Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Shop.org San Francisco Gig Next Week

If you're in/going to be in San Francisco next week, drop on by to the Shop.org regional meeting. I'm going to do a roundtable with the hyper-smart John McAteer of Goooooogle.
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Monday, October 30, 2006

2 Books: "Word of Mouth Marketing" and "Made to Stick"

A couple of books showed up here at the Steinblog Campus: Word of Mouth Marketing by Andy Sernovitz and Made to Stick by the Brothers Heath.

I'm happy to recommend both of these. I'm pretty critical of stuff like this, but I have to say I found deep value in each of these.

Andy's book is great: the title is simple and tells you exactly what the book is about. It's funny: there are a few comments about how this isn't the first time someone has put this information into a book. But that's not really the issue. It's sort of like a book on HTML: it is enormously valuable for someone (smart) to pull all of these ideas together and synthesize them into a single, focused place.

Made to Stick is similar: this is a book about the hidden reasons why some ideas connect and stay with people, and some just fall away. The writing is straightforward and concise, and the ideas are very clear and actionable.

Even if you're a veteran, I'd get these books. Sometimes, you may just need to hand a client or a prospect some other source that tells the WOM story. These are both great choices!
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Friday, October 27, 2006

Separated at Birth: SL and Teva Logos

We're having our annual spell of early-fall warm weather here in San Francisco, prompting the wearing of sandals....and it suddenly occurred to me: Second Life and Teva Sandals have almost precisely the same logo.
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The NetFlix Prize: The Process is as Valuable as the Product

I've written about the NetFlix prize in the past. This is a contest where NetFlix is offering $1mm to anyone who writes a better recommendation engine than they've currently got. I don't know if anyone is close to winning the prize, but something interesting is happening: by making the problem-solving process public, some amazing, unexpected things are starting to happen, and be widely known.

For example: it ends up that the movie most frequently rated on NetFlix is Miss Congeniality. That's right. This easily-forgotten bit of fluff has managed to compel more people to provide a rating than any other. For the sake of completeness, here are the top 5:
  1. Miss Congeniality
  2. Independence Day
  3. The Patriot
  4. The Day After Tomorrow
  5. Pirates of the Caribbean
So, this odd little fact about the world probably would have just sat, somewhere, on someone's desk. But: this is part of an open competition. So, some clever person decided to investigate and he put up, not only his findings, but also his method on the forums.

The result? Best case scenario crowdsourcing, where we learn not just from the final product, but from the process itself, which kicks off all sorts of interesting findings on its way to the goal.
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Thursday, October 26, 2006

This (evidently) is what the creative process looks like

The excellent blog Tasty Research has a bit up about the creative process, and the steps the mind goes through in the creation of new ideas.
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Google's Precise Problem: Too Much Stuff

Google's strategy of launching lots and lots of things and seeing what works is good, if you're a R&D lab. But the fact is they are a public company, that needs to operate in the commercial world. I think they started that with a message to engineers to work on fewer things.

But there's a rumor moving today that The Google is going to do a big re-org. I don't know if this means lay-offs, but it certainly could mean a consolidation of product lines. To quote someone giving a leak:
"We don't want people to have to learn about 20 different products that work in 20 different ways," Brin was quoted as having said.
Yup. Precisely. The Google Brand has always run the risk of dilution as they invent, explore and challenge. Getting back to the core is exactly what they need to do, right now.
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Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Social Media: Ethics and Restraint

The enemy of ethics is expediency.

We may know what the right thing to do is, but situations tend to appear that cause us to shuffle those things down in our priority list, simply because we see the end...and believe that the end is correct. This, of course, is what tends to get us into trouble. There's trouble brewing in the social-media/WOM marketing space, and, at the heart of the issue is not a misunderstanding of ethics, but rather a desire for expediency.

Word-of-mouth techniques and the use of blogs, message boards and other social media spaces requires more of markters than simple mastery of the channel. Many of us have become wizards of this world, understanding at a deep level not only the technology, but also the mechanics. We have learned how to construct a good blog post, how to get a high Technorati ranking, how to get our articles Digged, delicioused, and well-indexed.

That knowledge gives marketers an enormous advantage when it comes to competing in the Marketplace of Ideas. Here's my (modest) proposal: you should use that knowledge responsibly, especially when it comes to the task of managing criticism online.

This may actually cause some companies to exercise restraint, stopping what may feel like a good idea. The social media space belongs to everyone. It is the bazaar, and not the Cathedral. The Cathedral has always been able to use its strength (economic and otherwise) to come to the bazaar, buy up all the space, slash the prices of their products, or simply be more interesting and exciting than the individual. But they don't. Or, rather, they shouldn't.

I am not going to give you the six points that you need to follow to be an ethical WOMMer in this post. That's a task that is being well executed by WOMMA and their ethics committee (which I am a member of). But what I am going to say is simply this: think about the power that you have, and use it responsibly.
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Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Google Co-Op: Collaborative Vertical Search

So, just when I write that Google is going to slow down releasing products, they release a new product. Yeesh.

Google today released Google Co-Op, a Web-service where site operators can create their own vertical search engines, focused on the topics of specific interest. The index is Google's, but the interface is your own. And: when I say 'interface', I don't just mean the way that the page looks, but also the middlestuff between the search box and the index, specifically the list of sites that you (as site operator) have chosen to be included in the search.

This is a major step forward for vertical search. The problem of vertical search has been one of interface and of data-structure. This helps to alleviate that first problem. The second one is trickier, but that is solvable partly through APIs, partly through industry agreements.

BUT, the thing that is the most interesting is the name of this product: Co-Op. Yes, that's exactly it--this is a cooperative, collaborative attempt to solve the problem of vertical search. Perfect name for this thing, in that it gets to the heart of the matter: getting a zillion minds focused on the problem. Crowdsourcing, yet again.
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Monday, October 23, 2006

Wait...I thought Auto Was Getting Out of Online?

Well, Yahoo's announcement that they were experiencing a slowdown in online ad revenue, especially from automotive took another hit this morning:
GM to Boost Digital Media Spending
General Motors will be shifting more of its media dollars to digital, especially on the local level, according to an analyst's report.
Whoops. Well, I wonder if the discussion will begin to drift toward, "Well, Yahoo...how come you're the only one not getting the dollars? Hmm?"

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advertisr: flickr photos that could be ads

My ClickZ column today is about integrated advertising. But I'm also working on a new one about photos on flickr (or any other photo sharing service) that could be ads. That is, they feature a brand or a product in a way that is compelling and communicates something meaningful. If you have any examples, I'd love to see them. Either post a link in comments, or send me an email.

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Most Significant Google Story All Year: Slow Down

Evidently, there's a move inside Google to slow down: stop releasing so much stuff, and go back to what you've got and make it better. That's a big deal: Google has always been about cranking tons of stuff out. In fact, I think they did that in lieu of having an actual business strategy. The idea being that something was bound to stick/come together.

Maybe they feel that they've got a big enough box of crayons and its time to start drawing something.

UPDATE: Fellow San Franciscan Chris Gaither of the LA Times points to his story, from a few weeks ago on the topic.
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Friday, October 20, 2006

Are Media Companies Stuck?

There's this astounding article on MediaPost (about an article on Marketwatch). It essentially asserts that media companies are in a position where they must simply deal with their copyrighted material on YouTube, not litigate and strike deals. Here's a clip:
"Media companies will be hard-pressed to find the nerve or the incentive to sue Google for its new subsidiary YouTube." Instead, they'll likely secure distribution deals with the search giant--just as three of the four major record companies have already managed to do.
I think this is an unpopular position, but I firmly believe that media owners have a right to vigorously protect their property. I certainly don't like the idea of companies (or their associations-as-proxies) intimidating teenagers and the like, but the fact is that media companies have every right to expect to make money from the works they own. Producing entertainment and selling it is a legitimate business.

Certainly digital technology has changed the balance of power, moving entertainment assets farther away from the distribution barriers that made it easier to make profits. But that doesn't mean that the concept of copyright should go away. It certainly should evolve (and thank Creative Commons for driving that), but open-content should be respected as an option for media owners.

But the argument now seems to be turning. Google (and their money-printing machine) are now at the helm of the most powerful video distribution system ever. The point of the article and the pundits seems to be "you need to just deal with it".

I suppose this may be a good thing. Maybe the media companies are finally backed into a corner so tight that they need to go with the forces. The people at CC often argue that one of the primary problems with current copyright laws is that they are a throttle on the development of culture. Perhaps the size of GooTube is going to finally drive the owners of the content to comply.

But they are going to do so reluctantly.
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Thursday, October 19, 2006

Forrester Agency Survey

Peter Kim over at Forrester is running a new survey for his upcoming report on the next generation of advertising agencies. If you've got 3 minutes, give him some data!
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Google (finally) Grooves with Landing Page Optimization

Google's announced a new landing page optimization tool. Good for them. The landing page remains the most frequently overlooking piece of the SEM puzzle. The fact is, making your landing page better at converting is good for both the advertiser as well as the search provider.

If you've got rising click costs, you need to find a way to make each click perform better. Optimizing the landing page is all about being efficient about what you do with each click that arrives. If you can increase your conversion rate, you'll value the click more. If you value the click more, you're more willing to pay more for it.

It just took Google a long time to realize this. Or rather, maybe they realized it but were happy to let people like Offermatica provide the service. Those guys are great. They certainly have been the long-term, early evangelists of the practice, and the ones that I would always look to. The question, naturally, is whether or not this will put them out of business. The answer is no. Not a bit. Just like when Google began to offer free analytics didn't sink Ominture, this move won't sink Offermatica.

That's because Google still makes the bulk of its cash from the tail: zillions of small companies, doing small transactions. They wouldn't buy Offermatica, but the would use a free tool. So, think of this move as a public-service announcement for Landing Page Optimization in general. We'll all learn more about it, and maybe be more willing to invest in a real service.
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Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Edelman WalMart Blog Fiasco

Well, what a mess. Edelman created a fake blog that was not identified as such for their client. Jaffe, among others says the appology leaves him feeling a little empty.

WOMMA's got a statement up, and generally forgives and understands that "mistakes will be made". This is clearly a big black eye for Edelman; they are among the elite agencies when it comes to CGM and citizen media and word-of-mouth.

Which, I think, is precisely why we should allow them a little lattitude on this one. They have a top-notch reputation. I don't really see piling on them at this point to do much good. The good guys got caught doing what they shouldn't have. But I have a hard time believing that they sat in a room and said "you know what? we should totally trick people".

Falling on their sword is the right thing to do. Of course, appologizing once you've been caught is (relatively) easy. If they found this out on their own and corrected it, it would be good. But now that they've been pulled out to the spotlight, they are certainly doing the right thing. Knowing a few of the people at Edelman certainly leads me to give them more than the benefit of the doubt.

I know that they are doing training internally and recommitting to the WOMMA guidelines. But they should also make absolute sure that the people at the top who really, really get what's going on are involved down at the execution level.
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Fun with Referers

It's that time, once again. A trip through the logs to see the odd phrases typed into search engines that lead people to this blog. Just two really good ones this time:
I wonder what the intent of the "loving text messages" searcher was?
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Advertisers to get more control w/Sony's Game Platform

Big advertisers want to own the channels of distribution. Coke has Coke Music, P&G has Home made Simple, and Bud will launch Bud.tv. It's a part of a greater push, especially among CPG companies, to make sure that they are in direct contact with their consumers.

One more piece of this trend came today, in the form of Sony announcing their new network platform for the PS3. Among the features is the ability for advertisers to host tournaments on their own servers (as opposed to a central server).

That's amazing. That's like have a television commercial on your own station, as opposed to on NBC. This is the sort of savvy move that makes tons of sense, and provides a great platform for creative concepting by the advertiser and the agency. When you own the space, you can do whatever you want with it.
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"Freemium": Services that Start Free, Charge for Services

I worry about new online businesses that seem too heavily reliant upon advertising as their only source of revenue. Actually, what I worry about are services that launch with no ads whatsoever, but with the intention of inserting ads at some point in the future. I don't see any real value in pretending that you're not in a profit-making business when, in fact, you are.

A great alternative to all this, is the idea of giving away a basic version of your service, then trying to upsell a more valuable version. CNN has a story about this today, along with a clever new buzzword: "Freemium". They give some good tips on the business model. My personal favorite:
6. Harness the collective intelligence of your users. MÃ¥rten Mickos, CEO of MySQL, says customer suggestions can help speed up product improvements or inspire ideas for premium services.

Holy CrowdSourcing. That's great: the idea of giving away the service can naturally create a community of people that are clearly involved with the concept and can help to establish the core group of consumer-advocates that can be critical to success.
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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Reuter's Second Life Bureau

Reuters has opened a new bureau in Second Life.

SL just continues to grow and expand, with marketers seeming to move into the space at an amazing rate. A news agency certainly seems to make sense, but I wonder what sorts of news we're going to get. I have a sense that they will report on real-world events that involve or impact SL (and other virtual worlds). For example, the primary question right now seems to be about taxation. That is, if someone earns a LindenDollar, and we know that the exchange rate is about 274L$:1USD, well....shoot the government get some cut of that?

I wonder if they are going to start reporting on events that occur wholly within SL? If a big fight breaks out, or two SL celebs start to date, will that be covered? There certainly seems to be a big opportunity for a GossipBlog.

Well, we'll see. I have a sense that a lot of this development right now is done is a way that is very self-aware. The companies moving into SL want everyone to know that they've moved into SL. Which is fine: for a while there it was news that a company launched a Web site. Now, it's just another-day-at-the-office.
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Monday, October 16, 2006

Live Customer Service Stats: BicyleTrailers.com

This is wicked cool. I just bought a new bike seat for my son at a site called Bicycletrailers.com. I noticed a little widget down at the bottom of their site: live stats on customer service.

These guys may get the Transparency Award of the month. Nice work
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Thursday, October 12, 2006

Consumer Reviews: The Magic Ingredient of E-Commerce?

I just flew back from the Shop.org event in New York (and boy are my arms....)

I moderated a panel about amplifying word of mouth. Brett from BazaarVoice was on. They are doing some pretty interesting stuff over there. Essentially, there's is a hosted solution that allows you to put consumer reviews onto your site. They do some great stuff with it as well, like make those reviews crawlable and feed-ready, so the content being created for your site does double-duty for SEO efforts.

The thing that really struck me, though, was the number of data points that he provided where the simple inclusion of consumer reviews boosted pretty much every e-commerce metric worth considering: open-rates for email, click-throughs, purchases, purchase size, etc. I'm probably over-estimating, but it is clear that adding reviews in pretty simply improves the performance of your store.

I asked him why that could possibly be and he gave a great answer. I can't transcribe it, but it's clear: when you see a rating on a site, for a product, it is clear that someone else has already done the decision-making work for you. Reviews help to immediately winnow consideration sets down to a managable size. It's the e-commerce value proposition itself: make decisions quickly.
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Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Chevy's next viral video?

Take a look at this:

Chevy seems intent on getting people talking about its ads. This is a pretty big statement that Chevy's making, visually associating its product with fairly well-loved images and icons from the 20th century. Can they get away with it? Maybe--Chevy is a brand strongly associated with America.

But, especially in election season, this is bound to touch of some firestorms. It reminds me of the GAP campaign from several years back, noting that several key figures from pop culture "wore kahkis"

Whatever their intent, the comment storm has already begun. As of this blogging: 20K views, 15 comments.
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Monday, October 09, 2006

The NEXT thing Google Buys has to be....


Oh shoot. Yahoo already got them. Well, there has to be another out there worth owning. The fact is, Google bought YouTube because GoogleVideo is simply not catching on. Google is seeking to be the point between you and the digital world. Video is very clearly a part of that, and their own efforts are a black eye on their sterling reputation. A purchase of YouTube make perfect sense to them: full-speed ahead and damn the cost.

So, what else is in their portfolio that is in the hot-space right now, but languishing? Orkut, their social networking site. They have ignored that thing for long enough. Google can't not have a social-netorking offering for too much longer. YouTube is a remedial purchase for them (as in, it remedies a situation). They are bound to be looking to patch the other holes they have in their dream ultimate online offering.
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Tuesday, October 03, 2006

NetFlix (sorta) does Crowdsourcing

The MIT Advertising Blog has a post about NetFlix offering $1mm to anyone who can come up with a better recommendation engine. They characterize the move as similar to Lego, in that they are reaching out to the wisdom of crowds to improve their system. It's not quite that, but it is interesting.

NetFlix is definitely taking a very innovative step. This is not like a contest where it runs for 6 weeks and the winner is decided. This is more like the X Prize. Because this is set up as a competitive event, it is assumed that individuals or team will work in isolation of one another. That's not exactly the notion of Crowdsourcing, where eveyone works completely collaboratively and transparently, like they did with Linux.

I'm certainly not going to be dogmatic about this. I think its a great idea. The interesting thing, of course, will be what happens if/when someone wins. What are the terms of that million smackers? Does NetFlix get the code, the rights and all? If so, $1mm is a bargain. The inventors would do better (assumedly) simply selling NetFlix a license. But, if they are registered for the contest, so that they can get to the data, do they give up that right?

The legalities of the crowd is always an interesting and sticky subject when we talk about anything along these lines. Clearly, there has to be some fairly airtight and mutually beneficial terms in place before any real work gets underway.
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Monday, October 02, 2006

The Espresso Book Machine: Instant, On-Demand Publishing

My undergrad Minor was in "editing and publishing", based on a desire to become an editor in the style of Malcolm Cowley. Clearly, that didn't quite work out.

But I have this very clear memory of one day in class where the instructor talked about the future of book publishing. He said there would be vending-machines--jukeboxes of a sort--that would have an enormous hard-drive filled with manuscripts. Put in your money and pick the title and the book would be printed and bound for you, right there. It would make an enormous amount of content available. I remember this, and it may have been the first time that I began to think about electronic media in any serious way.

Well, the vending machine has not quite gotten here, but there it is one giant leap closer, thanks to something called the Espresso Book Machine. I certainly don't know the book world well enough to pick whether or not this is the sort of thing that would work, but I certainly like the idea. It definitely opens up the possibilities for all kinds of new content to be created, and when there's new content methods, there certainly could be new advertising and marketing models.
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