John Akerson's Thoughts

Business, technology and life

What is failure?

Winding down a business is like winding down anything else. It is important to try to reflect on the good and bad, the lessons, successes, disappointments and to try to take from the business… It is good to take things to apply to the future, to help in the future, to make the future better than the past. To avoid the wrong path in the future, to the extent that the business that you are winding down isn’t the right one.

Did the employees, leaders and board members of Borders Books learn from the failure of their business? What about Circuit City?

“Pain is temporary but quitting lasts forever.” Lance Armstrong

I would add that Pride and Integrity can be forever too. Sometimes the pride that comes from having integrity is stronger than the pain that comes from being labeled a quitter. Sometimes going forward on a new path is VERY different than quitting the old path. Quitting the wrong path is not the same as failure.

Is Netflix quitting on their idea of splitting the dvd-delivery portion of their company from their online streaming? I think they’re just going in a new direction. Maybe seeing Forbes pronounce the decision “incredibly stupid” was good incentive to find a New York Times quote)

Realizing you are on the wrong path and taking a new path is essential, beneficial and sometimes necessary.

Not all quitting is failure. Know when you are quitting the wrong path and have the courage to change!

October 11th, 2011 Posted by | Business, Technology | no comments

Twittering an Earthquake

About 2:50pm today, I felt an earthquake.  Given that I was sitting in my office in Winston Salem, North Carolina, that was pretty bizzare.  But I also realized the immediate, personal power of Twitter.   I popped open Tweetdeck and posted that I felt an earthquake in Winston Salem, NC.   I felt odd doing that – because the idea of an earthquake in Winston Salem… is like the thought of a purple elephant.  If I saw one, I’d be reluctant to tell anyone, because the very idea of a purple elephant is a bit unnerving and surreal.

Of course,  I immediately found that there WAS an earthquake, centered in Virginia, maybe 75 or 100 miles north of where Im at.  I didn’t learn it by the weather channel, or weather.com, or the local news.  I learned it by the FLOOD of tweets in my twitter stream.   Reports of tremors were flying across my tweet-stream from Ohio, Atlanta, NYC and even others from Winston Salem.   I looked for Google Realtime, which I hadn’t used in several weeks – only to find it had been disabled.

The interesting thing is that I realized the value of Twitter -  To me, Twitter = REAL TIME news. If I need to know something NOW, it is my personal source. Twitter circa 2011 = CNN circa 1990.

That is amazing value and power.  Will Twitter EVER really maximize that?

 

August 23rd, 2011 Posted by | Business, Life, People | no comments

Mobile Explosion

Jon Buscall wrote a nice little blog entry where he called Mobile Marketing “the new land grab” – where if you “dont grab a piece now, you could be in trouble”

If I wanted to fit my thoughts on Mobile opportunity into about 140 characters, Id say something like: “Mobile is a Huge opportunity for sm-ALL business. It is ubiquitous, engaging, locational, demographically strong, growing and underutilized.”

How ubituitous? ENORMOUS Here’s a graphic.
How much is it growing? - try 20% GLOBALLY in the first quarter of 2011.

Whats the demographic strength? Near 100% – and more importantly, 66% of 18-44 year olds would try mobile coupons, and 50% of 18-34 year olds would give their phone number to a business in exchange for a coupon. Small businesses that get phone numbers can establish relationships with customers.

Mobile advertising in 2011 should double from 2010, and keep growing through at least 2015.

Why the explosive growth? Because a small business can target an advertisement to a search result and because mobile advertising puts a customer buying decision into every potential customer’s hand. Whats the RESULT for small businesses? Mobile equals customers, sales, and growth because mobile puts a buying opportunity where a customer wants it when a customer needs it, and make it amazingly convenient.

Here’s an example: I manage two google ad campaigns for a local automotive towing company. They have a web campaign and a mobile campaign. If someone NEEDS a towing company, they may need it because their car is broken down on the side of the road. In that case, the mobile advertisement allows them to call *from a search result* without ever seeing a website. No need for facebook, no need for twitter, no need for anything but search-click-call. Great for customers = great for a small business… and mobile is only getting better.

I was at a business meeting last week. Everyone in the meeting had a laptop, and a cell/mobile/smartphone – split between Blackberrys, Android phones and iPhones. Half of the people in the meeting had tablets. (ipads, Samsung Galaxy, Viewsonic G, etc), and a couple of the people also had Kindles. I was struck with the notion that as powerful as smartphones are, they could mostly replace tablets and netbooks now… as powerful as tablets and netbooks are, they can mostly replace laptops. Given the pace of change, going forward, it will make less and less sense to make a “mobile app” but more and more sense to make a platform-neutral app that works just as well on mobile devices as it does on tablets, netbooks, and pc’s (or Apple Mac’s). Addressing that now could mean that your app becomes your customers *preferred* way of doing business.

It is fair to predict that two years from now, your customers will likely have phones that can do everything that a laptop can do today… As a business owner, a business leader, either you will be addressing customer needs, or your competitors will. That’s your choice.

June 24th, 2011 Posted by | Business, Competitive Advantage, Marketing, People, Search Engine Optimization, Social Media, Technology | no comments

LinkedIn

Dan Schawbel wrote an interesting piece on Forbes this morning.  He says that LinkedIn is about to put all of the job boards out of business.

He includes a link to LinkedIn’s new “Resume Builder” and his article is worth reading just for that… but I missed the logic behind his attention-grabbing headline.

He kind of said that the job boards are going away because recruiters aren’t using them… and recruiters aren’t using them because they’re going away?  He also said that job boards are ineffective because of the sheer amount of competition on them, but LinkedIn has 100 million members and therefore offers… less competition.  Neither of those are particularly good arguments. He also said that  job boards produce 219 resume’s per hire and company sites 33 per hire. That still doesn’t really say exactly how LinkedIn fits in, and it doesn’t specify the compelling factor that will make companies abandon their own job boards for LinkedIn.  Hiring solutions currently generate 43% of LinkedIn’s revenue… so how does LinkedIn avoid becoming just another job board? If the only difference is the linking part, how do they stop their competition from offering a social aspect?

What do you think makes LinkedIn sustainably unique? Is it JUST the link part? Am I missing something?

June 2nd, 2011 Posted by | Competitive Advantage, Marketing, People | no comments

10 Minutes

Today I was asked for the second time this week – “Hey John, with the scary-fast pace of change, how do you stay on-top of changes in business and technology, and the complex changes going on in the grey overlap between business and technology?”

That is a great question. I read all the time, but that may not be a helpful answer because not everyone has enough time, and not everyone has the burning curiosity to follow business and technology. It is a passion for me, not a chore. I think it is incredible fun to absorb information on business and technology.  When I want or need a new SmartPhone, I don’t mind watching 2 dozen of Bonnie Cha’s CNET video reviews – like this one on the HTC Inspire 4g   because I’d rather listen to her than spend 2 years with a bad phone.
  

But not everyone needs to. I think YOU can stay on top of business and technology in 10 minutes a day.

 HOW?

Pick 4 of the web sites that I listed below, and read headlines on them for 1 minute each, every day.

Don’t pick the same 4 sites each day.  When you have found items of interest – take another 6 minutes to dive down into the articles, read the information, follow the links, or research whatever interested you, or whatever you saw that didn’t make sense.   Be firm and limit yourself to 6 more minutes of digging, but be sure to do it every day. I find that it helps to make things like this a part of my daily routine. To get the most value, add it to your routine wherever it best fits.  Perhaps take 10 minutes just before, or just after checking email, just before turning off the computer, just before going to lunch, or whenever.  But do it regularly.  Ok. Here are the sites:

Infoworld       CNET News      Forbes Technology        CNN Technology    

Engadget    CIO     Wall Street Journal Technology    Slashdot     Computerworld   

TechCrunch       Forbes CIO Network    CIO Solutions     ZDNET

 As another approach – whenever you hear any technology-business headline type information that makes no sense to you – go to a couple of these sites and see if there is a headline – if not, go to a couple of them and do a search.   Want to know about Epsilon?  Want to know why the Sony Playstation hacking problem is dangerous to you personally? (and the SECOND Sony information leak?) Look at a couple of these sites.

Some of these sites are more business-focused and some of them are more technology-focused.  Some of them might not appeal to you. Some of them might captivate you. Some articles will be pure eyeball-bait. They are only designed to get people to read them to click on through without really imparting any useful information. Some articles are pure speculation. You will get a knack for knowing the difference quicker than you might think.  The Wall Street Journal is easy to tell from the National Enquirer.   Others are a bit of a pure blend and your eyes will learn where the important things lie, and where the lies are unimportant.

If you do this, and do it regularly, it could be the most valuable 10 minutes of your day, every day.

Give it a try – let me know how it works for you and let me know if you know of other valuable sites. Add a comment here, or drop me a note.

-John

April 28th, 2011 Posted by | Business, Competitive Advantage, Continuous Improvement, Technology | no comments

Advertising Failure

Diana Adams has a great post on Bitrebels.com titled “16 ways to use your wrist now that watches are obsolete.” Her post includes some really funny suggestions, with comical illustrations from Lunchbreath.com … including “Backup urinal cake” and “Portable Pot Pie.” (do not confuse)

There is advertising on Bitrebels.com – and I’m sure somebody is paying fror those impressions and click-thrus.  Of course, some of the best advertising is content-specific. If you can put your product in front of a person who is already interested, you have a much higher probability of making a sale. Google makes Billions from this concept. Other companies, and many people also make big heaping piles of money from this simple concept.  But sometimes it fails. Sometimes the best content algorythms and the smartest advertisers promote their product in the wrong places.  And sometimes those failures are remarkable.

Here’s an example:  If you are reading an article discussing wrist-watches, how obsolete they are and suggesting a direct relationship to… say… buggy whips and egyptian pyramid blueprints… are you really looking to BUY a wrist-watch? Maybe not. The content is there, but the CONTEXT makes all the difference.  Here’s a screenshot of the advertisement, on the page focused on ”Wristwatch Obsolescense.”

Although I have a great appreciation for why the watches are up to 80% off, seeing that advertisement on that page doesn’t leave me inspired to buy one.  (as an fyi – the link from the advertisement was this: http://googleads.g.doubleclick.net/pagead/imgad?id=CP6jxPL3spWLVBD6ARjvATII8BFY93VjUEI )  I suspect Google’s advertising bots, smart as they are, are still learning… but context is an enormously difficult thing to learn.

March 14th, 2011 Posted by | Business, Competitive Advantage, Marketing, Search Engine Optimization, Social Media, Technology | 2 comments

The Reputation Economy is Here.

Dan Schwabel has written two posts on his Forbes Blog in the last week. His message is that “the Reputation Economy is Coming.”  Alot of pieces of the Reputation Economy are coming together at warp-speed. Here are a few:

MANY anecdotal stories of people who have been fired, arrested, not-hired,(cisco-fatty, etc).

Millions of people who meet and begin relationships due to *something* online.

Businesses running into serious issues… (Kenneth Cole, etc)

Colleges considering online info during interviews

If Dan Schwabel’s cited research is even close to correct that “80% of HR professionals use online reputation information… and that 70% had rejected a job candidate due to what they found online.”

It seems there is enormous evidence that whether the subject is personal, professional, corporate, or really from ANY perspective: The Reputation Economy is not coming, it is *here.*

What do you think?

March 1st, 2011 Posted by | Business, Competitive Advantage, Life, Marketing, People | 2 comments

Why AOL acquired Huffington Post.

This morning AOL announced it is acquiring Huffington Post for 315 million dollars.  Here are 4 quotes that explain why this is a good thing for AOL.

AOL  CEO Tim Armstrong:
There are a number of areas where AOL and The Huffington Post’s content overlap and, based on our analysis, AOL lost roughly $20 million in those areas in 2010.” from Business Insider.

AOL CFO Arnold Minson: “The Huffington Post has had rapid growth since its birth. In 2011, we expect it will do over $50 million in revenue and we believe it will be at a $100 million revenue run- rate in the next 12 months and operating in the 30% margin range.” from Barrons.

As part of the transaction, Arianna Huffington, The Huffington Post’s co-founder and editor-in-chief, will be named president and editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post Media Group, which will include all Huffington Post and AOL content, including Engadget, TechCrunch, Moviefone, MapQuest, Black Voices, PopEater, AOL Music, AOL Latino, AutoBlog, Patch, StyleList, and more” From Kara Swisher’s blog.

Arianna says “I want to stay forever, I want this to be my last act” From Kara Swisher’s blog

So – Here’s why this works, in a nutshell:   AOL runs a business that has overlap with the business that Arianna Huffington runs.  Arianna ran her business, in 2010, with a $10m profit. AOL’s overlapping business produced a $20m loss. The new business unit will have Arianna’s name, she will  be the president, and she wants to stay… “forever.” 

Regardless of the traffic numbers, which are considerable, this is a huge win for AOL because they get a person who knows how to make money.  Given AOL’s master plan, this is exactly the business they want to make money in.

What do you think?

February 7th, 2011 Posted by | Business | no comments

Audi, Lexus and Sponsored Tweets

Ive been watching Audi online more and more lately.  I went to a swanky VIP/RSVP thing at my local Audi dealership where they unveiled the fantastic new A8. It has a cockpit that is remarkable in every regard. My 2001 S4 seems as retro as a 57 Chevy by comparison.  I’m also kind of impressed by Audi’s push into the Superbowl.  The Kenny G doing Prison Riot Suppression video is the sort of quirky original thing that fascinates me. I have a search for @audi - on my Tweetdeck.

I was surprised this morning to see a Lexus advertisement on top of my @audi search in Tweetdeck.  There’s nothing new about advertising online using a your competition’s words, say as keywords and titles to SEO some people into your site instead of theirs.  Fans Flipping Out  on Bravo will remember Jeff Lewis getting VERY angry at a former business partner, Ryan Brown, for using some keywords a few years ago, and perhaps adwords to help his business. (season 3, of course) 

So – whats new here?   Lexus has sponsored @audi on Twitter. Anyone who has a stored search for @Audi in Tweetdeck and/or Hootsuite will see an advertisement for Lexus at the top of their stream.  Here’s what that looks like in Tweetdeck:

Certainly a delightfully creative way to advertise to your target audience.  Lexus – sombody there is Brilliant.

I think this interesting because LEXUS – sees Audi as serious competition for eyes, and buyers.  Lexus is so concerned about people following @Audi, they are paying Twitter for those responses.  Audi isn’t the only competition for Lexus. If I am in the market for a Lexus, I might look at other makes.  It occured to me that Lexus might be sponsoring other car brands as well.  Guess who else Lexus worries about… enough to pay for sponsored responses? BMW, Cadillac and Infiniti.  Lexus is NOT following Lincoln, Jaguar, Acura, Hyundai or Equus through.  (yet?) 

What do you think? Is this a new trend?

It is also interesting because other companies are sure to follow. Lexus is a leader here, and Twitter can surely use this for every other large company that wants to pro-actively protect their own brand, on Twitter, Tweetdeck, Hootsuite, etc…

February 3rd, 2011 Posted by | Competitive Advantage, Continuous Improvement, Marketing, Search Engine Optimization, Social Media | no comments

Search Wars

Vivek Wadhwa sparked a bit of a firestorm on the first of January 2011 with his article “Why we Desperately need a (new and better) Google.”  Vivek’s first point was that Google’s search result-sets are overrun with content farms of junk data.  “Google has become a jungle: a tropical paradise for spammers and marketers.” He also pointed out that alternative search engine Blekko does things differently. In reading Vivek’s blog, I realised that the Search Wars… may produce no victory – just casualties.

I blame Marcus Frind – founder of Plenty-of-Fish and I also blame INC Magazine.   The cover of Inc Magazine on January1, 2009 was about how Markus Frind keeps money rolling in.   Marcus keeps the money rolling in by producing content that his customers want. (He also blogs about it, and has since 2006 - with his wordpress theme essentially unchanged as far as I can tell.) Marcus Frind figured out what content the most people wanted, and monetized it, initially with Google’s Adwords/Adsense toolset.  Other people realized that if Marcus can make millions off of Sex, then other topics could be less lucrative, but still valuable. When people realized it, then companies realized it. http://www.associatedcontent.com/ is Yahoo’s “official library.”Yahoo, most famous lately for selling Yahoo HotJobs to Monster, and selling Yahoo Personals to Match.com – BOUGHT Associated Content in 2010 for $100 million dollars.    What does Associated do for Yahoo?   A quote from AdAge: “Associated manages a network of freelancers, but has also built underlying technology that predicts what kinds of content consumers want, as well as surfacing that content through natural search on engines such as Google, Yahoo and Microsoft’s Bing so the library makes money over time” 

Translation:  Associated makes money by building content that stuffs Google and other search engines.  They are only ONE company that does this.  Ok. I admit it. Marcus Friend and INC magazine aren’t really to blame. There is nobody to blame. People search. Searches produce data. Data is valuable and has a price. Search engine responses have a price. Building content to respond to those searches has value – whether it is for an SEO consultant, a “content farm” a media company, or any other company.

Having a price for the value of the response of Google searches, and a documented way, a well-understood way, a reproducable way to monitize the value of that response has become a problem for Google’s core business model; and it presents an Opportunity for Microsoft’s Bing.  

Wired – and everyone else online – noticed the escalations in the business-war between Google and Bing.  Wired’s article is titled:  Google Catches Bing Copying; Microsoft says ;So What?’  but they really missed the point. The point is not copying, or customer data, or even money. The point of this war is risk.  By fighting the war, both sides incur risk.

Farsight 2011: Beyond the search box.  “The future of Search” was recently held.

Just before it was held, Danny Sullivan broke some very interesting – somewhat inflamatory information.  Google trapped Microsoft/Bing copying Google Results.  Microsoft admitted to using opt-in data. Google obviously has been in the browser tool bar business for quite some time, and they also use opt-in data. Microsoft and Google both make billions from advertising, from operating systems, from browsers, from devices, and ultimately from advertisers, based on hexa-giga-peta-bytes of “opt-in” customer data.

There is endless value in the data that comes from browsers. Microsoft knows it. Google knows it. Everybody knows it. Microsoft is using the data to improve the tool that its customers are using. Google uses that value to sell AdWords. Everybody makes money counted in the Billions.

This argument between Google and Microsoft is Risky for either or both.

Here are two possible outcomes that would benefit Microsoft.
1) If people conclude from the resulting press that Google and Bing are not that different… 
and if businesses conclude that neither has a competitive advantage, that is a huge win for Microsoft’s Bing.

2)If people are interested in having tools that learn from their input and misspelllllings, they might use Bing more often.

Considering that Bing (as of 1/14/11) has 12% market share vs 66% for Google, any win for Microsoft’s Bing could be extremely significant.

HOWEVER, If people believe that Microsoft is stealing, that might benefit Google. If people believe that Google is emphasizing this issue to reduce the problem of junk-filled content farms which you address above as being able to differentiate “content produced by regular people and large-scale junk produced by the spammers” that is a problem for Google.

It is most risky, however, for both. I think this spat has the potential to further help people understand the value of the data they provide, the button-bars they install, the software, hardware and search engines they use, the sites they visit, the information that THEY willingly provide. 

That makes this war very risky to both Microsoft AND Google. 

Search Wars may not have a winner, only casualties.

What do you think?

February 2nd, 2011 Posted by | Business, Competitive Advantage, Search Engine Optimization | 2 comments