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Monthly Archives: August 2009

Why I prefer marketing to selling (updated)

I like marketing; I don’t like selling. Various jobs have asked me to perform varying levels of both. One I enjoy; one makes me feel dirty.

First, let me define marketing and selling for you. Marketing seeks to offer solutions for the needs of a group of people. While marketing is targeted, it is targeted at those with this need rather than a specific person. Selling is done to a specific person.

Let’s say I make lunches. Everyone in my office is my market for lunch. I can put up posters marketing my lunch and some people will buy it. If I’m selling my lunch, I go up to a specific person, relying on them to buy it. If they don’t, I’ve wasted lots of time trying to convince them.  Think about the difference between seeing a car commercial and going to the car dealership. One is exciting, the other leaves you feeling dirty.

I recognize I am coming at marketing with an idealistic view. I believe that marketing is a worthwhile endeavor when handled in a needs based manner. This is why often the best products need no advertising, relying instead of word-of-mouth and brand trust. While that’s an extreme (it worked for Google), most companies and products can benefit from smart marketing rather than selling.

Now social media throws some new tools in the marketing arsenal while also complicating my definitions (is promoting something on Twitter marketing or selling?). I think the best way to approach any marketing is to focus on building your brand and then letting that trust (and the quality of your products) sell themselves). For instance, marketing on Twitter or on your blog should be more about providing a service to your readers, whether by providing information on a subject important to them or highlighting research in your field. Corporate blogs are excellent tools to show your company’s expertise and provide valuable information to users, ensuring readers will turn into future customers when you have a product they might want.

Taking the pulse of technology: RSS evolving or dying?

With the rise of Twitter and social networking news streams, many techies have been debating the value and livelihood of RSS. RSS, or Really Simple Syndication, is a common format used to share a constant stream of articles. Popularized by blogs, RSS can be imported by RSS readers (like Google Reader; here’s my little guide to them).

Back in May, TechCrunch already pronounced RSS dead which makes it more shocking that today, again, Sam Diaz reveals he’s not using RSS anymore. And so the conversation begins. Marshall Kirkpatrick defends RSS as another of his many research tools while Robert Scoble has moved on to Twitter and FriendFeed for news.

Let’s not confuse death with evolution. RSS has always been a tool, a tool still used by, shockingly Twitter, Facebook, and Friendfeed.  While some find basic RSS readers less valuable, this is because innovators have found ways to make finding information on the web more useful and more valuable.  New tools like Feedly and LazyFeed are making RSS more valuable, and in some cases, unrecognizable from its original state. The internet is, obviously, moving so quickly (just watch Twitter update), that it’s impossible to believe the same tools we use today will be the same tools used next year. Nothing disappears, it evolves into something better.

Of course, I still love my RSS Reader.

Every employee is a content producer: The secret to SEO

The biggest secret in search engine optimization is that quality content, not buzz words, will get you top spots on Google.  This, of course, is the hard part.

Google’s PageRank determines the value of your website by who links to you. The more popular the linking site, the higher you’ll jump on search results.  The best way to get these links is to provide worthwhile and helpful content that others will want to recommend and link to.  One of the best ways to make this happen is to get your employees writing.

I receive significant push-back at this recommendation. Either employees are already too busy or they don’t know how to write.  Even if these excuses are true (and they are excuses), re-prioritization of resources and time (and some editing) can turn your entire staff into a blogging machine.

Recognize that your staff is already made up of experts in your field, and this if valuable for both your company and employees. IBM knew this and gave every staff member a blog, creating a vibrant and exciting array of niche, technical blogs. These blogs increased traffic and brand awareness for IBM while giving its employees visibility and respect among their peers (and likely helping them earn promotions or better jobs in the future).

Most companies can get away with a single blog written by most of the staff, each writing to their strengths. Have marketing people write about marketing your brand. Sales people can talk about new tricks they’ve learned.  The key is to make the content valuable to others, not simply self-promotion.

This should only take 30 minutes or so, and it can easily be done once or twice a week without hurting other aspects of your business.  The benefits far outweigh the added responsibility. Marketing and sales can become easier since clients have more ways to evaluate your company (and see how smart your employee’s are). Employees will enjoy the creativity and chance to show off their intelligence while learning new skills making them more attractive to future employers. This is a win-win and important for any company’s SEO and social media strategy.

Movie studios and three more reasons to ignore them

Not content to learn from the 10 plus years of mistakes by the recording industry, the movie industry is stampeding its way to obsolescence.

First, Fox and Warner Bros. have joined Universal in its battle with Redbox, the successful rental kiosks found outside supermarkets and fast food joints. Redbox rents movies for $1 a day, legally purchasing the movies from wholesalers. Redbox will even sell used DVDs for about $7.

Fox, Warner Bros. and Universal have sued claiming Redbox is infringing on their copyrights and are ordering wholesalers to refuse to sell their movies to Redbox before several weeks. The studios are demanding revenue sharing from the kiosks.

Redbox is countersuing for antitrust and abuse of their copyrights.

Redbox, while relying on the movie studios, is in a stronger position. Sony and Lions Gate are backing the kiosks with their movies, recognizing that movie fans love the price and convenience. DVD sales are down 13 percent while rentals are up 8 percent.

Next, the movie studios recently won two important court cases, both likely to cause more damage to the industry rather than help.  The first was the studio’s win over Real’s DVD copying software.  This copier circumvented the DVD’s DRM, which is illegal under the DMCA, but then put new DRM in its place so users couldn’t share their movies.

Now, copying for personal use or backup is considered legal and a fair use of a copyrighted work. But because of the DMCA’s anti-circumvention laws, you can’t backup the DVD you legally purchased.

What’s silly, is Real’s copier cost $20 and used DRM making it a somewhat worthless copier, especially when there are dozens of free DVD copiers without any DRM. So by suing, the movie studios 1) promoted that people could copy movies and 2) sent them to free, DRM-less alternatives.

For their other lawsuit, movie studios won their appeal against Kaleidescape, which is basically an iPod for movies (or a DVD jukebox, if you will), but costs $10,000.  Movie studios of course feared this system would be a haven for piracy, but again, it’s $10,000. It’s for high-end movie fans with lots of DVDs who don’t want to keep switching discs. They backup their discs on Kaleidescape and then watch them on their TV. But because of the DMCA’s anti-circumvention laws, users can’t do what they are otherwise legally allowed to do. And the movie industry gets to stamp out innovation and technology that is trying to help make DVDs and movies more valuable.

How are legal remedies helping here? The movie studios are trying to crush three different companies who are trying to help make DVDs more valuable at a time when consumers are showing DVDs are less worth purchasing.

Digital pricing: It’s the thought that counts

I love having all my media in one place: on my iPod, media center, or gaming console. Disc switching is so 2004. And slowly entertainment companies are getting it – we want digital downloads of our movies, games, and music. But they don’t understand how we want them priced.

I’m going to skip, for this article, the true economics of digital goods (they’re infinite in supply, they should be free). Instead, let’s start with making them cheaper than their tangible alternatives. Why? There’s a win-win situation here.

First, digital goods save the creator money. The is no packaging, processing, stocking, or shipping. A little hard drive and some bandwidth are all you need. This should all cut substantial costs out of the creator’s bottom line, and that’s savings worth passing along to the customer.

Consumers, while adding the convenience of fewer discs and more content, lack the ability to resell their digital goods, which research shows increases the initial value of tangible goods (you spend more on a car knowing you can resell it for some money, and the same applies to video games and DVDs).

So why are digital goods still priced so high (and by high, I mean, the same price as their tangible counterparts)?

Part of the reason is retail chains are eager to keep customers coming into stores and want DVDs and video games as weekly incentives. Creators might want this traffic for impulse (or non-technical savvy) purchases, but in truth, they are the losers in this arrangement. Creators fight for shelf space often paying premium dollars for ideal placement when digital stores allow for better navigation and unlimited shelf space.

Yes I believe digital goods will eventually all be free (it’s inevitable) and new business models will support their creation. For now, let’s just make the prices fair. Remember, BitTorrent has all this content available for free anyway.

Why is the future so hard to embrace and even harder to understand?

I don’t know what will happen tomorrow, but I know it will be different than yesterday. Obvious, right? Even more obvious, the way we live today is different than 5, 10, and 25 years ago. This is how life works. So why do so many smart people want everything to stay the same.

Richard Corliss for Time Magazine, which alone is having trouble understanding the future of the news business, has several criticisms for Netflix and why it stinks, yet makes certain to contradict himself with his own article. Corliss, a successful movie critic for more than 30 years, has gone blind as to the future and why Netflix is not something to fight, but to embrace. Corliss laments the traditions internet features – no human interaction or leaving the house. Netflix is causing obesity.  It’s also why his local video store closes. Corliss also criticizes Netflix’s wait times (sometimes a whole day) and the dreaded “mail delays and the botched orders.”

Of course, all this is invalidated by Corliss’ own admission that Netflix “has the No. 1 customer-satisfaction rating among online retailers.”  Meaning for all these problems, people really like Netflix and the service it provides (which includes instantly streamed movies to your computer and TV, something he failed to mention).

Corliss, of course, is just about 10 years too late to criticizing Netflix. Does anyone really believe they’ll be renting discs from a store in the next 10 years?

Most of the criticisms against Netflix, Google, YouTube, blogs, and other “new” businesses trends toward the better than/worse now argument from people who were better than/worse now, such as news papers, recording companies, and brick and mortar retailers (and video rentals). But consumers are happy. They have more choice, more convenience, and lower prices leaving them with more time and money to do other things (that’s how an economy grows).