John Akerson's Thoughts

Business, technology and life

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

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

The Cost to Convenience ratio

Bradford Cross wrote a great article on Measuring Measures “Why the iPad is Destroying the Future of Journalism.”

He was a bit off the mark in discussing Facebook, and could have provided more useful content by discussing Twitter because Twitter is a competitive microblogging platform that more directly delivers news-ish information.  His point was valuable because he focused on ways that media needs to address how it delivers unique content in a way that allows people to share.

Traditional media needs to ensure their cost to convenience ratio is favorable. 

What is that?  Here’s an example:  Your bank would love it if you, personally, used them for CD, Checking Account, Savings Account, Car loan, mortgage, IRA, online banking, online bill-pay, mobile banking and every other consumer service they offer. They want you to use their atm’s, their branches, and every location they offer.  They want the fees, of course, but they also want to make it more difficult for you to go to another bank and start up all those accounts, at that other bank. If your relationship with your bank is deeper, it is more difficult for you to switch. That convenience has a huge value because of the cost of changing, in terms of time and aggravation.

When your personal cost of switching (in time, and aggravation) exceeds the pain you feel from staying with a bank, they’re a winner.  This applies for ANY business.

If your convenience exceeds the cost you’re charged for that convenience, you, as a customer, might be content to be their loyal customer for EVER. You may slide from being a customer to being an evangelist.  This works for a local newspaper too, which may have a virtual monopoly on newspapers in a regional or local area. In many cases when a local newspaper is the only game in town, it can afford to be sloppy and cheap . The Winston Salem Journal, for instance, recently fired their entire copy desk. For their customers, the cost of finding an alternative far exceeds the cost of staying a customer. In some cases, there IS no alternative.

Look at Hyundai’s new Equus. Car and Driver’s comparison shows that it essentially clones the Lexus LS460L . “When Korean engineers set about copying the modern LS, they swallowed their inventiveness and simply deployed a really good Xerox machine.”  They did it extremely well, and “as-tested LS460L cost 50 percent more than the Equus.”  That is a steep cost for the convenience and pleasures of owning a car with the Lexus name.  Ironically, it is similar to what Toyota did.  ”Note the way the Equus undercuts the six-figure Lexus. Just like Lexus undercut Mercedes 20 years ago.”  Hyundai “xeroxed” the LS460L, and it has also copied Toyota’s Lexus business model to a certain extent. (Using Toyota’s business model against Toyota.)

Every business needs to look at the cost/convenience ratio that they provide. It is a real key to deepening customer relationships. Deeper customer relationships increast the cost of changing to competitors.  Successful businesses (Zappos, Amazon, Lexus, Hyundai, etc) aspire to make their customers happy because happy customers are loyal customers. Those customers are loyal, in part, because of the cost to convenience ratio.

Every Lexus’ LS460L that is sold this year is an example that the value of that loyalty… Every person who buys a Lexus LS460L is a person who is willing to spend tens of thousands of dollars for a Lexus, when there is a much less expensive substitute available. Those purchases show loyalty for Lexus’ past performance.

January 10th, 2011 Posted by | Business, Competitive Advantage, Life, Social Media | no comments

Smart Advertising

NPR had a really wonderful Morning Edition about the value New York City’s Times Square billboard Space on December 30th of 2010. Their piece had the inaccurate (but executive pleasing) title:Billboard Advertising In Times Square Pays Off   I was listening while driving to NYC to see the ball drop.   Does that advertising really pay off? Not necessarily.  SMART advertising pays off but there were two pieces of advertising in Times Square that could have been vastly improved.  Looking at the TDK advertising, as I did for about 5 hours on New Years Eve, it was striking how counter-productive it was.  I went back to the podcast and transcript, and confirmed that in the radio piece, Lisa Chow of WNYC interviewed John Connolly, Chief Operating Officer of Duncan Donuts.

Lisa said “Let’s see who’s advertising here. We’ve got Toshiba, Budweiser, Dunkin’ Donuts.”

Lisa did not even mention TDK. Lost in the crowd of a million freezing new year’s eve rockers in Times Square, I saw the enormous TDK billboard too. I researched it, and found that  TDK upgraded their billboard in December of 2010.

Everyone noticed the TDK billboard. How could you NOT notice it? Lisa Chow may have noticed it, but didn’t say a word. The problem is that advertising isn’t always SMART advertising.  In the New Year’s Eve crowd, I heard several people ask aloud if Cassette Tapes were making a come-back.  

I suppose that just KNOWING what a cassette is qualifies me as an old person, but if the old people know what TDK is because of cassettes, and the younger people don’t know what TDK is, what value does TDK get from a multi-million dollar billboard in NYC’s Times Square?   I think their value is less than zero. the billboard does nothing to tell any of their possible customers what TDK does, and because there is no connection to current products, viewers are left with the “are cassettes making a comeback” thought – or for younger viewers, the billboard gives absolutely no idea what TDK is.

What is TDK today, beyond the cassette? It is a huge, successful company that reported during their 1H FY2011 period – coverinf April 1, 2010 to Sep 30, 2010 –  they had $5.2b in net sales and  >84,000 employees.   TDK makes billions by producing and selling huge quantities of unmentionable electronics bits: capacitors, displays, print heads, transformers, etc.  Impressing people in Times Square is likely one of the purposes of their advertising. That billboard isn’t very smart advertising because only an extraordinarily small percentage of people passing One Times Square will ever look at their website, products or financials. The billboard doesn’t mention their website, their products, their global scope If they are spending this much money on advertising, perhaps they should use the display space to let people know that TDK is more than cassettes.  Perhaps a newly inspired “TDK-Inside” logo for this century??

Perhaps smart advertising could tell people what TDK is, what it does, who benefits from its products and why there is some advantage in selecting or using products that have TDK inside… Smart advertising could illustrate features, benefits and competitive advantages for TDK. (just like it does for anyone)

*Thanks to TDK for all those SA-C 90′s, and thanks to Tapedeck.org.

January 4th, 2011 Posted by | Competitive Advantage, Marketing | no comments

Best Buy

Best Buy stock plummetted 15% yesterday.  The headlines were all about “Q3 Profit Misses, Outlook Slashed” but I think the real story goes way deeper. source: Yahoo Finance

If you look at the numbers – their Q3 net income was $217m (54c/share) compared to $227m (53c/share) in the same quarter during the previous year.  The previous year was one of the most difficult years in US business history. Their stock dropped like a rock, from about $41.70/share, to about $34.50/share.

Seeking Alpha thinks Best Buy is being “unduly punished by Short Term Factors” and they might be correct, but I think their stock price reflects risks.

If you just look at numbers and projections, the stock IS undervalued in the 9.5x P/E ratio/ $34-35 range where it is at.  

The stock is undervalued in the 9.5x P/E ratio/ $34-35 range where it is at – if one only considers the numbers. It is extremely significant that their net income dropped between these particular quarters in these particular years. The economic climate was so much worse last year. There should have been growth. Best Buy’s net income drop goes deeper than the appraisal of delivering products to/for customers that weren’t there. Best Buy’s customer service issues are significant and not necessarily related to how many people are on their floors.

Their marketing dept would probably pick a generic version of me as their perfect customer: An employed geek with a couple of thousand followers who knows the difference between 60hz and 240hz, the difference between i3 and i7, the difference between wireless g and n, and is extremely impressed by the performance gains delivered by SSD as compared to 7200 rpm.  

My very personal and admittedly anecdotal experience is that their service is so horrid – that their prices, selection and availability just don’t matter.  I should be their customer, but I am not. When a business loses its target-customer base, drops in net income are a predictable result.  Facebook shows such a negative reaction to Best Buy – and Victoria Barret pointed out on Forbes that YouTube and Netflix are competitive problems as well. She thought their competitive advantages were around viewing patterns.  Netflix and YouTube excel in customer service, and I think that it will be essential for Best Buy to master the customer service components.

Bernhard Warner (Social Media Influence) looks at Best Buy’s social media efforts and distills their issues: 

“we get news that Best Buy is finding it difficult to compete with the likes of Walmart and Amazon. com who seem to be doing a better job of discounting and delivering a more satisfying customer experience. In the retail business, mastering those two parts of the business and you usually finish with a strong quarter. Only after that should you focus on new apps.”

Best Buy’s stock might certainly be a bargain, but the current price figures in the risks of their complex competitive  landscape and whether Best Buy can recover, or if they are on the Circuit-City path.

December 16th, 2010 Posted by | Business, Competitive Advantage | no comments