Random Thoughts – 042009

- It took a friend in the high-tech industry asking me during dinner this weekend, “what is Twitter”, to make me realize that even after a staggering 1,382% growth last year, you are still very much in the minorities if you use Twitter today.

- Most people prefer the escalators in the airport over the stairs even when it’s obvious that stairs will get you to your destination faster. True, but it also requires more work.

- We judge a book by its cover; a person by her looks; a website by its appearances; otherwise we would have found many more gems like this and this.

- BTW, this also generated over 32,000,000 views on YouTube in a 9 day span.  That’s over 3.5 million per day.  It has me convinced that Superbowl ads are now officially worthless.

- Did you know that the top banner ad on YouTube‘s home page can be closed?

- Even though changes appear to be absolutely essential, people simply won’t admit it, let alone embrace it, and there is absolutely no point to argue about it.

- It’s easy to have one interesting thought after one play during one game; but difficult to have one after every play for every game; and pretty darn near impossible to do it for 30 years.  You could make the same argument for just about anything (including blogging).

Perhaps the only reason you are average

…is because you have decided to fit in.

Change your ads (Part 2)

The simple reason that most ads cease to work today is because people stopped paying attention to them.  It’s not that ads don’t provide valuable information, they often do.  It’s just that most ads simply don’t provide enough valuable information in the right place at the right time.

“When I need something, I will Google it. If I find you, you win. Otherwise, please stay out of my crowded life.”

It’s obvious that both the media and the advertisers need to change.  Here is what I propose:

First, what doesn’t work?

  • Spam
  • pop-up
  • toolbar
  • banner
  • text link
  • trickery
  • any variation or combination of the above list…you get the picture.

What’s missing?

The missing link here is the audience.  Often when an advertiser decides to run an ad on a platform, she fails to ask one simple question: do the people on that platform want me there? or better yet, am I really, absolutely, 100% sure that I deserve their time and attention?  Of course, you can’t blame it all on the advertiser.  In this case, the media who decided to put the ad up on their platform is just as responsible as the advertisers.  After all, it is their platform, their product, their audience.

What might work?

-Permission: Ask for permission!  Explain to your readers that you are going to run some ads on your site to generate income.  Most of them will understand that you have a mortgage to pay.  Take some polls on what types of ads your audiences would like to see.  Then go out and talk with vendors and find the best matches.  Wouldn’t you agree that your audiences might pay more attention to the ads you had done that?

- Exclusiveness: Once you have your readers’ permission, you need to look into creating value for them.  This could be a long and grudge match between you and your advertisers, but it’s worth it.  Getting exclusive deals tells the story that you are working hard to getting the best value possible for your readers’ time, attention and possibly money.  Plus, wouldn’t you want your readers to brag to their friends about finding the “best” deals on something that’s not available anywhere else?

- Surprises: Every now and then, throw in a little surprises for your readers.  Stuff like: first 100 person who clicked on the ad gets an extra 10% off.  No announcements; unexpected; no strings attached; just a little extra “nice” for your best customers. 

- Free listings + commission: You have to do this!  No exceptions.  Charge a minimal fee for the ad listing, and get paid through performance, whether it’s based on click-through or conversion rate.  This accomplishes two things: a) showing your advertisers that you are serious about helping them sell and b) helping you filter out what’s working and what’s not.

- “Yes” to a few and “No” to the rest: Unfortunately, for everything to work, you need to resist the temptation of saying “yes” to a lot of the advertisers.  50 listings on your site is worthless, 5 might just work great.  Stay fresh. Stay current.  Pick out the best ones to run.  Reject the rest.

There is no guarantee that this would work, but I promise you two things: #1) it can’t be worse than what you are doing now and #2) if I ever sell online advertisements, this is what I will do.

Chris Guillebeau and 279 Days to Overnight Success

If you are a blogger, writer, or someone who is looking to make a difference online.  You should must read Chris Guillebeau’s manifesto titled “279 days to overnight success”.  Here is a brief introduction from Chris’ blog.

Here are the central questions I attempt to answer in the report:

  • How can you make money doing what you love while still being true to your core values?
  • Why do some projects succeed and others fail?
  • If you do want to establish freedom through writing, blogging, or another kind of social media, what is the best use of your time?

 

So here you go, you can download the free PDF here.  After reading it last night, I was inspired to put up this page.

Domino’s Effect

[Update: The Orginal Domino's Hoax video is no longer available on Youtube, therefore, you won't find it on this blog.]

A while ago, a couple of Domino’s employees released a series of videos on YouTube in which they playfully molest food before allegedly serving them out to customers.  Today, the President of Domino’s USA, Patrick Doyle responded with this video clip.  The video clips by the employees, which are no longer available due to “copyright issues”, had over 750,000 views in just 1 day.  The Patrick Doyle video? At the time of this post, 17,000.  

Without getting into argument about who is right or wrong, here is what we can all learn from the incident:

1.  Boring stuff on the Internet sinks, remarkable ideas(good or bad) spread.  If you want your message to spread, then stop being boring.

2. Ultimately, it is the idea(or content) that matters, not the people/media/business delivering it.

3. People are trained to distrust corporations, regardless of how sincere the message might appear to be.  In this case, it’s obvious that Mr. Doyle is reading from a prepared script.  One of the comment under Patrick’s video reads, “There is nothing more important to us than making sure we don’t lose money because of this”.

What could Domino’s have done differently?

Southwest suffered a similar accusation on YouTube last year from two girls who claimed that they were “too pretty to fly“, they responded by this clip in which a pretty girl calmly explained the whole thing without a script.

Reinventing the newspaper

The word “reinventing” is overused, and frankly, it’s tells an opposite story of what it is suppose to mean.  When you try to reinvent something, you are basically just attempting to change it.  

GM (or Ford, or Toyota, you take your pick) “reinvents” cars every 3 months; Verizon “reinvents” the phone every now and then; and I am pretty sure whichever industry you are in, someone had tried to “reinvent” something.  

“Reinventing” has become a nice little substitution for “trying to improve” .  It’s safe, gutless and boring. What you should do instead is to invent.

Now back on topic, let’s reinvent the newspaper.

Newspapers today are in trouble.  They are in trouble because their readers stopped subscribing to them, and the advertisers stopped paying them.  Circulations go down; revenue goes down; profit is down; overheads keep rising; it appears hopeless.

Question: what if newspapers had never existed? Where would you get your news from everyday?  

TV?  Not flexible enough: I don’t get to watch different sections of the news on my own terms.

Radio? Worse than TV, and I don’t even get to see any pictures/videos.

Websites? This seems to be obviously solution.  It has all the advantages of the two sources above (plus a lot more) and not the disadvantages.  But the thing is, not everyone enjoys the company of a desktop/laptop at the breakfast table.  Plus, there are people who simply don’t trust them websites, and I can’t blame them.  After all, just putting the words “New York Times” on a piece of paper means a heck lot more than some underlined blue text.

So let’s brainstorm.  what we are looking is a handheld device that’s…

1. wireless, light weight and easy to operate and maintain (even for the not so “tech-savvy” people like my grandparents);

2. made by and with contents coming from a trustworthy publisher; (oh, i don’t know, maybe the…Times?)

3. focused only on delivering the news (possibly from several different publishers) and advertisements.

Better yet, how about…

4. Let me sort my favorite sections and rearrange my reading preferences everyday.

5. Let me give my feedback on the stories and it could go back to the news providers and/or all the other readers reading the same story, real-time.  Oh yeah, I would love to see what others are saying, too.

6. Let me connect with my friends and my favorite reporters.

7. Let me recommend a story or a reporter to my friends.

8. Give me the ability to dig up “old news” as references or just for fun.

9. Let me choose which advertisements I’d like to see based on my subscription: if I am willing to pay more, I get less or no ads.

10. I would like to have the device for free if I am willing to subscribe to you for X number of years. (X being the number that makes sense for both the reader and the publisher).

I am sure you can think of a lot more than what’s on the list here.  The real question then becomes: who can make such a device called newspaper?  

My answer: if Amazon can, so can the Times.

[Update on 5/4/2009: My friend sent me this article. Too bad there wasn't a newspaper who is willing to take the risk. And on a separate note, apparently Tom Hurley is still wondering who is getting paid. ]

Change your ads (Part 1)

Most online media websites make money selling advertisements.  If you are one of them, in times like this, it is getting extremely difficult to a) find more advertisers, b) charge more for the ad spaces, and c) increase the conversion rates.

What do you do? 

Mistake #1: The false definition of “customers”

You think that because the advertisers are paying you, therefore, they are your customers.  No, they are your partners.  You real customers are their customers.  You are working together to create a product(the ads) for their customers who might happen to be your readers, browsing your website, reading your content, at the time the ads are being shown. (umm..and you wonder why the conversion rate is low.)  

Question: have you ever talked to your readers about what kind of ads they would like to see or do you just assume that they are interested in anything that you put out there?

Mistake #2: Taking whatever come in the door

I know times are tough, and anyone who is willing to send you a check is like a godsend.  But the reality is that some businesses are meant to be average.  They produce averages products, sell to average customers, and guess what, make average ads.  While a paycheck is a paycheck, in the long run, if you keep running irrelevant ads that are average, your readers are simply going to ignore them.  

Question: before sending out a contract, do you research the potential advertiser? Do you find out where the advertiser currently runs ads on? What the conversion rates are? And if they match what you produce on your website? 

Mistake #3: Not relating performance with payment

The most successful online advertisement company today runs the pay-per-click model. I am not suggesting that you should do the exact same thing, but at least give it some considerations.  I know it seems a lot “safer” to receive a fixed amount every month, but it also limits your potential income and makes you lazy.  

Mistake #4: Ignoring the obvious

When an ad is not being clicked on or when the conversion rate is low on the advertiser’s side, take it down and request a new one, immediately. You should include that in your contract.  Let the advertiser know that you share the same interest of creating a remarkable product for their customers who just happen to be your readers.

Naming rules

If you are starting an website and/or online business, the first step is to find a (domain) name for yourself.  Most businesses use their existing names, which is fine, if you already have a well-established offline brand name.  However, if you don’t, view this as the first opportunity to redefine your business.  

Here are some simple rules when it comes to naming:

#1 (the obvious one) Your name should be: catchy, short, easy to pronounce, spell, and remember.

#2 Your name should be unique.  Hint:  all the “outlets”, “depots” and “marts” are already taken.

#3 Don’t settle for average. if you really can’t find something even with the help of NameBoy, make some word up.  When you do, follow rule #1.

#4 “Steal” it from: Disney characters, Greek Mythology, Chinese Mythology… Feel free to make some modifications and when you do, follow rule #1.

#5 Use a combination of colors, shapes, descriptions and objects that normally won’t appear in a phrase together. For example, “Round” + “Hands”.

#6 Fall in love with your (domain) name; live with it; speak it; define it: share it with people around you.  Pretty soon, you will find that your website shouldn’t be called anything but that.

Remember, Google, Zappos, Apple, Squidoo, GoDaddy…:  none of these names has anything to do with their business (yes, Zappos is a variation of the Spanish word for shoes, but they are not really selling shoes).  Meanings were instilled by the remarkable and irreplaceable products or services that they provide.

Is Detroit even trying?

You can watch the 3 minute commercial below. I am not saying you should like or dislike the design.  You can decide that for yourself.  My point is that had GM shown us a car like that, we would, at the very least, have paid more attention to their products, wouldn’t we?
 
The (Internet) world never lacks great ideas…what’s missing are the inspirations, determinations, courage, and devotions to make those ideas realities, or even the attempts to do so. 

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AAtkoje4-eM&eurl=http://www.google.com/reader/view/&feature=player_embedded

Seeking approval

I read plenty of forum posts starting with “What do you think about (this idea)?”.  Human beings have a tendency to seek approvals.  What we are really seeking in this case is the safety net to fall back onto if the decision goes sour.  We want all the credit, and if possible, no blame.

That’s why the safest decision a business can make is to point to a competitor’s website and go “there, they are doing it, so we probably, should, at least give it try…maybe.”  It is also the dumbest.  

Here is why:

1) Your competitors might not have the slightest idea on what they are doing with their website. They could be worse than you! There are plenty of evidences suggesting that no one really knows anything, even if they seem really credible, especially about the future in technology.

2) I can almost guarantee what works for them will NOT work for you.

With that in mind, next time you might want to consider seeking the simple alternative:  just do it (…it’s a crapshoot anyway).

AP vs. HuffingtonPost

You should watch this 18 minute video on Mitch Joel‘s blog on the future of Associated Press.  Let’s be honest, I have no idea whether the model Tom Curley suggested is going to work or not, neither do you.  It might very well turn out to be the future of journalism.  

However, it’s both alarming and ironic how “traditional” businesses and their business models can fall so hard so quickly; the brands that we’ve grown to known and love have not grown with us, and surely not loving us enough. 

By just listening to the words they use in their conversations can tell a lot about the two organizations and the directions that they are heading toward.

Tom Curley:

“devolved”, ”we, our, us”, ”compensating”, ”control”, “free won’t make it”, “bad customer experience”, “Internet can’t build brands”, “pull back”, “authority”, “protect”, “police”, “get paid”, “we need to get paid”, “get premium payment”, “disconnect”, “we get paid”, “not directly to the consumer”, “micropayments won’t work”, “restrict”, “who is going to pay”…

Arianna Huffington (here is her take on the interview):

“link”, “valuable”, “drive”, “search”, “brave”, “new”, “confident”, “succeed”, “monetize”, “embrace”, “read a book”, “innovation”, “consumers”, “honor”, “celebrate”, “powerful”, “change”, “accepting”, “not going back to the past”, “love”, “twitter”, “facebook”, “youtube”, “the future is here”…

I am sorry, Mr. Curley, but I am afraid the future of the web belongs to us and the businesses built by passionate and dedicated professionals to serve us.

[Update after reading some of the comments on Ms. Huffington's post]

The nature of the web is simple: the best ones thrive while the average ones sink, regardless of your profession or industry. “Best”, in this case, is defined by each individual consumer.

Isn’t it obvious that people WILL pay a premium for those premium goods and services? Just look at Apple. IPod is more expensive than 99% of the digital players in the market yet they own 60% of the market share. Anyone can try to charge anything that they want(including AP), but if we are not willing to pay for it, then you will simply just…fade.

Become the best at what you do, or lose.

911 call on shrimps

Here is an interestingstory, and I bet you get customers like that.  Maybe not to that extreme, but there has to be someone who complains, nags, and just won’t stop talking about how unsatified that one (just one) shopping experience she had with you…1 year ago. Someone I call the “precious whiner“.

And I bet you acted like the cook in the story, saying, ”nothing was wrong” with your product and that “some customers are happy. Some are not.”  After all, she is just one customer.

But what about the alternative?  If she is this dedicated, passionate, and maybe even obsessed about what she is getting from you, what happens when you deliver one GREAT experience?

Don’t get me wrong, I know you have a good product.  But good simply won’t cut it.  Nobody talks about good stuff anymore.  Good is worse than bad, because at the very least, people might tell you just how bad you are.  No one gives a $#@% about good; good is expected; good is invisible.

Great marketing is about over-delivering on your big promises(Seth Godin), and of course, you have no way of knowing which one of your customers are actually sneezers, so your best/only bet is to treat everybody equally remarkable.

Defining Success

Before starting something, anything, you need a goal.  Without a destination in sight, all the vehicles in the world won’t help.  Regardless of what you do, my guess is that you want to be successful at it.

So what is your success…

First and foremost, my success is defined by me.  It is what I say it is, nothing more, or less;

Maybe success is all about money, or perhaps not at all;

Maybe it requires doing everything, or perhaps just one thing really well;

Maybe it is about travelling as far as possible, to as many places as possible, or perhaps just staying home and breathing;

Run faster, jump higher, score more or less, win, and lead;

What about flashy outfits, fancy cars, beautiful women, men, cats, or dogs?

Whatever it is, it should bring you love, happiness, fullfillment, and graditute, shouldn’t it?

One last thing, those people telling you no, pulling you down or holding you back, it isn’t their fault.  I am almost certain it is only because they have never tasted their success.

First, we’d have to care.

The music industry has been in trouble for a while.  Then there were newspapers, radio and magazines.  Now before you start running around and yelling that “the Internet is ruining our business“, let’s take a minute and answer the more obvious question, or in this case, a statement you might really ought to think about for a moment, really.

“First, we’d have to care.”

The Music industry is not in trouble; the people who sell CDs are.  We still buy plenty of music, just not CD’s, just not from you.  The news industry is not in trouble; the people who sell newspapers are.  We still read plenty of news, only now it’s faster and free.  

Of course your ad sales are down, because we didn’t want that in the first place.  Not if we had the choice to watch/read/hear what we want when we want and how we want — oh, guess what? now we do.  Of course it’s not going to get better for you, because companies like Apple and Google are determined to make it even easier for us to reach our contents.  Not to make your life miserable, just ours better.

So we are not coming back to you, not unless you can provide us something worth our time/attention/money.  As for all your (financial) troubles, we’d say we’re sorry, but first, we’d have to care.

Frequent visitors

Some questions on how you might want to consider changing the way you treat your website traffic:
 
- How are you differentiating between the frequent visitors vs. first time visitors?  Are they both getting what they want and deserve?
 
- How are you differentiating between the visitors who type in your domain name in the browsers vs. those who find you through a search? through a referral?
 
- Are you actively seeking out and recognizing those who talk about you(or your products)?  If so, can others easily find these sneezers through your website?

“Lost Generation”

This 1 minute 44 second clip on YouTube is amazing; it generated over 5 million hits.

It came from a 2006 Argentinian political advertisement, “Truth“, and scored 2nd in the AARP U@50 Challenge to “When I am 50…“.

Seldom the technology, always the people

Great websites are made by great organizations which are run by great people.  The key word: people.

Internet won’t save or change your business.  It will, however, amplify your growth or decline. Remarkable businesses pass through this medium faster than ever, almost as quickly as the average ones sink.  Zappos’ success is made by their people, not the web.  The web merely accelerated it.

If your business fails to grow online, maybe you should look to change the people and/or the culture before deciding to invest in a (better) website.

Seldom the technology, always the people.

Checklist for a great website

When someone is visiting your website…

  • Is he getting what he is looking for?
  • On top of what he is looking for, are you offering him things he would want but didn’t think of in the first place?  (remember, you are the expert!)
  • If he has a question, will it be answered? If so, how quickly?
  • Are you offering enough so that he will likely come back to visit you again for more information/content?  If he chooses to subscribe to you, can he?
  • Is he impressed enough to forward one of your pages (or some content on that page) to his friends?  Is it easy for him to do so?

“In China, Cigarettes are GOOD for You!”

You can read the full story here.  Here is a quote:

“Cigarettes, according to China’s tobacco authorities, are an excellent way to prevent ulcers. They also reduce the risk of Parkinson’s disease, relieve schizophrenia, boost your brain cells, speed up your thinking, improve your reactions and increase your working efficiency.”

The Internet is full of data.  Make an argument, any argument.  Chances are, you can probably find enough data online to support you on either sides of the argument.  

Businesses all have data, lots of them. They use them to “market” and sell their products. The thing is, it’s nearly impossible to use data from an irrelevant, impersonal source to change my perception, regardless of how professional it may appear to be. So Buick and Jaguar can tie to rank highest for vehicle dependability all they want.  It won’t change the fact that they can’t outsell Toyota and Lexus, and are asking the Government for bailouts.

Marketing online today is about trust, not data.

Buttons, links, and forms

Web pages are generally made of only four things: buttons, links, forms and contents. You could have a great website with just these.

Contents are far more important than the others, combined.  If you have unique, new, and relevant content for a visitor, she is more likely to bear with the poor design of your site; more likely to come back; and more likely to spread the word for you. People usually only care about contents and are willing to overlook everything else if you truly have something that they want.

Simply put, if you have an iPhone, the package doesn’t really matter.  Unfortunately, for those of us who don’t work for Apple, we don’t have that luxury.

Buttons, links and forms put together the user experience, and in today’s online world, a great user experience outweighs a good look anytime. They should NOT be the same size or lined up all together. The most useful ones should always be the biggest or the most visible.  If it takes you more than 30 seconds to ponder whether a button/link/form should be created, chances are, it probably shouldn’t exist.

The difference between Yahoo and Google: when I visit them for the very first time, I know exactly what I need to do on Google, and I would be very much distracted on Yahoo’s homepage.  That is the reason why only 10.5% of the users on Yahoo use search.yahoo.com while over 55% of the users on Google use Google.com to search.

So here are some quick fixes for your existing webpages:

#1) Start tracking which buttons/links/forms get used the most and make them more visible.

#2) Use the data to figure out which pages on your site are more relevant to your visitors and make them more accessible.

#3) Over time, eliminate all unused, unvisited and unwanted links/buttons/forms/webpages, and put in some new ones and repeat step #1.

Building a successful website

The number one rule of building a great website today is: become number one in your market, or disappear.

…okay, maybe get in the top 3 will do, but still, you want to be number one in your market place. Showing up on page number 5 of a Google search is worthless.  In fact, you are probably better off trying to get on the last page of a Google search than to be somewhere in the middle.

Let’s break this down into two parts:

#1) It is obvious why you want to be number one.  Just take a look at the top 100(or 10,000) websites on the Net now: there is Google, eBay, YouTube, Amazon, etc.  Each serves its unique purpose online, providing unparallel service for their users.  If I need to search, I go to Google; auction -> eBay; video -> YouTube; books -> Amazon.  Until I am convinced that I have found something more suitable, that’s what I will always do.  The most common mistake almost every business makes is that they assume that being 80% as good as Google will get them 80% of the revenue Google generates. Guess what? In today’s world, especially the online world, you are either number one, or you are no one.

#2) Your market.  If you are still assume that your market requires as many people as Amazon, think again!  If you still believe that you need as many customers as eBay to succeed, think again!  It is time to take a (much) closer look at your customer/market.  When in doubt, shrink(no, not expand) your market.  Define, analyze, engage, and impress. Every business needs to do that, and the time is now.

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