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December 2007 Archives

December 2, 2007

Every 18 Years Or So

I was reading an article referencing the first Gulf War and started thinking how that doesn't seem like it was 16 years ago - and only 12 years or so before the start of the current Gulf conflict. I vividly remember watching the "broadcast" of Gulf War 1 on TV and it seems like it was only yesterday. Then I started thinking: if our last war, which seems so recent, was 16 years ago, when was the war before that? Well, that would be Vietnam. The US involvement there ended when we finally pulled out of Saigon in 1975 - 16 years or so before Gulf War 1. Hmmmm. Interesting. Let's keep going:

The Korean War ends in 1953, 11 years before the Gulf of Tonkin incident (1964) and US cranking up its involvement in Vietnam.

WWII ends in 1945, 5 years before US involvement in Korea.

US involvement in WWII began in 1941, 23 years after the 1918 end of WWI (the war to end all wars). The US got involved in WWI in 1917, 19 years after it began and ended the Spanish American War in 1898.

The Spanish American War came 33 years after then end of the Civil War (1865), a fairly large break in the action if you don't count the various Indian/ US conflicts during that time (which I'm not).

The Civil War starts in 1861, 13 years after we got done fighting with Mexico (1848). That war starts in 1846, 32 years after we made peace with the British for the second time (1814). Of course, our first go around with the British ended in 1783, 29 years before the second fight.

Anyway, average that out and you find that as a country every 18 years or so we're at war. FYI, this isn't intended to be some sort of passive aggressive commentary on our country or our history. From what I know of history, it seems that most of the times we go to war its for the right reasons. I just found the 18 year number to be interesting.

December 5, 2007

Market Research

I've always liked the old saying: "men can be led to places that they would not otherwise go." Admittedly this saying is usually reserved for describing how things like Pickett's charge could occur, but, on a smaller scale, it also applies a lot to marketing.

I had a conversation with a friend recently who, after noting some of the recent Web 2.0 products, made essentially the "what were they thinking? The spent time/ money building that?" comment. He thought some market research could do some of these companies good. Then today I read this list of start-up rules on TechCrunch and noted number 7:

Don’t spend time on market research. Launch test versions as early as possible. Keep improving the product in the open.

SO which is it: to market research or not? For me, it all goes back to the user. If there is a user expectation about a product, where the new product is more of an incremental change, I actually think some market research can be beneficial. Think automobiles, clothing, etc. But for new markets, where users have no pre-conceived notions, market research adds little value. For examine, imagine trying to size the market or get focus group feedback on blogging tools in 1997. No one knew there was a market or knew what they wanted in a product.

The other consideration is time/ money. Doing market research, beyond anecdotal, is time consuming and costly. For web-products, where you can launch a site cheaply, and do some basic awareness marketing, you'll get feedback right away. If your nimble in your ability to react to the user community, you'll likely save yourself time and money. Other more resource intensive industries don't have this luxury.

Of course the real trick is understanding that many times people are averse to change and new things. As a result, outside an early adopter set, often times user feedback/ market research is negative. If you listen to them the result will be a product dumbed down to the wisdom of the crowds. That's what happens when people are left to lead themselves: they go to the place they already know.

December 6, 2007

A Quick Christmas Story

I must be getting soft in my old age - my buddy Dave sent me this story about his 9 year old son Jake and I had to blog it. Some quick background: Dave is an old friend from high school, a successful attorney in Pittsburgh and remodeling his kitchen and den this winter. With that, take it away Dave:
Lastly, jake bought a diamond ring for $3 at the Jefferson [elementary school] holiday shop yesterday. He pulled me aside last night and gave it to me. He said he knew I probably didn't have much $$ left to buy a present for [Dave's wife/ Jake's mom] Stacey because of the addition, so he wanted me to give her the ring. The true meaning of xmas indeed....

Someone must be chopping onions nearby as I type this...yep, getting soft in my old age.

December 8, 2007

Just as I thought...

No great surprise, but i figure no one else is going to post about my predictions coming true, so I might as well. Looks like some Facebook execs cashed out out on their recent financings:
We hear Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, has cashed out -- before an IPO, before a sale, and before his investors. In the company's recent financing round, insiders believe, he sold about $40 million worth of stock.

Marksonland readers already knew this would happen back in September: "Now I'm guessing two things about this deal: first, this will not be a $500 million direct cash infusion to Facebook. Rather, many investors and perhaps some of the founders will be selling shareholders in the deal and have at least a partial exit. Second, there will be a multi-year advertising contract associated with this (similar to the Google AOL deal)."

Now if only I could predict lottery numbers....

UPDATE: Or not....

Prayers from the Couch

Last night, after a great meal and before heading to a holiday party, Kelly and I checked out a Christmas concert at a local catholic church. While the music was good, and the church looked great, during the concert for some reason I was fidgety. This is actually a pretty typical occurrence for me in church (not that I go that often): enjoying the experience, but at the same time, well, fidgety. Anyway, last night I thought about it and I think I figured out why. It's not me - it's the pews. They're bloody uncomfortable.

So I started thinking: would a church that actually made an investment into more comfortable seating actually succeed in drawing a larger audience. It strikes me that for many folks, church is a tough sell these days. Sunday is one of the two days of the week many people have to get caught up on sleep/ chores/ football/ golf/ family/ whatever. You know, personal time. Giving up a chunk of this time in favor of an hour (not including the time to get ready (church clothes!), commuting, etc.) of church can, for many, be looked at as a big opportunity cost (especially if you were out the night before).

So just on its face, church is a tough sell. Add to the equation the fact that most folks know that, because of the seating, they will be physically uncomfortable for the time they are there, and I think it becomes an even tougher sell. I'm guessing this is especially true for parents of young children who, as far as I know, do not typically deal with any degree of physical discomfort well. Is this one of the reasons why church attendance has been on a steady decline?

Maybe. Here's an article about a church that moved its services to a movie theater and had a great response. Apparently the comfortable seating and the familiarity of the theater made it a more appealing place to go. Professional sports see this all the time - sure the team is the draw, but often times that isn't enough. So they build a new, state of the art arena, with all the amenities for the fans, and attendance soars. So why is church different?

I guess my point is that if you looked at a church as a business, and the declining congregation as dwindling customer base, it would seem that it is time to do some out of the box thinking to re-invigorate things. Now I'm not suggesting an alter facing a room full of lazy-boys (with the built in fridges?) but something in between the two extremes might be nice. Make the place comfortable for me, and more importantly, make it comfortable for families to bring their kids.

Sure, this might rankle some of the old guard - that's what new thinking always does. And sure there might be some cost considerations. But investing in your customers is never a bad idea - it usually ends up paying for itself in droves.

December 10, 2007

The Mother of All Phony Phone Calls

I chuckled when I saw this article about a 16 year old in Iceland who decided to call the President....on his private/uber-secure (heh) phone line!
Introducing himself as Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, the actual president of Iceland, Atlason found President George W. Bush's allegedly secret telephone number and phoned, requesting a private meeting with him. "I just wanted to talk to him, have a chat, invite him to Iceland and see what he'd say," Vífill told ABC News.

Personally, I would have gone for the old Prince Albert in a can joke....

December 13, 2007

Vertical Search vs. Vertical Content

There are plenty of differences between the search and content spaces. The technology, the product (obviously), the marketing, the monetization, etc. I was just thinking today though that, zooming out a bit, one of the interesting differences is that vertical plays work on content but not on search.

At the end of the day, search is a locator service and needs to be complete. If the analogy is that search engine's are the new Yellow Pages (which they are), a vertical search engine is the equivalent of a different Yellow Pages book for each type of listing. Do you want a separate Yellow Pages for auto dealers, restaurant, health care, etc.? Clearly not. As a locator service, search engines don't generate casual browsing. People don't go there for fun - they go their to do something.

Content sites on the other hand are the exact opposite. They're a destination - a place you actually go to spend time. Casual browsing is their entire audience. It seems that that for a whole lot of ways - branding, monetization, audience, etc. - content sites work best as verticals. If search engines are the Yellow Pages, then content sites are the magazine rack - and the magazine rack is always verticalized.

So with that, are their any crossovers? Are there any search sites that are doing well as verticals? I can think of two: Itunes (for music) and Amazon (for books). You might argue and say those aren't search sites, but rather e-commerce sites. I think they're vertical search engines with e-commerce monetization. Is that an important distinction? Actually, yes.

As noted above, one of the problems search engine's have is they don't gather a casual audience. This is especially true of verticals. Rich has a rant about how Google has to do a good job on non-monetize-able queries (like "Mike Markson" - no one buys my keyword) precisely so they can gather an audience for the monetizeable ones. This is why sites like shopping.com have to re-acquire their audience every month from Google. As a search engine, when you ignore a class of query you do so at your own peril - people will know longer think of you as a locator service.

Amazon and Itunes don't have that problem (although I'm sure they buy their share of traffic). I think this is because from a brand perspective folks know that their sites are more than just locator services. They can buy stuff there. As a result people actually do go there for the occasional casual browsing. Call it the cyber-equivalent to window shopping. So it turns out that to succeed as a vertical search engine, you need to do something other than be a locator service. One way is by being the corner store.

December 16, 2007

Le tour de Baseball

Over the course of five (yes, five - ugh) holiday parties this weekend, the subject of the Mitchell report came up quite often. interestingly enough, the most common reaction I heard was that given George Mitchell is a director of he Boston Red Sox, it's pretty coincidental that there were no Red Sox (but plenty of Yankees) named by in it. I guess at the end of the day, all aspects of baseball are a fans game and fans love to root, point out controversy, bias, etc.

In any event, here's my take on the whole steroids mess. No one likes the idea of people using performance enhancing drugs, but what's the alternative? At some point the process of weeding out offenders becomes so unwieldy, that it actually eclipses the results produced. So you need to ask, is it worth it?

The thing about technology is that it always evolves at a rate much faster than efforts designed to stop it. Don't believe me, ask the recording industry. In the case of performance enhancing drugs, the drugs will always outpace the tests designed to detect their presence/ use. To try to combat this, testing has to become more frequent, more intrusive. Like anything the more frequent and more intrusive you make it, the more likely their will be false results. Which means there need to be procedures around appealing tests, results, etc. All of a sudden, testing requires an infrastructure, and then you're in trouble.

Does this sound familiar? It should. It's basically how the Tour de France and track and field operate. Bet you have no clue who won last year' tour de france, but know Floyd Landis cheated. Likewise, bet you have absolutely no clue who holds what records for any track and field events, but are very familiar with the Marion Jones scandal.

This is what happen when you try to use policing measures to keep up with technology. The drug tests, their results, the appeals, etc. actually become the only interesting/ memorable thing about the sport. The become the brand of the sport. And, since this isn't nearly as fun/interesting as remember the actual games or plays themselves, the fans eventually abandon.

In my mind this is the road baseball is going down. A place where more fans know about the latest HGH testing procedures and false positives around medicinal steroids than how many home runs A-Rod has hit. And that's a shame.

So what's the answer? Let them cheat? Unfortunately, yes. Well, kind of. Steroids, HGH, etc., when obtained illegally, are illegal. And that should be policed. By the police - not the director of player personnel of a baseball team. Baseball should stick to the business of balls, strikes, beer and caps and leave police work to the pros.

Obviously the one problem this brings up is the validity of the record books. Perhaps. There are lots of people who took juice in the past 15 years, but only three or four of them hit more than 61 homers (and only one hit 73). At the end of the day, juice or no juice, talent and skill are still the ultimate arbiter of performance. Besides, how many of those 73 homers did Barry hit off of Clemens, Gagne, etc.? Isn't that the very definition of a fair fight? And wouldn't the record book only be tainted by the appearance of an unfair match-up?

Anyway, I know it sucks to say essentially "let them cheat" - I guess my point is that its pretty much the only alternative.

December 18, 2007

Google Doc's -Their Latest Efforts in Poltergeist Marketing

TechCrunch reports that "73% of Americans have never heard of Google Docs and other online office applications, but perhaps worst still only 0.5% of respondents have abandoned desktop office applications for an online alternative." Can't say I'm really shocked here.

Google is an interesting company. Their recorded history is that they came up with a really cool product that outperformed the competitors by leaps and bounds, caught the eye of the masses through viral distribution and meteorically rose to be the free-food juggernaut that they are now.

The bad news for them (but good news for everyone else?) is that because of this recorded history, they seem to rely on what I call "Poltergeist Marketing" ("they're herrrreeee") for all their product launches since: develop an app, throw it out there and see if it catches fire. Unfortunately for them most (froogle, google base, etc.) don't.

This isn't really surprising though. Products for the most part don't sell themselves. That's the job of marketer's. When you hand most people something new, they have no idea what to do with it. They're lives are moving along quite swimmingly - what do they need your product for? That's the crux of marketing - giving people a reason to try something out. Plop, plop, fizz, fizz oh what a relief it is.....

This is especially true with an established, dominant brand (like Microsoft Office) that seems to be doing an adequate job. Pick a class of people (a segment) to market to, create a product that is catered to solve problems/ issues/ etc. that class, communicate the brand to that class.

So back to Google doc's. What problem is it solving? The fact that I can access my doc's from any computer. Ok, maybe. Never mind that I schlep my laptop with me everywhere I go. Then message that to me. Show me the use case. Show me the features that make this a better experience from that perspective.

Segment, differentiate, communicate.....MARKET! The poltergeist approach ain't gonna work. And, to be clear, despite your recorded history, poltergeist is not how your search engine succeeded...but that's for another post.

December 19, 2007

Markismo-land...hmmm nice ring to that


Click here to see what your Brazilian soccer name would be: http://www.minimalsworld.net/BrazilName/brazilian.shtml

December 27, 2007

Thoughts for 2008

One of the blogs I check regularly (although its not on my blog roll - note to self: update blogroll)is Seth Godin's. I really liked his entry today - which he actually wrote 4 years ago. If you're looking for New Years resolutions, this entry is a good place to start. Some highlights:
In hindsight, the 1990s were the good old days. Yet so many people missed out. Why? Because it's always possible to find a reason to stay put, to skip an opportunity, or to decline an offer. And yet, in retrospect, it's hard to remember why we said no and easy to wish that we had said yes.
You get to make a choice. You can remake that choice every day, in fact. It's never too late to choose optimism, to choose action, to choose excellence.
I liked that. I generally think trying to time decisions in life - whether it be investments of time, money or emotions - is generally a bad idea. Be aware of external factors, but don't let them drive decisions. Anyway, enough (dimestore) philosophizing. Seth said it better than I could anyway, so check it out....

About December 2007

This page contains all entries posted to Marksonland in December 2007. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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