an occasion for collaborative problem-solving and improvement rather than an agita-inducing fight over who's screwing up.

Technorati tags: , ,

Monday, February 19, 2007

Marketing's from Venus, Sales is from Mars

Through twenty-odd years in high-tech marketing, I’ve come to appreciate the healthy tension that can and should exist between sales and marketing. Sales professionals are to be admired and respected. After all, they’re responsible for the revenue that makes everything else possible. They’re actually out there, every day, on the front lines, battling the competitors, hand-holding (and sometimes battling) the customers, and, in many situations, making up for all the product’s deficiencies. And as often as not, sales can bring back reasonably good product ideas, reasonably good marketing ideas, and reasonably good feed-back on what works and what doesn’t. Marketing is also to be admired and respected. It’s marketing, after all, that’s looking out for what the product needs to be not just now, but in the future. It’s marketing that’s watching out for what the competitors are doing, and where the market’s going. It’s marketing that’s making sure that all those prospects are aware of the company and its products. It’s marketing that’s providing sales with the ammunition they need to go out and sell.

So why does the relationship between sales and marketing have to be so antagonistic? Why can’t we all just get along?

I’ve come to the conclusion that the root of the problem is as fundamental as the differences between the sexes. Sure, we all share the same DNA, but when it comes right down to it, Sales and Marketing view the world, and each other, differently. It just comes down to the sheer fact that Marketing is from Venus, and Sales is from Mars.

Perhaps the key to understanding the great divide that exists between sales and marketing is trying to understand how each group’s perception of themselves might be at odds with how the other group views them.

If you’re in sales and marketing, does any of the following sound familiar? (Sorry the format isn't clearer, but I can't figure out how to get a table in here.)

What Sales Is Saying:

  1. We are the mighty, mighty warriors
  2. We’re out there fighting day to day
  3. We keep this place afloat
  4. We’ll do whatever it takes
  5. We earned our way to Winners’ Circle
  6. We can’t sell this product unless we get some new features
  7. We get nothing from marketing; we generate all of our own leads
  8. The leads we get from marketing suck
  9. We’re extremely appreciative when someone helps us out when we’re under the gun
  10. We’re the only ones around here with any sense of urgency
  11. Nobody respects us;they think we’re just a bunch of mercenaries
  12. Sales is brutally hard

What Marketing's Thinking:

  1. You’re way too aggressive
  2. Swagger on
  3. You make 4 times what we do (you don't see a Rolex on my wrist, do you?)
  4. Sleaze balls
  5. Spoiled, pampered babies; it's not enough you make all that money, you need stuff, too?
  6. Tomorrow, it’ll be something else you can't sell without
  7. Your idea of a lead is us telling you to go to the 13th floor reception at the First National Bank and pick up a signed contract
  8. If the leads we give you are so dreadful, then why do you keep asking us for more?
  9. Thanks for the flowers, but how come you don’t recognize me on the elevator a day later
  10. Does everything have to be last minute with you guys?
  11. Whiners
  12. With our marketing, my parakeet could sell this product

And then, of course, there's Marketing's self-perception - and Sales' take on that.

What Marketing's Saying:

  1. We keep asking for feedback, but all we get from sales is complaints
  2. We found that customer for you
  3. We think long-term and strategic
  4. You’ve got to sell the products we have
  5. We’re the creative force in this company
  6. We work hard all year long and nobody appreciates us
  7. We need planning and lead-time
  8. In this environment, it’s hard to grab - let alone keep - customer attention
  9. Nobody respects us; they think we’re just a bunch of lightweights
  10. Marketing is really complex and challenging

What Sales is Thinking:

  1. You either ignore what we say or you get all defensive
  2. He’s my brother-in-law
  3. You have no grip on reality
  4. With this crap, we have to sell futures
  5. Marketing’s all fluff. And can we have logo golf balls this year?
  6. Why are you being so sensitive, didn’t we just send you flowers?
  7. No sense of urgency around here
  8. Grab their attention? How about trying to sell to them
  9. We wouldn’t say lightweight exactly…
  10. Marketing? I could do it blindfolded

Yes, I’m sure that somewhere out there, there’s some Elysian Field where Sales and Marketing May-pole dance and bask in each others' glow. But I’ve never managed to find one. We’re not going to resolve the battle between Sales and Marketing – after all, it’s almost as old as the battle between the sexes. But it does help to stop for a minute every once in a while and get in the other guy’s head, to acknowledge that we’re all in this together, and to recognize that you really can’t have one without the other. I know that all the Marketing folks reading this agree with everything I’ve said. I can almost see their heads nodding. As for the Sales folks - naaaaah, they didn’t read this far. They don’t have time for any of this tripe.

Radioactivity

The old familiar international symbol for radiation:

... is being supplemented by this:

According to the International Atomic Energy Association and the International Standards Organization, this is a clearer way to tell people to run! Run! Run for your lives!

The new symbol is aimed at alerting anyone, anywhere to the potential dangers of being close to a large source of ionizing radiation, the result of a five-year project conducted in 11 countries around the world. The symbol was tested with different population groups - mixed ages, varying educational backgrounds, male and female - to ensure that its message of "danger - stay away" was crystal clear and understood by all.

"We can´t teach the world about radiation," said Carolyn Mac Kenzie, an IAEA radiation specialist who helped develop the symbol, "but we can warn people about dangerous sources for the price of sticker."

The new symbol, developed by human factor experts, graphic artists, and radiation protection experts, was tested by the Gallup Institute on a total of 1 650 individuals in Brazil, Mexico, Morocco, Kenya, Saudi Arabia, China, India, Thailand, Poland, Ukraine and the United States.

The new symbol does, indeed, make it clear that something bad is around and one should get away. It's not terribly clear about what the bad thing is: a strange object will fire worms at grinning skulls of people with no teeth, and at you? So best to run and ask questions later?

They're right, of course, that the plain old radiation symbol doesn't mean much if you've never seen it before. I'm not sure the new graphic tells much more than a sign saying "DANGER" in the appropriate local way would.

Of course, looking at this collection of hazard signs, there are quite a few that don't really scream "hazard" unless you know that yellow triangles mean to be cautious. (The "machines start automatically" sign is particularly mysterious.)

While my instinct is to hate the sign because it's klutzy and ugly, I see why it would be needed... sort of. I wonder where they will actually be placed?

Seems to me anybody working in a power plant, or other facility where radiation is likely to be found, will already understand the old radiation symbol. Where is it that an ordinary person who doesn't know the symbol might accidentally come across deadly radiation and have to run away - and is there perhaps a bigger problem than bad signage there?

(Blogtalk: WhyBark.com, NerdWorld)

Pay-per-Click and Pay-per-Call

A recent article about pay-per-call advertising in online yellow pages tickled me, because it's a great example of how new ways of doing business online can filter back and change more traditional models:

Three-year-old Rhode Island-based roofing company AS Enterprises had a big, albeit common, problem: not enough customers. Owner Ann Marie Appleton had tried offering free estimates in local circulars and flyers, but her competitors were doing the same, and the resulting leads were lukewarm at best. She considered an ad in the SuperPages yellow pages, a division of Verizon spin-off Idearc Media, because of its large distribution and solid reputation, but the next edition wouldn't be delivered to homes for eight months.

Eventually, Appleton's sales representative sold her on the idea of a monthly agreement for the company's new Pay For Call service, where businesses pay for each call made to their business via SuperPages' online local search results.

Appleton couldn't be happier with her choice. The service costs around $600 a month, depending on how many times her ad is served and how many calls she gets. AS Enterprises totaled more than $240,000 in sales in 2006, up from just $60,000 the year before, and Appleton says a good 70% of that business came directly from her pay-per-call advertising.

I do think that the Business Week article above about pay-per-call gets off track when it talks about whether this is a threat to pay-per-click. I see them as two varieties of something similar; the idea of performance-based advertising fees being extended from general search to other places where potential customers go looking for businesses.

Here's the obvious next step, I think: pay-per-call in the physical Yellow Pages. Maureen and I have talked about those old dead-tree directories and how they have become archaic, but are still useful if you need a somebody local to fix your roof or unclog your kitchen sink. (Far more useful than the online versions, I've found.)

So instead of today's "place it and pray" model of advertising, why not do the same pay-per-call approach? A special number goes into the ad, and the advertiser pays if somebody actually dials it. It would bring the accountability we expect from sponsored search to the long-in-the-teeth Yellow Pages, and would make them a far more attractive ad option.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Online Marketing Predictions

MarketingProfs, those masters of the handy list, have published their Top 10 Online Marketing Predictions for 2007 (article by Ryan Buchanan).

It's a pretty good list, and how relevant any particular item is to you depends on your industry and its dynamics; for example, while I think we will see greater integration of video into web sites, I think a lot of it will be an annoying mistake. I think that the idea that cause-related marketing will be big is questionable; done right, it's very powerful (and socially beneficial) but I expect there will be a lowest-common-denominator effect that results in more greenwashing and similar phenomena.  

As for #4, well... we'll see!

I'd add one to the list: measuring results will become ever more important. Ryan hints at this with his comments on email list segmentation and pointless viral campaigns (that is, most of them) but I think it merits a place of its own on the list - though it's never as easy as we'd like.

What do you see in your particular corner of the marketing world?

Friday, February 16, 2007

Fear and Loathing in Cupertino

Apple reveals its stunning cluelessness about the emerging user-controlled marketing environment with the latest attack of their flying lawyer monkeys: a bar in Des Moines running an "iPod Night" where people shared their iPod playlists was warned to cut it out.

"Please choose a name for your product that is consistent with Apple's guidelines (that does not include iPod or any other Apple trademark or variation thereon)," reads a letter from Apple representative Pete Alcorn to Curtis. The e-mail refers to the event's Web site, ipodmonday.com, and related podcasts and online broadcasts.

Curtis is still in disbelief.

"I do this little thing called iPod Monday in a little bar in Des Moines, Iowa, that attracts 45 people at most," he said. "Why is this billion-dollar corporation worrying about iPod Monday?"

Well, if you had customers who loved your product so much that they planned a regular night of entertainment around it and told the world about it, wouldn't your first thought be to threaten them?

It may sound like I have it in for Apple lately, and that's not the case; I am just struck by how they can be so good at some things (like making technology simple and great industrial design) and so awful at others (marketing, dealing with customers).

They've always been a controlling outfit, but that tendency seems to be more evident than ever these days. No matter how many great products they launch, that will hurt them.

Meanwhile, I bet if the bar in Des Moines called their event Zune Monday, they wouldn't get quite such a cold shoulder from Redmond.

(Blogtalk: Mary Schmidt wrote about this yesterday.)

Technorati tags: , ,

Pricing: The Oft-Ignored Marketing P

As marketers, most of us "get" the product-place-promote aspects of marketing, and a good deal of our time and energy focuses on these elements. Sometimes, however, we forget to give pricing equal time, and this is especially true for those of us who work with products and services that aren't "off the shelf" and that aren't sold to a wide market. This is the B2B, T2T world I've generally lived in and, while it seems as if it should be reasonable straightforward to set prices in this world, it's not really. In fact, on the rare occasions when I did work on more "mass market" items - where we sold in the 1000's, rather than in the 10's or hundreds - it was actually easier to pick a price and stic with it, even if we pulled the price out of thin air. 

Not that we didn't have a price in mind when we brought new products to our non-mass market.

We did.

And that price was more likely than not a result of doing the arithmetic on our cost structure. We knew that we invested X to build the product. We figured that it was going to cost us absolute Y + marginal Z to market and support it.  We took some SWAG at how many customers we could sell it to and divided by the most conservative number of customers we could get away with.

VoilĂ ! We had us some pricing.

Cost-based pricing, of course, makes perfect sense. Why bring a product to market at all if you'll never be able to cover your costs of production?

Isn't this just Business Duh 1.01?

Not so fast.  I've had quite a few adventures in pricing, and I've done quite a bit of time in what I call the "here's what we gotta sell it for" school of pricing, and learned the hard way that life is not so simple.

For starters, a cost-based number may bear no relationship whatsoever to what your competitors charge for a similar product, or to what your customers are willing to pay. Maybe your competitors are more efficient. Maybe they're willing and able to play race-to-the-bottom pricing chicken in order to "buy market share." Maybe your customers just don't see the value quite the same way that you do.

Of course, in places where we've done this form of pricing, it's generally been intertwined with the need to develop a product that's going to be sold at  a high-price point to a smaller audience because the company lacks the financial resources to take a lower-end product to a larger audience. 

As often as not, the higher-end product is sold at a price that's an order of magnitude higher than the low end product, even though the lower-end product provides at least half as much of the benefit. (For services the, the "price delta" between low and high end tends not to be this steep, but it's still been significant.)

At one small software company where I did quite a bit of time, we had a clunky old software product that we lacked the development resources to do much improvement to. Making lemonade out of this lemon, we charged a lot for it. Here I learned one of the miracles of high pricing: in and of itself, a high price confers an aura of value and worth. This product costs so much, it must be good. (Note: this company was acquired and put out of its misery.)

With a high-price product in hand, it generally comes down on marketing's head to come up with positioning and differentiation (real or faux) that can explain why the higher price means higher value, and on sales' head to sell the customer on this.

I worked for one Internet Services Provider that have prices and costs that were well above the industry norm. Our differentiation basically came down to "our techies are smarter than everybody else's." In the early days of the Internet, this was actually good enough to win us a lot of  business. But as other ISPs found smart engineers of their own - plus built a lot of efficiencies into their operations that we didn't have - they undercut us on price, big time. And we started losing big time.

Oh, we still won some deals at our higher price - which we "couldn't afford" to lower - but we didn't win all that many. And as often as not, we won them with sweeteners that made the deals more costly than if we'd just lowered the price to begin with. (Note: this company went bankrupt. Shards of this shattered failure still exist here and there.)

This all lead me to develop Rogers' Rule: Good sales and marketing can only make up for a 10-20% difference between price and true value. (And the rule's corollary: Even so, the market will catch up with you eventually.)

Now that we're well onto value-based pricing...Like cost-based pricing, this is a reasonable and good idea.

You figure out what value the customer gets out of using your product - how much time and money they save, or what great things they can do with your product, or how much fun they can have with it - and charge them some proportion of this amount. (Hopefully enough to cover your costs.)

The trick, of course, is to figure out just what that value is.

If you're lucky, it's pretty clear cut and obvious. Your product will help your customer do things cheaper, faster, better. Yep, it's worth it.

In other cases, it's not so obvious.

Once again, it comes down to marketing and sales to make the case.

What to do about the pricing dilemma? No cheaper, faster, better set of guidelines here. Just some common sense:

  • Know what your competition charges (and be honest with yourself about the differences between your products and theirs).
  • Let your cost structure inform your pricing, but not dictate it.
  • Don't indulge in wishful thinking about the value of your product. Be honest with yourself.
  • As early on in your product/market planning cycle, spend quality time with likely users of your product and work with them to help you figure out what's a fair and reasonable price.

All of this will help you develop pricing that's more defensible and reasonable. Even so, you still need to recognize that, for high-end, B2B and T2T products, whatever price you establish is a guideline, and the point at which the deal starts getting negotiated.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Web 0.0 at United Airlines

Passwords are a pain in the neck. Having good password recovery on a site in a necessity.

I almost never fly United Airlines anymore - I live in Houston and Continental is almost always the best and cheapest way to get anywhere. But I have some miles with them, and when I got an email warning me that they'll all expire at the end of the year, I thought it was worth seeing how many there were and whether there was a good way to use them through some non-travel offer.

What's my United password? How should I know? So after trying to most logical candidates (none of which were correct) I clicked the "forgotten password" link and saw this:

My reaction: are you kidding me? Write a letter? Maybe I'll have the butler put it in an envelope, seal it with our family crest in wax, and deliver it United's door.

Would it be so hard to put a button that says, "Click here and we'll mail a new password to your address of record?"

Apparently. I realize that miles are valuable and there are security issues... but it's not this hard to get a password reset from my bank, for Pete's sake.

Someone let us know when the 21st century dawns over at United.

Executive Interviews and Sending the Right Message

Putting your executives in the public eye is a standard, and generally effective, PR technique. Some executives are more media-ready than others. I happened to hear one of the best executive media appearances I've come across in a long time while listening to a podcast of "Tech Tuesday" on the Kojo Nnamdi show from WAMU in Washington, DC.

 The executive was Ben Fahti, who heads Microsoft's Security Technology Unit. Given the beating Microsoft has taken over the years, his position is a pretty critical one. His performance on the show was impressive. Some of the things he did right:

  1. He owned up to the company's past problems, talking frankly about how security was not part of their development process and the problems it caused.
  2. He didn't get dragged down into discussions of particular incidents and problems.
  3. He did present a coherent, articulate picture of how Microsoft is making security a fundamental part of their development process. He sounded like someone who knew his stuff and was making important changes that will benefit customers.
  4. When callers brought up very specific problems ("My PC is doing this and that..."), he couldn't answer the specifics... but asked for their contact information so he could get them help offline. A small thing but an impressive one.
  5. He didn't bash Apple.

News about security issues at Microsoft continues, of course. But Fahti left the impression that not only was the company making major strides, but that it's addressing the problem in a systemic way.

Contract that to what one hears from Apple about security. Apple executive appearances are designed to be a bit like a visitation from the turtlenecked gods, and the main message is "We're better, nyah nyah," complete with advertisements poking fun at Microsoft.

And while Apple has set the bar high for security, it's not as high as they'd have you believe; there are a steady stream of issues and patches. Moreover, their attitude inspires a sense of dread - if these guys have a problem will they even know it? Consider this eWeek article about the Month of Apple Bugs project:

Wil Shipley, the CEO of Delicious Monster Software, said he agreed that there is a greater good in reporting OS bugs. "First off, I'll say, as Apple does, that finding bugs in Mac OS X is really good for all of us—Apple, third-party developers, Mac users—and so, you know, bully for those guys," he said.

But Shipley said he also questions how the MOAB project is going about its goals.

"The only unsavory bit in all this is that originally, when I read about MOAB, it was positioned as a response to Apple being 'smug' about security, which is childish and inane," said Shipley.

"Apple has a right to be 'smug' about an area in which they are better then their competition, even if they are not totally perfect."

Wrong. Smug doesn't play well. Smug plays especially poorly when you're talking about security. And smugness keeps a company from seeming serious. Consider this Apple response:

A spokesperson for Apple said that "Apple takes security very seriously and has a great track record of addressing potential vulnerabilities before they can affect users. We always welcome feedback on how to improve security on the Mac."

Microsoft's got an executive talking frankly about their problems and what they're doing on a local radio show. Apple's got a spokesperson giving a non-answer and TV ads with a gloating Mac guy laughing at a PC with the sniffles.

Apple may be very good at security, but the smug way they talk about it leaves the impression that they're simply not a serious company.

Smug's rarely effective.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

I Hate Captcha

Can we crown captcha one of the most poorly-implemented spam prevention techniques ever?

What do you think is the right thing to type in for this captcha image?

If you said 5e3d18, you're wrong.

This happens to me so often it's not funny, and while I have my moments, I'm not an idiot. And I just got new glasses recently.

Funny thing is, this is one of the easier-to-read ones. Or so I thought.

There must be a better way.

Technorati tags: ,

Pimped Out John: Roto-Rooter's Fresh Idea

What do you do with your product when it's been around forever?What do you do when your product meets a need that while definitely necessary isn't all that fun and exciting (and the details of which are quasi-unmentionable? What do you do when everybody's heard of you, but that half of them know you by the tired jingle that ran for years on TV? What do you do when you want to appeal to a younger demographic?

If you're Roto-Rooter, you come up with a fresh idea.

There's takes advantage of shows like Pimp My Ride  and - though not explicitly - of trends like the movement towards "man caves" (set-aside places in the house where there's nothing chintz, flouncy, pink, flowered, or white-winey, and where a guy can be a guy) and you have the Pimped Out John Sweepstakes.

Announced, appropriately enough, on the anniversary of the death of Thomas Crapper, an inventor credited with a number of the elements that made indoor plumbing feasible, the Pimped Out John contest has it's grand prize, a fitted out toilet that electronic junkies in particular will flip their lid for.

Among the fixtures:

  • Xbox
  • DVD player
  • Laptop computer ("with fully articulated robot arm")
  • iPod (with stereo docking station equipped with toilet paper dispenser)
  • Tivo recorder
  • Bike pedal exerciser

For toilet traditionalists, there's a magazine rack (plus subscriptions to Sports Illustrated, ESPN, and GQ - the latter of which seems like quite a peculiar choice).

But wait, there's more....

As if all of this "stuff" wasn't enough, there's also a stocked fridge (drinks and snacks) with a beer tap, and a cup warmer/cooler. So you'll never have to leave. (Here's where I really draw the line - eating and drinking while taking care of business.  Waste not, want not? Garbage in, garbage out?  Way too much of a straight line connection here for me.

This is one part of the prize that I think they could easily have eliminated.

The flourishing touch is an emergency call button that summon's up Roto-Rooter, just in case something happens - presumably to the plumbing and not to the electronics or the Internet connection.

All and all a fun way to work with an old, unglamorous brand and attract some attention.

It sure beats, "Call Roto-Rooter, that's the name. And away go troubles, down the drain. Roto-Rooter. Sewer service. Roto-Rooter. Sewer service." That's their old jingle which, since seeing the article on this sweepstakes I can't get out of my head.)

You can enter the contest (up until April 2 - drawing's later in the month) - by going to the Roto-Rooter site. I'm debating entering. I wouldn't mind winning the stuff, but I sure wouldn't use any of it in my bathroom.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Thanks to my sister, Trish, who saw an article on this in The Boston Globe.

Should Marketing Feed Sales?

No, says Sirius Decisions (via dmnViews).

In business-to-business marketing, should sales get most of their leads from marketing? Market research firm Sirius Decisions recently benchmarked successful B-to-B marketers and found that "feeding sales" was NOT the optimal approach. Instead, marketing should focus on nurturing low-probability prospects.

I felt like I was listening to myself at any one of a number of meetings over the years.

Marketing communications is a great way to turn potential customers into likely customers. One of the best ways to short-circuit a good marketing program is to send the salespeople after prospects who are at the "Hmm, that's interesting" stage. A great way to waste money is do the nurturing for two months, and then stop because you haven't gotten enough sales yet.

We've all seen it - usually followed by the "marketing's not giving us any good leads!" / "salespeople aren't following up properly" pissing contest. (Which in its worst form ends with pink slips all around!)

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Email Newsletter Mistakes

Email newsletters aren't exactly the most current marketing topic, but I think it was worthwhile for MarketingProfs to recycle an old piece on email newsletter mistakes. As I read it, I noticed that I still see many of these mistakes today - especially #4 (bad headers) and #5 (making it hard to unsubscribe).

As usual I have a nit (I guess I'm like that...). Their mistake #1 is "confusing newsletter with promotions" and they write:

Many marketers don't make the distinction between an email newsletter and email promotions. The latter are action-oriented; designed to provoke some kind of (immediate) response through a click, a sign-up, a purchase, whatever. They're what most people think of under the term opt-in email marketing.

Email newsletters may contain action-related elements, but their real potential lies in building, over time, a lasting, long-term relationship with the reader. Which means they may not try and induce any kind of immediate action at all. Instead, they create a climate, an environment, a relationship which predisposes the reader to taking such an action at some other time.

I don't think the distinction was ever that clear; I think it's less clear now, with things like blogs taking on more of the relationship role. And frankly, for some consumer-oriented newsletters, I expect a promotion; the day that Borders starts sending me newsletters without coupons is the day I unsubscribe.

Still, it's worth thinking about the basic mistakes they identify next time you're putting an email newsletter together.

Search marketing: B2C vs B2B

If you do business-to-business search marketing, this MarketingProfs article is worth a read. There's lots of good stuff there (and it's the first in a series) but there's one great point I want to call out: the challenge of measuring conversion for B2B searchers:

While the ultimate goal of both B2C and B2B marketing is to create a sale, the goal of B2B search engine optimization couldn't be more different from its B2C counterpart. SEO's goal in the B2C environment is usually to generate an online sale in a single visit. Ideally, searchers find a high-ranking site in the search engine results and navigate quickly from the landing page through a prescribed channel, and ultimately through the shopping cart and checkout process.

This, however, is unrealistic for most business-to-business marketers, whose products and services are generally not acquired in an e-commerce environment. The goal of search engine optimization for most B2B marketers is not an immediate sale but, rather, inclusion in the consideration set, the short list of preferred suppliers from which the ultimate provider will be selected.

Conversion in the B2B realm is usually not immediate; nor does conversion typically occur online. In B2B search engine optimization, getting found is merely the beginning.

That makes measurement much harder. (It reminds me of a conversation I had with a friend who had a housewares/giftware business. He was going to his trade shows, while I was going to IT shows. He said, "Yes, we broke even on the show at 1:30 on Tuesday. I was so jealous - we were trying to analyze our ROI for months after the event.)

I'll just toss out one technique that's useful if you're using something like Adwords, which gives you simple conversion tracking. B2C marketers can use that to see which searchers bought something. B2B folks can't do that, but you can come up with some kind of interim conversion - downloading your white paper, signing up for your seminar, etc.

It's not the ultimate goal but it at least gives you a discrete event to track as you map out the whole purchasing process and try to measure results at each step of the way.

I'm looking forward to the next article in the series.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Credit Where It's Not Due

Maureen wrote about those endless credit card offers that many of us get; like her, I am unimpressed (or even annoyed) by them. I dutifully shred them, and when they appear, I always think, I really need to call that bank and tell them to stop it. (I did this once; it worked.)

Now I'm getting a set of them that particularly bug me, though. Last fall I became the treasurer of a non-profit group. Naturally, this meant that we had to go the bank so that I could be added as a signatory on the account and others could be removed. We updated all of the information, and as part of this the bank needed my home address (the group has a PO box). Fine.

Since then I've been getting credit card solicitations from that bank once or twice a week... addressed to a former officer of the organization at my home address.

This is not so much about the stupidity of it; it's a great example of how cavalier banks are with customer information. I've had several issues with this over the years, from a bank that randomly changed my address to somewhere in Maryland and started sending someone else my statements, to another bank that swallowed up a smaller bank (of which I'd been a customer years earlier, in another state) and then kept repeatedly changing my address back to the one from years ago.

Banks are, apparently, incompetent at managing databases. They also make a lot of money off of the information in them. It's a recipe for problems.

The marketing part of this? You can't expect to deepen a relationship with a customer when you behave in such an untrustworthy manner. There's a reason that most people have, at best, neutral feelings about their banks; they're aware that the bank is eager to nickel and dime them, they see the barrage of junk mail from them, and they often know that the bank is selling their name to more people for more solicitations. Would you feel good about doing business them someone like that?

When an industry is as bad about this as banks are, it creates a market opportunity. I was shocked to get a privacy notice from ING Direct that informed me that they didn't need me to opt out of anything; they simply don't sell their customers' information, period.

I don't know of any other bank that does that, but now that ING is offering checking accounts, I'm considering moving everything over to them - even though I'm so entwined with my currect bank (thanks to bill presentment and payment services) that it would be challenging.

Take a look at the approaches of your competitors toward things like customer privacy and then don't match them - beat them. And talk about it.

Gem of an Idea? Verizon's Jewel Concert

Not long ago, I wrote a riled up post on the arrival, on my doorstep, of a forklift full of Yellow Books. At the time I noted that we had not yet gotten our dump of Yellow Pages, and I was hoping that Verizon had decided to stop distributing these noxious books in such great volume.

Would that it were so.

Last week, our building was "gifted" with a pile o' Yellow Pages that nobody who lives here wants. I will give them another day or so of rest in the vestibule, then I'll cart them out back with this week's recycle. There they will join all the other Yellow Pages and Yellow Books that meet a similar fate. When I walk around my neighborhood and see all those blue recycle boxes overflowing with Yellow discards, I wish that Verizon and whoever produces the "other" would just eliminate me as the middle-man and just bring the books directly to the recycling center.

I understand the reluctance of the people at Verizon YP to give up on a way of life that has stood them in good stead for decades. And I also understand that it actually is sometimes easier to look things up in the book rather than on the 'Net. And that some people don't have Internet access to begin with. So the YP's and the YB's do fill a need. But since they no longer fill that need for as many people as they used to, they also fill a landfill site with their unwanted tomes.

Verizon could, of course, start pulling back on its VP business - allowing people to opt out or opt in to the directories. I'm sure they fear that this would cost them in advertising revenue, but at the same time it would enable them to assure their advertisers that the people who make a place in their homes for the books actually want them as something more than a doorstop.

They could pour more of their resources into the online version, rather than trying to keep something alive that's buggy-whip dying.

Instead, Verizon yesterday brought in pop star Jewel to give mini-concerts in train and T (subway) stations in Boston. They hired Jewel to promote the YP, in hopes, as The Boston Globe put it, "working to make its product more hip in response to competition on the Internet."

Hip? The Yellow Pages?

If I were in marketing at the YP, I think I would be trying to drive the young folks to the online version, and IM-enabled search. I don't think I would be trying to reach a generation that claims not to read anything that doesn't fit on their Razr screen by touting the joys of curling up with a fat, yellow book.  I mean, this is the generation that lets its thumbs do the walking, not its fingers. (For those too young to recall, the YP's tagline used to be "let your fingers do the walking through the Yellow Pages.")

A singer that would appeal to the average Yellow Pages users? Patti Page would be closer to the mark than Jewel.

The marketing point - well, round up the usual suspect: Know thy audience.

In this case, if they want to appeal to the Jewel audience, Verizon should think about changing their product, not adding a spokes-singer.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Wikipedia on the precipice?

Revenue is such a drag:

In a rather extraordinary example of begging for money, Florence Devouard, Chairwoman of the Wikimedia foundation has told an audience at the Lift07 conference that Wikipedia has the financial resources to run its servers for another 3-4 months, and that without further funding Wikipedia “might disappear”.

As the article notes, Wikipedia is one of the most popular sites on the web, with tons of traffic. It's also influential, with users depending on it for all kinds of information.

And it appears to have no particular model for generating revenue. Culturally, this has got to be difficult for them: the usual approaches (advertising, subscriptions) are foreign to the Wikipedia DNA.

But a Wikipedia with ads on the page or a subscription fee for unlimited use is better than no Wikipedia at all.

Technorati tags: