John Akerson's Thoughts

Business, technology and life

Passion

I was reading Kyle Lacy’s guest post in Dan Schawbel’s Personal Branding Blog this morning.  In it, Kyle talks about reading Seth Godin’s blog post: “Sing It”.  That feels like a horribly derivative place to begin.  But neither Kyle nor Seth focuses on the right kind of Passion. 

Passion is essential and it is elemental. Passion comes through crystal clear in writing and in life. Passion pushes words out like the Old Faithful geyser – prolifically, frequently and most of the time it pushes them in the sameOld Faithful direction, with great forceful power. Passion is fire below the geyser. Without passion, writing becomes a slow dripping faucet, simply irritating listeners, creating nothing but distraction. That provides zero appeal for the writer, and translates to zero appeal for readers. Without passion, ANYTHING you do will work in sort of the same way. Think about that. Without passion, you are just going through motions that you don’t even care about.

Passion is essential, necessary and sufficient.  It cannot be simulated or faked and like Tom Cruise said about Porsche in “Risky Business”, there is no substitute.  Kyle writes in his blog post, “Devote time and energy to the process and you will experience return.”  That is wrong because it misses the point.   I think it is important to:

Find a process that inspires you so that time and energy flow out with passion.  Find a subject that stokes the creative fires under your personal geyser until the pressure forces your ideas out – repeatedly, powerfully and prolifically.

February 18th, 2010 Posted by | Business, Competitive Advantage, Continuous Improvement, Life | no comments

Discovery Optimization

Brian Solis makes a point on his blog that Social Media Optimization is the new SEO.  He makes great points, but he is wrong.   To me,  the funny thing is that it is NOT. Social Media Optimization is merely one component. I think what we want is discovery optimization.

Discovery is an ocean, and Social Media Optimization is just one branch of one river that leads to the ocean. Search Engine Optimization is another,  advertising is another, word-of-mouth is another… Every method that customers traditionally use to find – to DISCOVER – are valid rivers.  Every method of impacting or producing content that potential customers can use to discover is a river. If we want our oceans to get the most traffic, we should optimize the all of them. There should be optimized video feeds, blogs, micro-blogs, events, magazines…

Admitting that I have a problem is the first step to my personal recovery, and the problem here is that that there is no way to optimize EVERYTHING.  Time, Money, Skill, Knowledge, and Objectives are all barriers to optimizing everything.  My problem is that these resources are finite. They are limited. At times these resources are scarce.

Jeff Bullas latest blog entry looks at the relationship between social media and content marketing – and he has some numbers and some extremely effective charts displaying what marketers think they should know – what they think they should focus on. These charts show the things that marketers most want to concentrate on in 2010. (as a side note, Jeff”s is a great article also).  My question is… WHY are these particular techniques, strategies and tactics the most important? 

Given scarce resources, are these methods of Discovery Optimization the most EFFECTIVE?  IS there data to suggest that in a world of

Discovery Optimization Sources

I think that given scarce resources, it is essential to put the most effort into the methods that produce the greatest return – the largest streams of customers, the largest conversion rates, the largest purchasing percentages.

What do you think?  Is there a good way to tell which techniques and strategies are the most effective?

February 16th, 2010 Posted by | Marketing | no comments

Horrible Flower Customer Service. Really.

I ordered 2 dozen flowers and a vase on February 4th. I ordered it from 1-800-Flowers.com for February 11th delivery.   I ordered it for delivery on the 11th because I wanted to make REALLY sure that it would be delivered by the 12th. I wanted to make REALLY sure that it was delivered in time for me to give to my wife on the 14th. Valentine’s day is not really a big holiday, but I didn’t want to forget it.  I knew that there was bad weather, so I assumed that by ordering it 10 days before Valentine’s day and specifyingGrocery-store  delivery 3 days before Valentine’s day – I would get it in time to deliver, yes, on Valentine’s day.

So – WHY did I order from 1-800-flowers.com?  There are two reasons. The first is that I usually order from Teleflora, but last time I ordered through Teleflora for a delivery in Caribou, Maine, they delivered it to Danvers Massachusetts.  Really?  Yes. Seriously. They missed it by an entire state. Teleflora doesn’t really do flowers every time. In the case of the flowers that I ordered for my Mother’s Birthday, Telaflora sent the order to a local florist in Danvers, Mass. Those flowers weren’t delivered on time. I put time and effort into getting flowers, and after getting some serious run-around from Teleflora, I decided to never order from them again. So I decided to either use Proflowers, or 1-800-flowers.   Here’s where the second reason comes in.  I saw an episode of “Millionaire Matchmaker” on TV and Patti Stanger was pushing 1-800-flowers.   That was the tipping point for me. If these flowers were good enough for MILLIONAIRES, they were absolutely good enough for my wife.

Really?  Yes.  I am not a  millionaire, but I want my wife to get some nice flowers for Valentine’s day. She deserves it. I have never really understood jewelry or flowers, but I understand that they are special to her, and that is important to me. 

On the 10th, I got an email from 1800 Flowers. Things were starting to go downhill in my flower experience.  The email said, “due to the extreme weather conditions, your order(s) may be delivered later than your requested date. “  That wasn’t any newsflash. I knew that weather was bad. That is why I ordered on the 4th.   The 4th !!!  Really.  They also said that I could “get the most updated information by tracking your package on the carriers’ web site using the tracking number that we provided to you in the Shipping Confirmation email.”  That was a problem because I did not get any shipping confirmation email.   I was able to take my ORDER number, from my original order, and get a tracking number from the 800-flowers website. What it told me, on the 10th was that UPS had been given information, but had not picked up the package yet. This was on the 10th, but I had ordered it on the 4th. Valentine’s day is, like, a BIG day for flowers, right?  

To clarify – On February 10th, my order for the 11th had not yet been picked up, and yet the flower company was blaming a late delivery on the shipping company.

Really.  (*sigh*)

I thought – there was really NO excuse for this, so I called to cancel the order. They wouldn’t cancel it. I asked for a supervisor. They wouldn’t cancel it. It had not been shipped yet, but they could not cancel it because it had been ordered. Not shipped… ORDERED. Really!

Finally, I started emailing, chatting, and calling trying to get the order cancelled.  I got the order cancelled. I thought my ordeal with the flower company was done. They promised a refund.  I realized that there was a flower delivery service that could provide worse service than Teleflora – and I had picked it.

On the 11th, I drove to the local Lowes Foods Grocery Store and bought 2 dozen of their roses, recycled a vase from a previous rose gift/purchase, and put together an acceptable floral gift for my wife.  Not great, but much better than nothing.  She was thrilled.  Really. Those are the roses above.  They were very nice.

On the 12th I got an email saying that Your Order number W00652302*****, detailed below, has been picked up by UPS and is on its way”   Really? Yes.  They cancelled the order, but they shipped the order.

So – I’m writing this because of two things.   At 12:08pm today, I got an email from 1800 flowers.com “thanking me for shopping with them.” Did they miss the part where I cancelled the order? Really?  At about 3pm, I got a knock on my door, and there were roses.  Not the beautiful roses I expected – but a set of wannabe-roses that were NOT NEARLY as nice as the grocery store roses.   Here’s a photo.1-800-flowers Inferior Roses

What’s the frosting on the cake?  After I got that pathetic excuse for flowers, I went back to the email from 1-800-flowers.   Sure enough, there it was “We’d love to hear about your experience. Click here and tell us what you liked about it or what we can improve–we welcome and appreciate feedback from all our customers.”

So – I thought, bad delivery, bad customer service, bad communication, bad flowers, bad timing – I will let them know what I thought. I clicked on the “click here” and guess what – the link goes to a survey that is “closed!” ARGH. I would like to say, there might be another way that they could have done worse, but I just can NOT imagine what it might be. In the same way that “Websites that Suck” taught good web design by showing the worst, I’ve learned so MUCH about good customer service… but experiencing the opposite. Really.

 

 As a post script: I got an email about these, here’s the photo of both of them. The Grocery store roses, from Lowes foods, were about 36.00 for 2 dozen. The 1-800 flowers roses were about $64.

 Both Sets of Roses

February 15th, 2010 Posted by | Business, Life, Other Stuff | no comments

The Internet Wins the Nobel Peace Prize.

The Internet Wins the Nobel Peace Prize!

Well, this is a bit preemptive, but it is still serious.

 The Internet has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Wired Magazine nominated the Internet, and it has been endorsed, and is being seriously considered. The Nobel Peace Prize is extremely prestigious and I’m sure that the Internet is delighted to win. But what about the monetary award that goes with the Nobel Prize?Nobel Prize

During WWI and WWII, there were several years when the prize money was added back to the prize fund. I am curious though – When the Internet wins, who gets the prize?  4 people come to mind: Vinton Cerf, Tim Berners-Lee, Bob Kahn and Al Gore.  Any of them might be deserving, and all of them might have good uses for the money.

I propose that when the Internet wins, the Nobel Foundation should donate the Nobel Prize money to the International Red Cross, to help Haiti.  I ask that each of these deserving recipients, and also Wired Magazine individually and collectively support that, as well.

This is fitting for a number of reasons. The Internet, as a Prize Winner is strong and valuable in times of political unrest; but it is most powerful in situations of strife and tragedy. The International Red Cross has won the Nobel Peace Prize 3 times – in 1917, 1944, and 1963, and the human suffering and human toll in Haiti is current, tragic, and perhaps the best place for those funds to go, today. Donating that prize to the International Red Cross for Haiti Relief efforts would do the most good, now.

What do you think?

February 7th, 2010 Posted by | Life | no comments

Harvesting Intent vs Harvesting Action

One of the most difficult things to do in business and in life, is to Sell. It doesn’t matter what, or why, or where, or in what context, or even to whom.  It is very difficult to sell because under almost all circumstances, when you sell something, you are getting someone to pay for something. They are paying with currency, with time, with attention, with something that they already value. That payment has existing and perhaps intrinsic value to them, but the thing they are buying, or buying into – it only has potential value.  At its heart, the act of selling, is giving someone the confidence that the value they will receive equals or exceeds the value they are voluntarily giving up. To sell someone requires that they have faith.  That is the singular reason why it is difficult. You are getting someone to give something that they know is already their hand for something that might be in a bush.

Mark Cuban recently wrote an insightful article asking “Why have so many internet people lost touch with reality.”   His point, distilled to a sentence was: “Content changes, the value of content changes, and those changes require reevaluations of where value comes from and  the business models that harvest that value  – and some executives don’t understand.”   He was discussing the value of search, the value of information, the value of aggregation – and how, when those values shift, it is important to keep up.  Competitive advantage and value is available for people who read the tealeaves of the changing internet accurately – with regard to content quality, information, aggregation search and sales. With regards to content, that means finding the value at the intersection of these qualities:

(a) timely, intelligent, reliable content
(b) thoughtful management of that content
(c) structure that is helpful, useful and functional
(d) interested users (information consumers)
(e) unique elements

I think that interesting, deep thought in people who can eloquently communicate is nearly extinct. So it is a winning formula to find a way that information consumers can reliably find useful, functional, intelligent unique content, services or products when they need it.  The reason it is important to give consumers that sort of information was aptly described by Jonathan Schwartz (the former Sun CEO who playfully resigned via haiku) wrote this in his blog:

“why is the search business so valuable? Because it’s an exceptionally efficient means of harvesting intentionality – if a consumer is searching for “flights to Cairo,” the odds are good she’s in the market for a trip to Egypt. That intent represents a ton of value for the airlines, hotel chains and car rental companies that serve travelers to Egypt. Whoever first recognizes that intent can broker a relationship between the traveler and those businesses, and charge a healthy toll for the privilege (that’s the heart of on-line advertising). A discount airfare to Cairo, presented alongside the results of a “flights to Cairo” search, has a far higher likelihoodof generating a ticket purchase than an unqualified billboard or ad in a newspaper. It’s easier to find needles in haystacks when the haystacks are sorted by needle count.”a big needle in a Haystack

I love his idea of sorting haystacks to find needles and his concept of harvesting intentionality… Search is a great business because it is constantly evolving and constantly producing value.  It is one of the many ever-changing things about the internet. There have been search leadership changes since the internet was created – and at various times the quantity of total search has gone to various search engines. I’ve personally gone from AltaVista, Yahoo, to Google, and over the years used at least a dozen other engines and aggregators – Excite, Hotbot, Dogpile, and many others.

There are two constants to search engines:

1) It is ENORMOUSLY easier to discuss and theorize about “sorting haystacks by needle count” than to it is to actually sort them. 
2) Although it is easier to find needles in haystacks when you can sort the haystacks by needle count – the easiest way to find a needle in a haystack is to have a great big powerful magnet in a world of great big metallic needles and non-metallic hay.magnet

For a consumer trying to find something, search gives an idea of which haystacks might have needles. But from the search engine company’s perspective, we live in a world where haystacks are consumers, and needles equate to a really nebulous “purchasing-intentionality.”   Jonathan Schwartz discussed harvesting them. Mark Cuban discussed harvesting them. Google, currently, is harvesting that as well as anyone because they have a sort of magnetic control. (and a >85% market share)

Mr. Schwartz was correct in pointing out that people searching for “flights to Cairo” are probably considering a trip to Egypt… but he could have gone further and added that people searching on weather forcast in Cairo might also be interested in that trip. There are long lists of haystack sort algorithms that come from search engine activity. Advertisers, marketers and SEO experts and savvy business people have analyzed tha for yars. How about “hotel reviews in Cairo” or Searches for Egypt Air CAI”. Getting access to this sort of intent enables Google and Bing to harvest the intent.

The intent, however,  is not the sale. The intent is not the trip, or the purchase.  So – what is MY point?

Harvesting intent has amazing value, but harvesting action is a more valuable objective. Harvesting interest is great, but businesses wants results. A business wants to harvest sales. The closer the intent is to the action, the more intrinsic value that intent has. Bing has named itself a “decision engine” because they want to be closer to the action than the intent. If they can produce on that, their data will grow exponentially. From the reverse perspective, if Google or any other SEARCH engine really wants to maximize the revenue from their search data (to clearly enumerate how organized their haystacks are)  they need to get more ingrained in the entire purchase process. Bing is investing in that process now, and Yahoo has had an internal shopping site for years.  It seems a missed opportunity that the data from years of running Yahoo’s shopping site doesn’t seem to have given Yahoo any significant competitive advantage.

Microsoft’s failure to acquire the complete Yahoo, although not necessarily a good thing for Microsoft if it would have been completed at the astonishing $44 billion that they first offered, ultimately means that Microsoft can’t use Yahoo’s internal data. As a condition of Microsoft’s agreement with Yahoo,

“The agreement protects consumer privacy by limiting the data shared between the companies to the minimum necessary to operate and improve the combined search platform, and restricts the use of search data shared between the companies. The agreement maintains the industry-leading privacy practices that each company follows today.”

Microsoft wants Bing to be a decision engine. Why call it that? To me, that subtitle suggests an engine for harvesting decisions -words for harvesting action. They probably wanted Yahoo’s data to provide magnetism to their Bing. Not having that data doesn’t mean they can’t give Bing that quality, that value, that ability - but they must still transparently, logically, clearly and reliably aggregate activity, and more clearly connect search activity to harvesting intent to predicting and facilitating sales. That will be serious paradigm shift.  I almost named this entry “When a piece of metal hits a magnet it makes a “Bing” sound.”  That may yet be a more appropriate title.  It will be important to keep up with the changes, going forward.

What do you think?  Drop me a note.

February 5th, 2010 Posted by | Business, Competitive Advantage | no comments

Brand Value, Apple Style

So – What is brand value and how much can it really help or hurt a product?

Brand Value is everything, and Apple’s iPad is the best, latest example.  Apple has enormous brand value. That value is sufficient to take a concept, be second or third to market, and instantly dominate.Microsoft's UMPC

My opinion is that Apple did not really invent the iPad concept. They were not first to market. They did not set the pricing, the product details, the look, feel, or really anything else about the product.  They will sell billions of dollars of their Apple-branded iPad product, but essentially every key characteristic of a circa 2010 iPad – was built by Microsoft in 2006. Microsoft called it Origami. Here’s a picture of Microsoft’s Origami Ultra-Mobile PC. Microsoft's Origami (UMPC)

Here is a link to a video of Microsoft’s Origami.  Compare that with Steve Job’s introductory video of the iPad.  The Kindle-like function wasn’t highlighted in Origami… but everything else is there.  Here’s another Origami Demo video. I’m amazed at the similarity in function and features…

So – The iPad has a design that is synonymous with the iPhone, and a name that comes from Apple’s ubiquitousipad3 naming and branding family. The “iPad” name fits in perfectly with iTunes, iMac, iPod, iPhone, etc. The iPad’s design carries forward the same features, look, feel, design, and ultimately, it carries the Apple brand into a 2010 product that replicates Microsoft’s 2006 Windows Origami UMPC experience.

Apple’s look, feel and brand essentially takes a product that made essentially nothing for Microsoft from 2006-2010. Wall Street projects that it will sell 1 to 4 million units during the first year.   Analyst Robert Cihra recommends buying Apple because of “Apple’s ability to leverage the unique in-house core abilities ranging from hardware and software engineering to the existing iTunes ecosystem”

I think the value goes way beyond the 125 million users of iTunes, the potential of the new iBooks function, and it goes way beyond what Microsoft had envisioned for its Origami.

Apple’s recipe was to take two cups of Microsoft’s Origami, a spoonful of Amazon’s Kindle, and their a pinch of Apple’s own iPhone and iPod Touch into a blender. The ingredient that made the difference was when they poured a cup of their own unique brand. That added incredible value.

So – going forward, what other competing products can Apple monetize with a similar recipe?  Where do they want to go next?   Does anyone else use brand value like that?  What do you think?

 

technorati:code:F22ZC8GM2WJB

February 1st, 2010 Posted by | Business, Competitive Advantage, Continuous Improvement | no comments