John Akerson's Thoughts

Business, technology and life

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 3, 2011 Posted by | Competitive Advantage, Continuous Improvement, Marketing, Search Engine Optimization, Social Media | Leave a comment

Smart Phones Rise

I am at Internet Summit 10 and I have noticed that Mary Meeker’s quote about smart phone numbers exceeding personal computers by 2012 has resonated with everyone.  To refresh, her quote is: “smartphone sales will surpass PC and laptop sales in 2012, with more than 450 million units sold.” So – the panel is talking about technology, infrastructure, net neutrality and how important it is to focus on customers…

Dana Todd  asked, “For marketing people like her, how do they deal with that technology” She meant the increase in smart phones, the changes in how people use technology. She wants to know how the increase in mobile information technology will impact what she needs to do as a marketer.  When mobile users exceed laptops, netbooks, ipads and other personal computer devices – how can marketers best deliver what customers need?

How will Mary Meeker’s projection change what people need? How will it change what people buy, what people use, what people want and what is important to people?  (assuming that people = customers)

These are great questions – what do you think?

November 17, 2010 Posted by | Business, Competitive Advantage, Continuous Improvement, Marketing, People, Technology | Leave a comment

Shifting Media

Media is changing, rapidly and thoroughly. I think the only certainty about this seismic change is that if you could ride a Delorean 10 years into the future, what media will look like then bears absolutely no resemblance to what it looks like now. How will it change?  Opinions vary wildly based frequently on the benefits seen by the person expressing the opinion.

Avner Ronen, Boxee’s CEO thinks that a payment platform will win over TV networks.  Bruce Eisen, VP of Online Content Development and Strategy for Dish Network thinks tomorrows media distribution model will be today’s, unchanged. But things are already changing in extreme ways. Greg Kampanis, an executive from South Park Digital Studios has seen that offering all of their shows as free content online has resulted in “an increase in ratings along with online advertising revenue.”

And Michael Willner, CEO of Insight Communications asks if Hulu is bad for Broadcasters.

Mr. Willner’s most essential point is about the viability of the current distribution model. To quote: “Eisen’s argument is that even if putting this content online for free has short-term benefits for broadcasters ultimately it will encourage more users to cut ties with their cable or satellite provider, undermining the current distribution model.” (I added that emphasis, here, to make my point.)

The current distribution model is like a woolly mammoth and broadcasters are like little birds that ride the mammoths. At some point, the woolly mammoth became a species doomed to extinction. Some birds hopped onto elephants instead. Some found other ways to survive their ever-changing, evolving environment. Some of the birds didn’t make it. Some of the elephants did.   The ones that thrived were the ones that were both smart enough to recognize the changes and fast enough to react.

I think that Bruce Eisen is in a difficult position, and if he thinks that South Park’s benefits are only short-term. Things are not going to settle back to a 1980’s paradigm where media is controlled by the current industry giants.  There are so many disruptors in the current woolly mammoth-dominated media environment. Although many things are difficult to predict, the future of those mammoths isn’t. The smartest will see that the “current distribution model” isn’t the same as the future distribution model.  Acting like those things are the same, is understandable, and protectionist, but isn’t the most productive long term strategy.

A better approach is to consider, given the current distribution model, and the currently known disruptors, what other distribution models can simultaneously deliver value to viewers and profit to companies that act as media managers, creators, producers and aggregators.

I think Netflix is poised to deliver on that simultaneous-value sweet spot, and their freely-available corporate strategy/playbook suggests they already know it. 

Who will their competition be?  Will they succeed? Will Dish? 

What do you think?

November 11, 2010 Posted by | Competitive Advantage, Continuous Improvement, Marketing, Technology | Leave a comment

Why You Should Avoid the Golden Ratio

In the last two days, I have been blown away by Twitter’s new design. It is a delightful improvement. Media is impressed because it is bright, shiny, new and vastly improved. Why is it so much better? Twitter’s new design is great because it is both functionally and aesthetically improved. Bravo Twitter!Golden Ratio on JohnAkerson.com

Remarkable attention (even Mashable remarkable attention) has been paid to the way that Twitter made use of the “golden ratio” in the new improved design, but you should avoid the Golden Ratio and here’s why:

There is a long history of paying attention to the golden ratio in design, in natural designs and in web design – (Tutsplus.com had a great tutorial that remains relevant and informative.) But you should still avoid it.  So – if the Golden Ratio is good, and if Twitter’s new design is a sensational improvement why should you avoid it?  There are four things are wrong about highlighting the use of the Golden Ratio.

  1. There is nothing unique in using the Golden Ratio in web design.
  2. There is nothing unique to Twitter as a current website using the Golden Ratio
  3. Most importantly: Using the Golden Ratio is NOT good web design, it is detrimental. 
  4. When web design matters, the important gold is the Golden Triangle.

There is nothing unique in using the Golden Ratio in web design. It has been an element of all sorts of designs, and it has been an element of web design forGolden Triangle and Golden Ratio years.  It provides a nicely balanced web page, aesthetically pleasing and it is a design that pays homage to a traditional approach to design.  You should avoid it because it is the wrong kind of gold. The Golden Ratio is NOT the best thing about web design and usability.  The Golden Triangle is!  (and this overlay shows both the Golden Ratio and the Golden Triangle

Here is an example of the Golden Triangle, overlaying the Golden Ratio.

Golden Ratio on ChrisBrogan.comBefore going any further, it is VERY important to mention that Twitter is not unique in using the Golden Ratio. Look at a dozen current websites, and it is a safe bet that eight out of ten of those websites use the Golden Ratio. Chris Brogan uses the Golden ratio with his blog. I use it with mine. Amazon uses the Golden Ratio, Facebook uses it, Brightfuse uses it. Almost everyone uses it.  Don’t believe me? Look at these overlays of various websites.Golden Ratio on JohnAkerson.com

The Golden Triangle is way more important. If you’ve never heard of the Golden Triangle – it refers to Google’s Eye-tracking studies that show a sort of golden triangle on the top left side of a web page. It is where people focus on search results. The “Golden Triangle” is important because it shows where people focus on EVERY web page. The Golden Ratio puts important elements of a web page in places where people aren’t looking. It puts unimportant elements of web pages in places where people look first.

Golden Ratio doesn’t equal Golden Triangle! For most websites, the Golden Triangle is essential, but the Golden Ratio should probably be avoided.  

A final thought: There are some designers  who do NOT use either the Golden Ratio or the Golden Triangle.  FourSquare (4sq) doesn’t use the Golden Ratio or the Golden triangle. They probably do not really care about either golden design reference because 4sq’s websiteisn’t really relevant to their business. Why not? Well, for FourSquare, their website is NOT their primary user interface, and website usability isn’t nearly as important to them as the other interfaces and applications that they provide. 

FourSquare screenshot with Golden overlays.Let me say that again. For FourSquare, their web design isn’t critically important because of the other apps that people and businesses use access their service. Their website design is just not that important.

That is very significant for FourSquare, and also for Twitter. For Twitter, their website is NOT their primary interface either because Twitter’s customers use Tweetdeck, Social Oomph, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter App for BlackBerry, Hootsuite, Twittergrader and another half million apps. That is really significant for Twitter because for them, the Golden Ratio might be irrelevant to the Golden Triangle, and equally irrelevant to the quality of their redesign.  Regardless of Golden Triangle, or Golden Ratio, Twitter’s redesign is still a serious winner! 

Design is just not essential for people and companies who have websites where they know that the website is not the primary interface that your customers use. Those websites can design with considerations for the Golden Ratio. If your website design IS a primary interface for your customers – take heed of the Golden Triangle instead.

September 30, 2010 Posted by | Competitive Advantage, Continuous Improvement, Marketing | Leave a comment

Rinse and Repeat

Your hair is dirty today, so you will probably wash it. You will probably use shampoo and conditioner, and on both bottles, the label says “rinse and repeat.” Social media and Search Engine Optimization are two arts that you can think of as Shampoo and Conditioner. They are mutually supportive, like shampoo and conditioner, and both do well with a continuous process of improvement- that you can think of as Rinse and Repeat.

That might or might not be good advice for conditioner and shampoo, I’ve always suspected the reason for that blurb on the bottle was to get people to use more shampoo, or perhaps for people who wash their hair weekly. Regardless for the shampoo directions, everyone should realize that “rinse and repeat” is thoroughly outstanding advice for both Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Social Media.

Social media and Search Engine Optimization are two arts that you can think of as Shampoo and Conditioner. They are mutually supportive and both do well with Rinsing and Repeating.

I read two nice articles today: “7 signs that you ignored your social media plan” on Outspoken media, and “How to optimize your site for search” in Inc. magazine.

I read the Social Media Plan article in Outspoken Media, and realized that Rinse and Repeat is critical to social media. When a person or company contributes no unique content and no other value to social media, there should be an expectation of *no return on the non-investment.* To get the best return, a company has to produce and add unique content, invest thought, words, communication, time and perhaps even some money. Thanks Lisa for a great guide to “what not to do.”  The important thing is DOING. It is important to rinse and repeat. Social media requires a continuous and constant care and feeding. If you did not do it today, do it now. If you did not do it yesterday, do it today. The value of social media as an element of your marketing plan is DIRECTLY related to how much you contribute to social media.

As I was reading the article on SEO, I realized there a considerable number of things in common between SEO and Social Media. The two arts both require rinse and repeat. They both thrive when tended to. SEO results and Social Media results are positive or negative in proportion to the resources that are devoted to both of them.  Both are elements that are built-in. SEO is built into each page, and Social Media is built into the culture.  Both are hard to quantify. Both benefit from evaluation of efforts, results and the relationship between effort and results, and both SEO and Social Media benefit from an approach that involves a cycle continuous improvement.  Call that Rinse and Repeat for SEO and Rinse and Repeat for Social Media – but the analogy from hair care goes further:  Social media benefits SEO & and SEO benefits Social media in the same way that conditioner works well on hair that has just been shampooed.  Social Media and SEO are mutually beneficial.

That’s something to think about when you rinse and repeat. 

What do you think?

September 13, 2010 Posted by | Continuous Improvement, Marketing, People | 3 Comments

Are You Stale?

Are you stale? Is your business stale?

I was in a wonderful quaint gelato shop earlier this evening – Café Gelato. I enjoyed the chocolate and amaretto gelato, and I was amazed to see the clerk there (Sarah) reading a copy of “Always On.” For those who haven’t read it, “Always On” is a slightly dated but very useful book that describes the impact of the internet on marketing and advertising, from a customer perspective.
Always On” talks about looking at the customers viewpoint, listening to the voice of the customer, and it was fairly predictive, even though it is a few years old now. The book does NOT explain how the Old Spice guy could put about a hundred videos on YouTube, and DOUBLE sales of Old Spice products… But the book explained how that could be done, before Old Spice executed it. The book emphasized the importance of customer-focused advertising and marketing. That is absolutely essential.

So back to the question – Are you stale? You may never want to ask the question, “Are you stale?” It sounds like a negative question. Nobody wants their business to be stale, nobody wants to be seen as unchanging, static, or inflexible. Nobody wants to be wearing an five-year-old dusty suit or dress and nobody wants to give the appearance that they are caught in the 20th century. But what about your business? Is it stale?

You might not want to ask that question either – so try asking this: “Are you fresh enough?” Think about what that means. Are you new enough? Are you current? Are you fresh? Are you fluid? Are you flexible? Are you responsive? Most importantly, are you as fresh as you need to be to keep your current customers, and deepen your relationship with them? Are you as fresh as you need to be to get new customers? Ultimately, are you as fresh as your customers want you to be?

If it is important to be fresh, and important to not be stale, how would you measure it?

This is pretty easy. If you have never asked this question before… you are stale. If your website hasn’t changed in 6 months, you are stale. If you haven’t tweeted this month, you’re stale. If you’ve never put a video on YouTube, you are stale. If you are only now realizing that Facebook has gone from 53 million users to 500 million users in the last two years… you are stale.

If you put a new sign up at a brick-and-mortar business every three years, that might be frequent enough to keep it fresh. But the internet is always on. The news cycle is always on. Advertising and Marketing is always on. The great effect that has is that social media, internet and all of its tentacles are a living breathing thing that works for your business 24 hours a day, every day, every week. The not so great effect is that if your business’s online footprint is stale, your octopus might as well be wearing a five year old dress.

Is that an unattractive picture to paint?

Fixing it is up to you. Painting it is up to you. It is up to you to make your online marketing and advertising fresh. Make the decision to ensure that your online presence is always fresh. Keep it fresh. Be fresh. Your customers will know, your revenue, and your success will reflect that.

DO something about your online presence. Do it today.

September 4, 2010 Posted by | Business, Competitive Advantage, Continuous Improvement, Marketing | 1 Comment

FOUR FACTS YOU MUST KNOW (to make your business fail)

I’m a fan of Bob Parson’s charisma and his videos. I think they explain powerful, simple, intelligent ways to improve business, to succeed, and I like it that he gives advice to anyone who wants it, whenever and wherever they are willing to listen.  He is also a former Marine, an 0311, I suspect – and I respect his service. 

You may not know Bob Parsons, but you know his company. Bob runs GoDaddy.com.  You’ve probably heard of them, seen their Superbowl advertisements, and their spokespeople.  You might not know that he was also behind Parsons Technology – Bought by Intuit for $64 million in 1994.
In short, he is a proven entrepreneur.

In his video blog Episode #36, “FOUR FACTS YOU MUST KNOW (if you’re going to sell anything)” he lays out 4 secrets for creating the sorts of enormous successes he is used to building.  He lays out these success secrets, but he could also explain the dark side of his secrets. they are …

FOUR FACTS YOU MUST KNOW (to make your business fail)  His secrets lead directly to 4 things NOT to do. 

His FOUR FACTS, paraphrased, are: 

1) A business cannot succeed by being exactly like its competitors.

2)People resist changing buying patterns.

3) To succeed, Give customers compelling reasons to change their buying habits.

4)Being better is not enough, you must let your customers know that you are better.

So – these are each great ideas.  I do not disagree with any of them. I think it is important to also highlight the dark side.

1a) If you are exactly like your competition, and nothing good separates you from your competition, why should anyone use your products or services?

2a) Help your customers make you their habit.

3a)DO NOT give them compelling reasons to change their buying habits once they are a loyal customer. Do not give them compelling reasons to pick someone else if they are a prospective customer.

4a) If you don’t tell your prospective and current customers why you are better, they will never know, and they will not become or stay customers of YOURS.

What do you think? Are there other business maxims that mean more when you consider their polar opposites? Why? How can you use them to help you with YOUR success?

August 16, 2010 Posted by | Business, Competitive Advantage, Continuous Improvement | Leave a comment

Netflix, Reed Hastings, Mark Cuban and Customer Service.

Mark Cuban is a billionaire, and is also a big fan of Reed Hastings.  I am a very big fan too, 

– because Reed has a strategy for competitive advantage that cannot be duplicated or beaten by any inauthentic company. Reed’s strategy is here, and also on SlideShare.

View more presentations from reed2002.

Mark points out one key element of Netflix success is that  ”almost no customers leave cable for Netflix” That is important because it means that subscribers value Netflix in addition to cable. But why not?  The most important competitive advantage that gets to the heart of “why.”   The complete question – to be articulate – is WHY do customers value Netflix, and why will they continue to value Netflix?

Reed reveals that on slide 21 with a simple yet effective philosophy. His philosophy is to provide the best customer service. He stakes Netflix’ success on the ability to be a service of choice, to perform with and deliver to Netflix’ customers, to lead customer satisfaction across all of his current and potential competitors. He understands the amazing depth of competition coming at him from all directions. He understands where his business is going. He thinks that having the best customer service will be his singular competitive advantage.

Even if other companies never get the value of superior customer service, it would be to everyone’s advantage if they would try.  It worked for Zappos, it is working for Netflix. I guess the real question is why WON’T other companies try harder?

In this presentation, Reed gives a great overview Netflix’ history of customer service leadership, and their go-forward strategy for “running fast” as he puts it. For Netflix, running fast is a race to provide the best customer service.  They win when their customers win. 

I like that and admire pretty much every business that uses innovation and superior customer service as a competitive advantage. Unfortunately, I suspect the effectiveness of superior customer service as a competitive advantage is only valuable because it is so rare.  

How could that be changed?

June 4, 2010 Posted by | Business, Competitive Advantage, Continuous Improvement | Leave a comment

Passion

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

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

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

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

February 18, 2010 Posted by | Business, Competitive Advantage, Continuous Improvement, Life | Leave a comment

Brand Value, Apple Style

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

technorati:code:F22ZC8GM2WJB

February 1, 2010 Posted by | Business, Competitive Advantage, Continuous Improvement | Leave a comment