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January 2008 Archives

January 1, 2008

Wine And Movies

Spending this New Years day in the most traditional of fashions (i.e. on the couch, nursing a hangover, watching football, stuffing my face), I had a couple of completely random and unrelated thoughts/ questions that I thought I would blog:

1. I'm not much of a wine guy, so don't really keep up on what's good, bad, etc. with respect to various vintages, however, I have noticed as I stroll through the wine section of a store that more and more wines are being given humorous names. Fat Bastard, Roshambo and Screw Kappa Nappa are a few that I recall seeing recently.

So is this a new trend? I am presuming that the humorous naming is solely aimed at the gift purchase of wine - I can't imagine anyone seriously cracking open a bottle of Fat Bastard to enjoy with their meal. So is this a case of clever marketing? Someone realizing that while few know much about wine, everyone loves a good laugh - thereby creating a new position for an existing product. Or does this lower wine to the gag gift level? Good for short term but perhaps not long term. Hmmmm...

2. Who's hurt the most by the Hollywood writer's strike? The writers? The networks? The studios? How about the promotions folks? With no writers, that means no talk shows, which means there's been no opportunity to promote movies through appearances on Jay/ Dave/ Jimmy/etc. You would think that shutting down a prime PR line like that might actually hurt the movie industry's bottom line. Turns out no - Christmas movies did better this year than last year. Not good news if your job is managing these types of promotions....

Ok, now back to football....

January 2, 2008

Our First Press!

Less than six months old and really only in the beginning stages of our development, Blekko scores a great write up in the influential blog TechCrunch. Shows the power of having a name brand like Skrenta as a co-founder! Anyway, my favorite part:
Skrenta, who’s very media savvy, won’t say much about how he’s going to tackle search (he’s not a fan of PageRank though). He says they are looking at improvements on the back end (indexing and query serving) as well as the user search experience itself. Beyond that, he says we have to wait. And it might be a long wait at that. The company, Skrenta says, may not have a public prototype available until 2009.

Normally an entrepreneur announcing they’re taking on Google with a six person team and just $2 million in funding would either be laughed at or ignored. In Skrenta’s case, he has proven himself more than once as capable of taking on big challenges and winning. This will be a company to watch, and speculate on, in 2008.

To borrow a phrase from Pete Townsend, got a feeling 2008 is going to be a good year....;)

January 3, 2008

10,000 Hours

Unfortunately with all the travel this year, my holiday reading list was short. Lucky for me, however, I chose well. While casually browsing through my favorite bookstore before the holidays, as an impulse buy I picked up This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of Human Obsession. Good move on my part: I really liked it.

The book takes a both a long and short lens view of many aspects of music. Not having taken any formal music classes (either in school or otherwise), I really enjoyed how the book broke down the various elements of music into their individual related components. Likewise, the discussions on the actual measured neural responses the brain has to music and how some of the simplest human actions (like tapping your foot to a beat) are incredibly difficult to artificially re-create were really good.

But I have to say my favorite part of the book was the chapter on what makes a musician. According to the book, to become an expert in anything (music, chess, sports, computer science, writing, etc.), it takes a minimum of 10,000 hours of practice. 10,000 hours. If you apply that to your job, that means you need to work for five years (40 hour weeks) to become an expert at what you do. For new parents out there, that means you won't become an expert in child rearing until your kid is over 1 year old (presuming raising a kid is a 24 hour job).

There are obviously other factors besides practice that go into becoming a virtuoso. For instance, genetics plays a part, but not in the way you think. Music he says, does not "run in a family." Rather, parents that are more involved musically are going to provide their children an environment that allows for the development of musical skills. Similar to how parents who speak a foreign language are going to most likely provide an environment where their children speak that language as well - but no one says that speaking Japanese runs in the family.

There are other non- practice drivers as well. For instance, people with large hands are probably going to be lousy violinists, regardless of practice, but are well suited for piano. Likewise, a person's vocal chords may provide a natural sound that is more euphonious. So people maybe genetically or environmentally better positioned for a particular endeavor - but mastering it still comes down to practice.

10,000 hours to be an expert, eh? I'm going to keep that in mind next time I go to check out an industry conference panel....;)

January 7, 2008

Wikia Cattle Call

Social networks are tough to launch. The value of the product is not written into the code, but is in the members. The critical mass of people who join the social network make it worth using. Launching a feature rich but people barren social network is at best uninteresting, at worst a recipe for failure. But how do you get word out to people join a new social network without some sort of press/ marketing launch? Like I said, social networks are tough to launch.

Wikia learned that lesson today with the launch of Wikia Search.

The model of Wikia search is to provide some bare bones search results through open source software along with tools where social networks can form and make these results better. The idea being, once fully bloomed, the people polish on the initial results will provide a better experience than that of just a pure algorithm. The initial results are really just an enticement to get people to come in and create something that is interesting.

However, they positioned it wrong. The press reported -and people read - that Wikia launched a search engine. Terms like "search engine" bring with them a certain user expectation. If your results are bad, your product is bad and your launch is bad. While Jimmy Wales was clear to say in the release that the results were poor, no one reads that. Instead they read Wikia launched a search engine. Not surprisingly, users weren't happy.

But they weren't launching a search engine. They were launching a social network. One that needed people. What they were really doing was conducting a recruiting drive for people to join their social network around search. But that's a complicated message, one that's tough to translate through the press.

Unfortunately for Wikia, there's no such thing as a PR re-do - once its out there, its out there. But, with that, I wouldn't completely dismiss them. The Wikia community is a loyal (and large) one. Energizing that group has produced results in the past. Ironically, the poor search results of the Wikia search today should in theory actually help garner the community involvement - if the results were good, there's no need for people to come in and clean them up.

So, I'm not counting these guys out just yet. First they need to fix their positioning. Then, just like Uncle Sam, they need a few good recruits.

January 14, 2008

Facebook on 60 Min's

Lots of buzz about Zuckerberg's appearance on 60 minutes last night. As most I've read point out, for those of us in the tech community there really wasn't very much to learn from the piece. Rather, a typical company/ wunderkind-CEO profile. But that's clearly by desgin: 60 minutes doesn't angle its reports for the most knowledgeable viewers - otherwise they would be unwatchable for 99% of their audience.

So in that sense the piece was well done. It effectively introduced Facebook (the company and the site) to a mainstream/ 60 minutes audience. And it wasn't all puff - it made mention of the controversial issues around the company - the lawsuit and the troubles with Beacon. For someone in Pittsburgh who doesn't know much about social networks or facebook, I imagine they liked it.

In my mind the only thing that made it any bit controversial is Zuckerberg himself. He's a bit awkward. But then again, he's 23 years old giving an interview on 60 minutes. If someone had interviewed me (or most others) on 60 Minutes at 23 years old, I would have killed to reach the awkward level. Unfortunately, I more likely would have fallen into complete and utter, nervous, flailing doofus level. For a young guy, he's clearly very smart and seems self-aware. And, if you ignore the awkwardness and listen to his answers, I actually think he did a good job. Sure both he and their messaging could use a bit more polish, but overall his answers made sense.

With that, my favorite part of the interview though was when Leslie Stahl asked the WSJ reporter whether he was a good CEO (no comment on whether a reporter is even qualified to make that call). Her answer: "I don't know." Yeah, me either. All this guy did was start a company 3 years ago that has taken over the social networking space - leapfrogging established players in the process - grow the company to 400 employees, come out with a platform that has spawned a whole cottage industry, announce an advertising platform that had 60 major advertisers signed up on day one and in the process finance his company at a $15 billion valuation. Obviously, the jury is clearly still out on whether he's doing a good job running that place....

January 16, 2008

Marketing to Vulcans

As any Star Trek fan knows, the primary distinction between humans and Vulcans (besides the pointy ears) is that the latter are completely logic driven while the former are ruled by their emotions. Is it any wonder than that most marketing success stories result from an appeal to the emotional side of humans, not the logical?

Whether it is the curves of the Coca-Cola bottle, or the lines of a car to the name of a band, the most successful products appeal strongly to our emotions. Music as an industry used to be particularly great at this. Music fans are some of the most passionate consumers out there. The emotional appeal is so strong that fans actually leverage the emotional response they get from music to evoke an emotional response from others about themselves.

As a result, it's not enough for your average Mega-Death/ Eminem/ Michael Bolton (ok, probably not him) fan to sit at home and quietly listen to their music on the Ipod. No, they need to buy shirts, hats bags, pins, etc. to let the rest of the world know that they're a Mega-Death/Eminem fan. Music touches so many primal emotions in humans, that entire identities are formed around it.

Sports are another great example. You can literally walk through a stadium and feel the passion for the product. One of the original uniting principles among us is geographic similarity. East cost vs West coast. No. Cal. vs. So. Cal. NY vs. Boston. Cleveland vs. Pittsburgh, etc. People take a tribal-like pride in where they're from and thus have passion about things that supposedly represent it.

I always found it interesting that the NBA allowed the Golden State Warriors to be named as they are. The team plays in Oakland and is supposedly representative of the Bay area. But their name is Golden State. That name brings up no knee jerk geographic pride from anyone. The Golden State Warriors? I live in San Francisco, not the Golden State. Besides Los Angeles and Sacramento are in the Golden State too - and those cites have three teams between them. So who cares if Golden State loses to Milwaukee or Portland? Not me. Let me know when San Francisco plays though.

Accordingly, even in years like this where they're pretty good, no one seems to care. Change their name to San Francisco or Oakland Warriors - tap into that irrational geographic emotion and I bet more people will become passionate about the team.

Sure logic would say that if you named the team the San Francisco Warriors, that would alienate fans outside the city. One thing I've learned though is that if you try to be all things to all people, you end up being nothing to everyone. So forget about the lowest common denominator. It's just that. It brings out zero emotions. Which is perfect....if you're marketing to a Vulcan.

January 17, 2008

SEM: Buyer Beware

We were yapping around the office about an unnamed site we know that reported to have 11 million uniques this past month. Given what we know about this industry, we all agreed that this meant that they were buying precisely 11 million uniques worth of traffic each month. Actually, I speculated that they were buying 10 million uniques worth of traffic and got the remaining 1 million through SEO. Regardless, that was the quick and dirty analysis of their business.

And, in case you can't tell, that was not a positive analysis. Without saying it, we were all in agreement that this was not a winning formula. So why is that? Why is it that these two particular forms of marketing (SEO/ SEM) for this particular type of business (media) just has disaster written all over it?

If I opened a corner store or a restaurant and I spent some money on a TV or newspaper ad that had the effect of increasing my customer count wouldn't I be excited and optimistic? That's despite the fact that those type of advertising are unmeasurable and really hard to target.

Maybe its just a conversion. If I bought the restaurant ads that brought in new customers, once I had them in my shop I know my world famous chicken picatta (or whatever) would indelibly stick in their ribs and taste buds that they would come back for more and more. Or at least some of them would. They would convert to "free" customers. And that would make me happy. So I would be optimistic.

So why doesn't SEO/ SEM bring up the same optimism. Is it because of the mechanism of going through Google? (I've written in the past about how SEO/ SEM might actually be harmful to brand building). Or is it because a web site isn't built for conversion of SEO traffic? There's no virtual chicken picata served to capture the customer. Or is it both? Or is it that Web sites in general are really, really hard to advertise. I'm not sure there's an effective offline channel (TV, radio, billboards, etc.) either.

Either way its odd for me to think that there is a legitimate form of marketing out there that sounds like bad news for a company to use. I thought marketing was supposed to be a good thing....

January 18, 2008

Cuisenart Blade: 1 Mike: 0

Ain't gonna be no re-match.


January 21, 2008

The Tin Handcuffs of SEO

The internet is a well regulated industry. Google is its regulator. Like Marie Antoinette handing out cake to the peasants, every month Google allots the various web-sites in its index a certain amount of traffic. Certain sites do better than others (Wikipedia, About.com), but for the most part each site takes its monthly Google traffic home and tries to do the best it can with it.

As is the case with any monthly budget, there's only so much you can do with it though. Unless the budget itself increases, there's only so much stretching to be done. And there's only three ways to increase your traffic budget: (1) get more from Google (SEM!), (2) better convert your Google traffic to traffic of your own (and I've said my piece there already) or (3) go find a new source of traffic.

Unless you're in the inner circle (again, Wikipedia, About.com), you can never grow to any significant size site inside the Google regulated industry. The regulator won't let you. Why would they? If they actually make you a big, important site than the balance of power actually starts to tip in your favor. No regulator likes that. Regulators make the rules, not the regulated.

Not so coincidentally, if you actually look at the recent successful sites over the past few years - YouTube, MySpace, Facebook, etc. - none of them got there by Google traffic. They created a product and figured out a way to get mass appeal outside the Google regulatory system. To make a bad analogy, if you were a global leader intent on world domination, would you make a plan to achieve this goal by working with the United Nations? No, you would go out and take what you thought was yours. That's what these big sites did. They flipped the virtual bird to Google and took what was theirs.

So here's where I'm going with this: despite all this, if you actually talk with lots of folks in the media industry, they're paralyzed by the fear of losing their Google traffic. I can't for the life of me figure out why though. Online revenues in media are still really, really small. Let's say you do do something to piss off Google and *poof* somehow lose all your Google traffic and accompanying revenue, then.....well, what? You've really lost nothing.

So it strikes me that the time is right to make some big bets. You can't make those within the system. My advice: start from scratch, take some chances in finding marketing channels outside the Google system. Be bold - make some bets while the upside is still very big and the downside is pretty small.

Cause the Google regulatory system is really a dictatorship - and like any dictatorship, at the end of the day, no matter what they say or do, the one who really owns everything is the dictator.

January 24, 2008

Gawker Envy

When you work at a company named Blekko, you understand the importance of choosing a good name. There are plenty of folks who know more about naming than I do - and while I do subscribe to many of Rich's naming rules(including my own add ons), in many respects I'm like Potter Stewart with regard to names: I know good one's when I see them.

To that end, the one online media property that continually impresses me with its clever names is Gawker Media. I don't know what Nick Denton's method to his madness is (scotch?), but he continually comes up with great names for his properties. Not all of them are home runs (cough....sploid...cough), but alot of them are really good.

The great ones, Jalopnik, Gizmodo, Jezebel, Wonkette, Gawker (for its original celeb sighting repository function) make the tone and subject mater of each blog obvious to the readers, but in a non-obvious way. That's a tough trick to pull off. How easy would it to have just used a name like "chickstuff" or "girltalk" or even "women's daily" for the women centric blog? All sort of blah. But Jezebel? Now that's a name! Unencumbered, descriptive, non-obvious, immediately informing, emotional, whimsical, etc. All great qualities in a name. And perhaps the most impressive part of each of the aforementioned names is that they all appropriately connote the editorial snark of each blog.

Now with that, I don't like all of the names he chooses. To wit, Lifehacker, Deadspin and io9 fall in that category. While I do like the blogs themselves, especially DeadSpin, I don't love the names. But even when he doesn't come up with a good name, its not for the typical reasons. Most crappy names are a result of their being too common or too descriptive (e.g. business.com, shopping.com, etc.). That's certainly not the problem with these names. They're non-obvious, but don't work for other reasons (IMHO). And if you're gonna miss, you should always miss taking a swing.

Anyway, as we think about our future name and brand, it would be nice to be able to think like Denton and come up with something great. I wonder what his brand of scotch is....

January 28, 2008

No Country For Old Men....Meh...

On Friday night, Kelly and I went to see No Country for Old Men. As you probably know, this picture is the latest effort from the Coen brothers and judging from all the positive reviews and all the awards it's won, it's a big hit. As far as I'm concerned though, well, meh is all I can come up with....

The problem for me was that there were too many continuity issues and superfluous/non-believable parts. Which is really frustrating because I think most could have been avoided - and had they, the movie could have been great. But they weren't. And there are way too many to overlook. So, without further ado here's my list of issues with this movie. Btw, spoilers below - so if you haven't seen it, you are forewarned.

1. First, I didn't believe that Llewelyn would go back to give the guy water. He had no problem leaving the guy in the first place, made no other efforts to give medical care. The guy's half dead already. His chances of living more than a couple of hours in the middle of the desert, with no water and bleeding from gunshot wounds? Pretty slim. But in the middle of the night, hours later, Llewelyn wants to bring him water? Righhht. And why water? What he needs is an ambulance. I'd believe Llewelyn making an anonymous call to the EMT's from a pay phone reporting this, but don't buy he'd bring him a jug of water. Didn't make sense. Since the whole movie is sprung from this one unbelievable act, it's kind of important.

2. And when he did go back, why didn't he drive all the way to the crime scene. There were five other cars there, so obviously you could get there. Why park far away and walk? If you're worried about danger, aren't you better off in the car than on foot?

3. And about the antagonist - the Javier Bardem character - he definitely was creepy - which in this case is good. But, I think a lot of that came not from his acting but from (a) his creepy haircut; (b) his Michael Myers like ability to walk away from any injury, never get caught and still be ever-present; and (c) his innovative choice of weapon. Get past the haircut and the air gun and he's like a horror movie character - and just not believable.

4. The Tommy lee Jones character bugged me. This movie was 2 plus hours and for most of it his character is, at best, a marginally supporting actor. But the final 15 minutes of the movie are devoted to him? I didn't connect with him during the whole movie, and now, at the end, for no reason, I'm supposed to?

5. The Woody Harrelson character bugged me too. Who was he? Why was he there? Who was his weird boss?

6. Also, Woody's character finding Llewelyn in the Mexican hospital wasn't believable to me. How did it happen? They never say. Woody says it took 3 hours. Ok, fine. How? This was 1980. Some random American with no id in stolen clothes crosses the border and checks into a random hospital and woody's character finds him? In 3 hours? Please....Same thing goes for Javier Bardem finding him as well....

7. And who were these ever present random Mexicans that kept finding Llewelyn? They found him at the first motel, the motel in El Paso - they found his wife, mother-in law...how? The first group was actually killed at the first hotel. Then another group of entirely new guys, with no tracker to help them, find them in El Paso...after finding his mother in law, wife, etc. How??

8. And speaking of that tracker, i found that to be a bit unbelievable too. Ok maybe Javier gets lucky and the tracker hones in on Llewelyn at the first motel. But lightening strikes twice and he finds him at the second hotel as well? I don't buy it.

9. As for the money, the fact that a lot of the bills were $1 bills (visible when he flipped through them when he found the tracker) - not $100's - was never addressed. Someone knew that the case had a lot less than $2M in it - yet, everyone (Bardem, Harrleson, the Mexicans, Llewelyn) was acting like there was $2mm. If it was only $50k, would these guys be killing everyone and their brother to get it back?

10. Finally, the ending. Not the ending of the movie - which came abruptly after trying to get me to identify with Tommy Lee Jones' character - but the ending of Lewellyn. Here's a move that does a good job of getting me to identify and like the main character - but not the satisfaction of seeing how he meets his fate. Just a hint that a group of Mexicans who somehow found him, offed him in a motel room. It's a weak payoff.

But, other than that Mrs. Lincoln, how was the movie? Actually, despite all that, it really was not bad. But it could've been great. And that's what's left me feeling frustrated about it. Anyway, I'll leave you with one last question: who ended up with the money? Javier Bardem? I didn't see it with him when he walked off with that broken arm....

January 31, 2008

Holy Sh*t - Banner Ads Don't Work!

I'm on vacation this week, so a bit behind on my industry reading - and light-blogging (at best). But in catching up, I ran across two articles. The first from Venture Beat called Fresh From New York: Trends in Online Advertising:
Sean Finnegan, former chief executive of Omnicom Media Group Digital...says one challenge “is for a brand marketer to get a single or sequential messaging to the multiple touch points out there.”

The second is from Arin's blog, more creatively titled: Holy Shit I clicked on a Banner Ad.

This is probably the first time I’ve ever clicked on a banner ad… and yup, I purchased the advertised product. Crazy huh?

I'm going to suggest that the next time the ad world gets together in New York to discuss online advertising, they bring Arin in to speak. If nothing else, it would make things interesting....

Now, given that Arin, like most people his age (twentysomething) spends a good portion of his time online, I wonder what is personal CTR for banner ads is? A challenge, indeed. It's probably time to start thinking about new ways to reach consumers online....

About January 2008

This page contains all entries posted to Marksonland in January 2008. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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