Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Stupid networks: Delivering the goods

As with most aspects of the future, someone somewhere probably thought about it long before it became obvious to the rest of us. Take the network.

Way back in 1997, a network engineer for AT+T (the prior version, before it disappeared and then was reincarnated by SBC) named David Isenberg wrote a paper called "Rise of the Stupid Network". You can view it online here.

The premise of the paper was to challenge the status quo thinking of the telecoms...no mean feat for someone employed by a company that had created one of the world's most powerful telecom companies based on certain assumptions about their value proposition.

Isenberg identified these assumptions that in turn held the companies hostage to thinking differently about their role in a changing world. These assumptions included:

  1. expensive, scarce infrastructure can be shared to offer premium priced services,
  2. that talk - the human voice - generates most of the traffic,
  3. that circuit-switched calls are the "communications technologies" that matter, and
  4. that the telephone company is in control of its network.
Of course, history is showing that Isenberg had it right. Cheap infrastructure, data in all its forms (including voice), Packet switched + IP-based technologies...and most importantly control of the network...all undercut the old telecom value proposition.

Now take Isenberg's view and apply it to any network...television, radio, online advertising.

The parallells are readily observable: if intelligent devices are located at the end of the network (computer screens for watching TV programs; gaming; and connecting the weekend call to your mom) then the network's sole value is to carry content.

And if your sole job is to carry content, then you want all the content the people connected to your network can get. If you create content, you want it to be available on any network you can get it on that will support your goals...want to talk to your sister through a mobile device or your computer? Which network is deisgned to support your needs.

Want to watch reruns of The Office while your in the office? Which network supports your device?

In the ever emerging future of the stupid network, walled gardens and network content exclusives will certainly exist. But the transition will make those practices harder to support financially. The flexibility demanded at the ends of the network will exceed the capacity of any one network to meet the diverse needs of users by doing anything but delivering the data.

For broadcasters, certain realtime events like sports or news might capture large audiences. Ultimately, though, the traditional networks will have to make a decision between being a provider of conduit or content. One or the other is where the smart money will be.

Trying to be everything to everyone is a recipe for extinction.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Fishing for an audience: Podcasting

Like Kleenex and tissues or Xerox and copies, podcasting has been genericized to define any audio content that can be downloaded for later use--excluding music. Born of the rapid expansion of iPod ownership, podcasting has gathered all manner of supporters in corporate marketing and agency departments. 
But the Pew Internet and American Life project's latest research into podcasting may call into question the viability of podcasting as a mechanism worthy of its attention level: according to Pew, only 19% of internet users have ever downloaded a podcast. An even smaller 3% of internet users download a podcast daily.

And while 20% is certainly nothing to sneeze at, it represents only 7% growth from the numbers reported 2 years ago. Meanwhile, the devices from which podcasting takes its name (i.e., iPods and similarly capable) are now in the hands of 43% of internet users.

So what?

With more than 43,000 podcasts containing more than 2 million episodes logged by the directory Podcast Alley, it would seem that podcasting--like so many other niche applications online--is a Long Tail application at best. And for those considering a podcast, building an audience will still be the first challenge.

We've recently produced and developed two significant podcast campaigns with very different approaches to audience aquisition: Both targetted to small audiences of influencers. In one, we used a promotional mailing to gain interest and garnered more than 40% response to the four-part podcast series. In another, we relied on a more traditional approach with a 3rd party web publisher. The results for this effort were less satisfactory (though well within the cost per user guidelines for the project).

A summary chart from the Pew Research report below (click to enlarge)

For a top of the week musical interlude, a Fisherman named John:

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Battle of the online ad planners: Quantcast vs. Google

While attending the Worldwide Partners Media Conference yesterday, talk turned to online research tools. And while there seemed to be general revulsion at the 'pay more for less' approach being taken by Neilsen and select others, two tools were mentioned that are (currently) free: Quantcast and Google AdPlanner (you must have a Google account). 

Though these tools are touted primarily as ad planning tools, the data that they provide about sites makes them viable research tools.

We've used AdPlanner and have previously posted on it, here. A quick trial of Quantcast indicates many of the same features as AdPlanner, including:
  • It's free
  • Demographics of a site's user base
  • Estimated traffic 
  • Other sites likely visited
  • Search terms used to locate the site
Quantcast uses a combination of cookies and panel data to assess each site's demographics and descriptors. At least that's what they say. Google doesn't say, though I suspect panel data isn't included. 

Like AdPlanner, some sites are too small to have data in Quantcast. Unlike AdPlanner, small sites may still have profiles with a small warning that the data is primarily extrapolated from panel data.  And that can bring up some interesting profile elements. 

One of our client's sites is described with what appear to be accurate demographic and age breaks (or at least consistent with in-market research they have conducted). What's fascinating is that of all the other affinities this demo might have listed, Quantcast indicates that they may be likely to stay in Super8 Motels or The Hilton...hmmm. 

AdPlanner does show a few more elements associated with competitive or related sites and the keywords used by the audience to find them, but overall, the two applications are very similar in the utility for research purposes. Quantcast provides race data in its demographics, which Google does not though one might ask how accurate--or important--that is or should be.

Besides the declared transparency of the source data, the biggest difference between the two applications (in their use as research tools) is the screen layout. Quantcast data is displayed in easy-to-grasp graphics presentations. Both applications take a dashboard-based approach to overall layout.

Here's two grabs researching the same site from AdPlanner and Quantcast.

(Click to enlarge)

Both tools deal in data that homogenizes us into our grosser commonalities. In so far as this is still the approach taken to media planning, both tools would seem to be up to the task of identifying where the collective 'we' go...what we as individuals actually think, beleive, or do is--for now--not included. 

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Regarding analytics

Karne Breen Vogel of Chicago's ClearGauge spoke this morning on measurement and analytics. A few things that stuck out: 

  • The data isn't what is important in evaluating success but the trends it indicates are. 
  • The generic measure of success online is: Was the visit successful for the visitor? 

Regarding Analytics: 

The evolution of online measurment and analytics is proceeding from simple traffic to path analysis to key performance indicators...financial valuation (putting a monetary value on the visitor) and predictive analytics (looking at behavioral and attitudinal data to predict customer behavior) are less developed at this time. 

Part of the message of this presentation is to do something that makes sense...determine what's important to measure and define metrics for it: what a download is worth...here's what a page view is worth....in many ways this is at the heart of the return on marketing investment modelling that we often use. 

Four Steps to implementing analytics for clients:

1. Establish ownership: whoever owns the business goals should own the metrics and analytics
2. Tie to goals of the business
3. Define visitor success miletone points...what is point where you can measure visitor success on the site
4. Create key performance indicators

Examples of KPIs include:
  • Lead qualification: Ratio of lead to unqualified; unique visitors to qualifid leads; cost per qualified lead; qualified lead to sale; timet o close;
  • Lead generation
  • Increase revenue
  • Prospect engagement/education
  • Awareness: return visitors to visitors
  • Reduce costs
  • Prospect need fulfillment
  • Ritual/behavior change
Examples of tools for collecting data on KPIs can be broken into two types, based on the data type:

For attitudinal data: 
  • usability testing
  • online focus group
  • intercept surveys
For behavioral data: 
  • multivariate testing
  • webanalytics

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Buying in: Why we desire brands

Buying in: The secret dialogue between what we buy and who we are is the latest offering (in book form) from NYTimes consumer columnist Rob Walker.

In his talk, Walker sought to give his view of why we (as consumers) desire some brands over others. And while no definitive answer emerged from his talk or the questions that followed, he did articulate rational and emotional elements that he beleives influence people's attachment of an idea to a thing (aka branding):

The 4 (and a half) rational qualities that impact consumers decisions include:
  • Price
  • Qualtiy
  • Convenience
  • Pleasure...
  • and maybe ethics (provided it doesn;t require a sacrifice in the first four).
Where it gets messy is, of course, the emotional side of the equation. Walker beleives from his interviews and research that the ideas being attached to brands today are so much bigger than ever before. Not merely content to have 'the highest quality soap' as an idea, we attach ideas about body image or global sustainability. 

The marketing world of attaching ever bigger ideas to everyday consumption has created an arms race of ever increasing clutter of ideas. Which leads to another change: a lack of rules is what makes a brand succeed in this environment. Rules about media mix, demographics and the like have to be thrown out or at least deviated from for success. 

At the end of the brand, people make it their own, regardless of what the marketers would like it to mean (e.g., Pabst Blue Ribbon)

To support this notion, the speaker cited several examples of the handmade/authenticity movement or, as he repeatedly referred to it, the 'scene'.

In this scene, big companies cozy up to small ones to get credibility...think Kohl's and Tony Hawk or methamphibians and counterculture-friendly sneakers. Other examples include the handmade marketplace online at ETSY.com

The web didnt make these people creative, they were already that way ;-) It's just enabled them to reach a small, economically viable audience for their work. Freedom of the press no longer being limited to those with the ability to afford one.

Rob submits that consumers don;t want to talk about your brand, they want to talk about their own brands. A term he calls 'murketing'. More on this is available at a site he publishes called Murketing.com

Monday, September 22, 2008

Research goes responsible

The conversation is changing...rapidly. From obsession with tech to depression over oil...the consumer is talking in terms of social responsibility, global 'issues' moreso than 'opportunities'..and of course the economy.

Someone once said that the stock market didn't cause the Great Depression, the societal depression caused the stock market crash.  Research firm Yankelovich is picking up on the riff that economic anxiety is rapidly moving up for that homgenous tribe known as 'The Consumer". 

Their latest research report, to be released tomorrow, indicates that high anxiety is on the rise. In fact the trend is so pronounced, that Yankelovich is updating all their research through the lens of consumer anxiety.  Some fndings about consumer expectations:

  • Cheaper does not equate to lesser...
  • Expectation for customer service is increasing, arguably out of a sense that the provider of service 'should be grateful for my business'. 
  • Unwilling to lower expectations sets us up for a crossroads.

IF people have learned to assume they are in control, what happens when the economy makes it harder to service that expectation? This is the new responsibility marketplace.

In this marketplace, which is in the process of emerging, the consumer empowerment movement of hte last decade+ becomes a means rather than an end goal. What is the goal? This is individual. It's about:

  • Making touch choices.
  • Pragmatism and practicality
  • Ownership of our challenges.
What is the reaction of the 'iConsumer' to th e realities of economic limits? The research does not see victimization among consumers, despite some of the headlines.

AN interesting finding is that, for those who have severe economic anxiety, the need for 'new' increases...can we assume that thrill seeking behavior will be sought out? Perhpas alcohol and tobacco? It seems we've been here before, but thats a tough call to extrapolate to each of us as 'the consumer'.

Overall, there is also a need for 'real' and 'pure'. People are saying its hard to find trustworthy information (61% asked). We all think we are better than everyone else at things, including idenitfying what's 'truth'. 

Listening to Yankelovich's report, it sounds indeed like the country is depressed. We'll know soon enough whether the chicken or the egg calls the shots. Either way societal acrimony looks to be part of the journey ahead.

WPI Media Conference Posts: 09/22/08

The Worldwide Partners network of independent global agencies is holding its annual media conference in Chicago today and tomorrow. I'll post notes and thoughts from the conference, which includes discussions and presentations from consumer research company Yankelovich, Forbes Publisher Rich Karlgard (see his blog here), and many others.

Friday, September 19, 2008

(Financial) Times like these

"This troubled asset relief program must be properly designed and sufficiently large to have maximum impact..."

So says Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson. About $150 Billion should do. Where will that money come from? 

Why from the cause of the problem...me and you.

Mac Thinks Different about...intrusion

As a counterpoint to the new Microsoft ads, Apple has released online banners that perpetuate the hip, Mac style at the expense of the pudgy, unhip PC...using intrusion...see for  yourself in this screen cap video from Techcrunch:


Just teasing: Bill + Jerry as warmup acts

Like warming up the crowd before the headliner takes the stage, Microsoft says today that the first two ads in its $300 million campaign were just...um, warm ups. As previously posted here and here, we--like many--weren't sure if it was slow-reveal brilliance or a quick spew of head scratching incompetence.

Either way, the idea promoted by Microsoft's Brand Manager that the new campaign illustrates a strong desire among Microsoft managers to...“have a conversation about the real PC.” is kind of laughable in the context of a talk-at-me advert.

Several professional opinions are offered at the NYtimes and AP (not that getting paid makes an opinion any more right)

Paying Sienfeld $10 mil for two spots sure seems like an expensive way to do a warm up act for the soon to bne aired 'real' spots. Then again, with the way the Federal Reserve, er, I mean Microsoft is printing money, a $300 million ad campaign may not be that big of a deal.

See the new Pride ad here:

It kind of makes those Apple ads seem not so funny anymore. 

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Tracking people: the innocent have nothing to fear

In the Tom Cruise sci-fi film Minority Report, I was always tickled by the scene where his character enters a Gap and is greeted by an automatic voice that recognizes him as he enters the store and attempts to convince him they have new styles in stock he might like. It was funny because of the total irrelevance of the messaging to the character's context for being in the store (if you haven;t seen the movie I will just say that he had weightier matters on his mind). The technology to make such a marketing experience possible, though, wasn't far fetched at all. 

In fact, Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) has been employed as a way to track cows, commodities, and other inanimate objects for years. But tracking people, in public, well somehow that seemed scary and inevitable at the same time. And so here we are.

Alliance Tech is a company specializing in the application of affordable RFID-based ID systems for use in tradeshows. Tradeshow marketers can set up a series of scanners around the tradeshow floor that will read the presence of a tiny wireless chip embedded in attendee passes or badges. And unlike other forms of badge swiping, the wearer (or shall we say, conference cattle?) don't have to take any action for their movements to be registered.

Alliance says its systems don't store personal data--in the same database--as that used at the conference and that the number of people opting out is less than 2%.  I'll have to trust them that the opt-out process is clear and straightforward. For conference marketers, the data can be used much like web traffic reports--you might know which prospect company's employees stopped by your booth but didn't talk to anyone (sort of like a bounce rate in web parlance). You might be able to see what other booths they visited (i.e., a click path)...you might even decide to greet certain prospects by name and make them an offer of information, material, or dinner.

The scanners rent for $1000 each for a typical two-day convention. The company has plans to rent to malls whose high-end customers (is mall and high-end an oxymoron?) might be willing to sell their privacy for a few dollars off...as long as it's their choice.

In the transparent society enabled by cheap-technology, we may have finally found  Big Brother...surprisingly to some he looks alot like Us.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Whose foolin' whom? DVRs, product placement, and the death of intrusion

Yes, everyone with a DVR or TiVo it seems skips the ads. Advertisers and the networks that sell to them have been concerned for several years about the unfortunate habit viewers have of only wanting to see what matters to them...and ads, apparently, aren't it.

Alas, one approach has been to stick the product in viewers faces where they can't skip it...in the show! Noone will notice, er, I mean noone will be able to skip it there. And think of the added credibility of the brand when someone as awesome as Michael, um, I mean Steve Carrell uses our product in the context of the The Office! Or one of the true arbiters of American Idolatry sips a Coke after another rousing amateur is made into a star we all surely love. 

Product placement isn't new. But like Fed Bailouts, 3rd string quaterbacks, or hair of the dog,   they may very well represent desperate measures for desperate times. They are an attempt to support intrusion as a viable model for selling ads. As people skip the ads, avertisers rightly question whether they should pay for impressions that do not exist.

Product placement today suffers some of the same challenges to measurement as the traditional interruptive model of the 30-second spot or commerical pod. In the case of product placement,though, the additional challenge is in not seeming so obvious that it seems unnatural--and yet to seem natural requires that the product get pushed to the background.  In any case, just like the unfounded fears of subliminal advertising and the Hidden Persuaders in the 1950s, trying to be too sneaky about product placement gets legislators and other consipracy theorists up in arms...as in the FCC's latest effort looking into product placement

At least when radio broadcaster and master hawker Paul Harvey stated... 

"I am fiercely loyal to those willing to put their money where my mouth is."  

...you knew exactly what he was doing because he was telling you. 

Neilsen reports the number of product placement events by braodcast and cable in the charts below. Now you know.

(Click to enlarge)

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Designing for the user: Will it work?

Good product design incorporates (among other things) three fundamental elements: Utility, Desirability, and Usability. These three elements don't lend themselves to neatly symmetrical graphical representations, though, because usability is by far the most critical of the three.

Think of it this way: no matter how useful an idealized product would seem to be, no matter how desirable the idealized outcome of using the product is to you...if you can't make it work for you, then the product experience risks failure due to usability issues. 

Usability issues are why help desks and user guides exist. An entire series of 'For Dummies' books has been published to address what are, in essence, usability issues. Taken to an extreme, one could even argue that the entire education system is an attempt to make the world more usable for each generation that will inherit it and to share usability improvements made in prior generations.  Or maybe that's too far.

So let's step back, way back, to design of interactive media. Information products, like web sites and applications, certainly need to be useful, desirable and usable. And if usability is the key to unlocking the doors of utility and desirablility online, how does one evaluate the usability of design online?

We certainly prefer to conduct detailed task analysis, interaction design, hi- and lo-fidelity prototyping and formal usability tests, but the reality of the world demands alternatives. One alternative we've used to great effect is to employ a Heuristic Evaluation Checklist.  

The checklist provides a means of quickly evaluating a designs usability by inspecting it against a set of standard questions. It requires no particular expertise to employ, only a willingness to employ structured observation and critical thinking. It can be done formally--with data--or informally via discussion. Either way, it beats the alternative: failure.

Here's four elements on a checklist we use:

1. Is the design efficient?
  • Is it faster than the old way?
  • Does it support power users and novices?
  • Does it support the way users perform their task?
  • Are response times fast enough to keep up with user's work rate?
2. Is it intuitive?
  • Does interaction take advantage of user's mental models?
  • Does it behave consistently throughout the task?
  • Is it visually consistent?
3. Is it supportive?
  • Is it easy to undo mistakes?
  • Does the design provide advice/reference materials/tools?
  • Will users be able to perform their work better than they otherwsie would?
4. Is it engaging?
  • Can users focus on their work instead of the interface?
  • Do users have control...and beleive they have control?
  • Is the experience enjoyable or even...fun?
What's in your checklist?

Friday, September 12, 2008

Microsoft Ad, part deux: Uncut

UPDATE: Well, that's interesting. Apparently, all the YouTube versions of the ad were pulled own from YouTube....then put back up. Go figure. Hmmm.

The second installment of CPB's work for Microsoft appears...in it's uncut 4m35s version (obviously made for the web). 

Is it a branded house? A house of brands? Slice of life...humor...whazzit?  Maybe the point is to get people to talk about the ad (how does that sell?)...awareness is certainly not an objective for MS. Maybe it's a perception play (evil corporation become real people?)...certainly a counter to the smug Apple dude...but $300 mil is a lot of coin to drop on trying to create a perception that is more powerfully set by the actual product experience. Or perhaps...conspiracy theorists might suggest that CPB is being paid by Apple.

If I had a farm in Africa...

...it might just take advantage of Web 2.0.

It's sometimes easy to let stereotypes dictate beleifs about the use of technology in farming. Nowhere moreso than on the African continent. In fact, when it comes to Internet penetration, a mere 5.3% of Africans have internet access according to InternetWorldStats.com.

(Click to enlarge)

What lies below this number is an explosive growth rate of adoption: Internet growth rates in Africa exceed 1000% over the last 5 years. Part of the reason for the growth includes the availability of increasingly powerful, low cost devices and networks. 

But a bigger part of the reason is the actions of people to make it happen. One such organization is BROSDI.  The group is focussed on sharing knowledge to the benefit of civil society, especially as it enables a livelihood. One major focus of the group is among farmers in Uganda. They have adopted blog, podcasting, and mobile messaging approaches to knowledge sharing. 

An overview news report is available here.

Blog postings and other agricultural web resources from the CELAC (Collecting and Exchange of Local Agricultural Content) project can be found here here and here.

While small in scale now, it certainly calls to mind the William Gibson quote: "The Future is here now...it's just unevenly distributed."

In the case of BROSDI and efforts like it, one can only imagine the possibilities when the intellectual capital of the second most populous region of the world is unleashed in a collaborative, interconnected and always on world. 

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Want vs. Need: What would you give up?

Recession or not, volatile economics in one's life can force an evaluation of the distinction between a want vs. a need. 

And when technology is involved, the choices can sometimes seem harder. Pew Research's  Internet and American Life Project published a study earlier this year. The study  was focussed on moble acces to data and information, but it also contained an interesting chart (see below) that attempted to quantify what struggles people would have in giving up particular devices.

The trends would seem clear: mobility and broad utility would be hard to give up.  

Surprising (to me at least) is the distinction between cell phone and wireless email device responses. As smartphones/iPods and others blur the distinction between applications (like voice or email) and networks (like internet access), I wonder if the perception of need changes or if it's the question that must? From the study:

  1. 􀂄58% of adult Americans have used a cell phone or personal digital assistant to do at least one of ten mobile non-voice data activities, such as texting, emailing, taking a picture, looking for maps or directions, or recording video.
  2. 41% of adult Americans have logged onto the internet on the go, that is, away from home or work either with a wireless laptop connection or a handheld device.

These numbers, in the context of the chart below, would indicate that use correlates highly with perceived need in the case of mobile and internet (41% need from 58% use).  Whereas with TV, less than half the users (where 100% are assumed to have used) would find it hard to live without. 

Either way, marketers will face challenges in selecting vehicles perceived as easy to discard...particularly if economics force a choice between wants and needs.

(Click to enlarge) 

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Who needs a Neilsen? Television ads + measurement

Seemingly everyday Google announces some "ah, that's the next step in their master plan" innovation. That continuous innovation--borne of continuous experimentation--is one reason Google has a market cap north of $132 billion.

And so Google's announcement of an advertising partnership with NBC Universal should come as little surprise to anyone watching as Google brings the discipline of innovation, experimentation and analytics to the domains of traditional advertising.

In this partnership, Google will be able to sell ad space on selected NBC cable properties, such as MSNBC and Oxygen. Already, Google has agreements with DISH Network that allow it to measure the second-by-second behavior of subscribers using data that flows through the set top box. 

So What: Just another ad network?

One thing Google has done with search advertising is deliver realtime measurement and testing of ad performance (at the level of the individual) where the metric is the click. What this move--and the agreement with Dish enable--is the same realtime measurement and testing of ads based on the click--where the click in this case is with the remote control.

And while clicks are not necessarily sales, it does take television ad effectiveness discussions down a path of precision...where what works and what doesn't for traditional metrics like attention are no longer academic discussions. If an ad starts playing and someone clicks to another channel, well, that says something powerful about the impact of the ad on that individual.

The granularity and realtime availability of such data--as opposed to the abstractions of research panels, Neilsen Households or focus groups--combined with the massive analytical capabilities and tools that Google already has in place will drive costs out of advertiser's measurement efforts. And that enables access.  

Being able to test ad versions for effectiveness may exert downward pressure on ad production costs as advertisers expect multiple ads for in-situ testing rather than relying on focus groups to adequately reflect the market's tastes and sensibilities.

As it has already begun in online, radio, and local print, this step into National Cable TV should help advertisers better understand what their prospects do--and do not--appreciate. 

In an age where an audience cannot be held captive, keeping them appreciative is the only road to success.  Google appears bound and determined to ensure that advertisers have the tools to know with certainty whether they are successful in that regard, regardless of the media vehicle employed. 

Monday, September 08, 2008

Let your fingers do the walking: The original social network directory

Google celebrated its 10th birthday as a company late last week. When you command 70% of search, it's sometimes hard to remember a time before search, when looking up information about a business or an individual wasn't as anytime, anywhere, anyone a proposition as it seems today.

In fact, imagine a time in 1878 when the first phone book was published in New Haven Connecticut...at 40 pages, it didn't even include phone numbers! It did, of course, contain ads.

An interesting point in time in the journey to organize the world's information...at our fingertips.

(see video at IEEE. Phone book segment begins approximately 58 seconds in)

Measuring MarCom effectiveness: 3 things

As an organization, we've spent many years pursuing effective measurement of our work. Sometimes we've been very proactive and sometimes we've been reactive. 

Friday, September 05, 2008

Bread and Shoe Circuses: Windows Vista ad

Whatever one thinks about the Microsoft/Apple debate, the advertising is probably the most visible symbol of each company's position. Last night, Microsoft launched a $300 million ad campaign to combat the perception of Vista as being big, bloated and unnecessary.

They hired a celebrity ad shop--Crispin , Porter and Bogusky--and Comedian Jerry Seinfeld. The first ad is out of the box. You can see it here:

This ad points out three things to me:

1. Vista's perception won't be determined by this advertising: the backlash to Vista has been driven by those who were perfectly happy with XP (like corporate IT departments) who were then told they would no longer be able to get machines with XP and that XP would no longer be supported by Microsoft. It's interesting that 177 million copies of Vista later, a few clever ads by Apple can stimulate this kind of ad-based personality disorder.

2. Crispin Porter Bogusky--most famous in my mind for the bizzarly entertaining Burger King ads--has delivered, well, I'm not sure what...Bill Gates has always been iconic as the brilliant, behind the scenes uber geek entrepreneur for Microsoft. He isn't funny, he's not a Steve Jobs personality, and they shouldn't have messed with his personal brand in the search for cheap humor.

3. Narrative. The ad desparately strives for a narrative, but it doesn't even mention Microsoft until 74 seconds in (yes, that's right. It is a 90-second spot...you can make your own joke about bloated inefficient ads AND software sharing a corporate culture). It doesn;t EVER mention Vista. And at the end, I get lines about delicious computing and the future...all mixed in with subtitled hispanic onlookers and discount shoes.

This is an easy ad to not get...or maybe I'm supposed to be hanging there with anticipation for the next episode? More likely, I just don't get it.

Of course, none of this has any impact on whether or not I will buy Windows, Dell, Mac, an iPhone or a new pair of shoes. I'll get the one that fits me...whatever the ads may say.

Where were you in 1982?

1982...the early stages of the 80's...The Doobie Brothers disband and Public Enemy forms.

If you were a newspaper, the world seemed ok. You were making money. You were THE source of most people's daily news. Alas, some say you can never go back to the way things were. In the case of newspapers, they can...at least on the part that deals with revenue.

The Newspaper Association of America reported quaterly ad revenues and the news is not good. In fact, one commentator looked at ad revenue in constant, inflation adjusted dollars and concludes that newspaper revenues are at the level they were in 1982. (see chart below from here)

In addition to the unfortunate back-to-the-future vibe, Newsosaur  charts the accelerating rate of decline in a chart prepared from NAA data.

And in a leading indicator of the possible ad recession, even online newspaper revenues are down for the first time...ever.

What the future holds for newspapers--as distinct from news reporting--is always a guess. But the trends suggest that it will never be like it was. That's true for everything of course. 

For prior looks at what this might mean, see a post on news, readership and segmentation here

For a look at the impact of economic cycles on newspaper advertising, vis-a-vis auto ad spending see here

For a look at what newspaper might do to survive, see here

For a nostalgic look at 1982, see:

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Rehumanize yourself

I took a half day last week and, fully intending to spend it productively on yard work, instead got caught up in a local access channel broadcast of the City Council Meeting...for 90 minutes.

What struck me was the 'sausage making' that is local government. All manner of grievances and individual issues occupied the elected representatives time...weren't there supposed to be big ideas at work in the republic? Well, no, actually. It wasn't pretty, but it seemed to work...largely because everyone took everyone seriously and as a person...not merely a constituent...or an item to be checked off the agenda. They talked to each other, called each other by name and listened respectifully. 

As marketers many of us have spent years sanitizing our conversations with our customers. We've projected nameless faces, bland personality-less messages and presumed big ideas that served our egos at the expense of the customer...we've removed the people from the conversation. In response, they've removed much of the marketing from their conversations. 

It's no wonder the average tenure of a CMO is less than 24 months...how can one deliver business results if one can't bear to know the customer's name, let alone attend to his or her messy, tactical requests and opinions?

If marketers got to know our customers by name...well, that would be a start. And if we actually got to know them well enough to think of them as individuals, rather than age groups, genders, or occupations...and routinely sought out their insights and experiences...it might actually rehumanize alot of marketing. 

Online Video: Battle of the Internetwork stars

Having been distracted by the new Google browser for a couple of days, here's some news on the video front of interest:

Hulu (NBC's online video site...see prior posting here) will be showing some of its new Fall Season premieres online...first...before you can see them on TV. And not just the loser shows, but established properties like The Office, Prison Break and, well, yeah I guess that is kind of a loser show (jk PB fans).  Read all about it here

Why would NBC do that? Because it's working for them.

Hulu is making money...as much as YouTube if you beleive some

The gist is that hulu is making as much money on ads as YouTube is delivering ads on a much larger volume of video. What's missing in the equation is the cost of produced content on Hulu. 

YouTube is winning the value battle when it's measured in terms of where people spend their time...rather than where advertisers spend their money. 

"For all its business challenges, YouTube remains the most popular video service on the Web. The site commands 34 percent of all Web videos streamed in the U.S. market, while the second-place service, MySpaceTV, only controls 6.4 percent, and Hulu brings up the rear with 0.7 percent (according to May, 2008 numbers from comScore Video Metrix)"

The challenge of course is aligning the two. Many models remain to be tried...Amazon, for instance, has a video-on-demand service that effectively bridges what Netflix (rentals) and iTunes (purchases) do  (see more).  

But all roads would seem to include an inverse relationship between audience size and the per unit advertising price paid...Hulu, which serves about 88 million video stream a month, is effectively generating only about 10% of the ad inventory for each online stream that it does with the traditional TV screen version (two 15-second ad breaks in a 30-minute episode online vs. 3 minutes offline). YouTube, it appears, is only generating ad revenue on about 3% of its 4.2 Billion videos each month. 

People have choices and every choice has its price. Ad pricing deflation would seem likely as the supply of choices people have for content AND distribution far exceed the growth in demand (what with 24 hours in a day being a fixed limit).

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

IE8: The Empire Strikes Back

Well, Microsoft released its new iteration of the same browser before Google, but why should that get in the way of a mediocre post title?

Anyway, here's the user experience on IE8.

Good: Use of tabs...like Firefox, Google and Safari. The 'page' metaphor, born of hypertext's roots, would appear to be secure for some time. Page loads are as quick, or quicker, than Chrome's (based on the RKDNA benchmarking system of counting aloud). InPrivate (the anonymous surfing feature) seems to do an adequate job. Interestingly, when playing a YouTube video, IE8 shows no load on the CPU (in task mgr). It consumes slightly more memory than Chrome, but CPU is zero...which is good. Chrome runs the CPU (on the same video) at between 15 and 30%.

Not so good: A 15MB download, a 5 minute install, and a system reboot required. Google's 500K download, 1 minute install and no reboot set a pretty high user experience bar. Two sites in and I have a browser error...but at least it didn;t kill the browser application. When launching email from the browser, it didn't seem to recognize that I already had outlook open and tried to start a new session then took Outlook down when I cancelled (booo!).

TBD: Application launching and downloading

Overall assessment: Worth the upgrade if you are an IE user. Otherwise, pass.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Google Chrome: User review day 1

Two words: Get it .

Good: Install was quick with a small file and no restart required.. Fast launch...really fast on launch. Pages load ok, though some seem to take longer (my.yahoo for instance). Tabs work well (of course Firefox users already love tabs), especially the ability to drag them around. Incognito window is swell and certainly doesn;t remember my logins and passwords. Autosuggest is sweet too. I like the removal of the separate address bar...it's now both a search and an address bar...whatever you want it to do. Interface is sleek and, ahem, This...Is...Sparta!

Not so good: I want my Home button. I will get used to life without it, but 15 year's of surfing with it will be a hard habit to break. Imported bookmarks from IE are a mess with duplicates and out of order items...a bit like my phone book being ported from one phone to the other. And when I tried to download the new IE8 in Chrome, well let's just say it didn't...repeatedly. I also don;t like the idea of having to re-install plug-ins, like Flash. Also, and in comparison to the new IE8, Chrome uses more CPU resource than IE8...even when doing nothing. A YouTube video fro instance consumes 15-30% of available CPU resource...and even when Chrome is doing nothing, it pops the CPU for 4-10% for each session.

TBD: Simple Google docs work swell and office docs download easily from within the browser...however, I have yet to experience a process hang, so will reserve judgement on error recovery or use of anything more sophisticated than a spreadsheet or document.

Overall Rating so far: Works as promised. 

Google Chrome: Live Blogging Press Conference

Here's a live blog on the Google Press announcement...as it happens....September 2, 2008.

1:01-Another one bites the dust as background music...c'est la Microsoft?

1:07-11 am Pacific is the listed start time. They do know how to tell time in California don't they?

1:09-ok, here we go...downloadable of the product at noon...wonder if they will beat the Firefox singled day download record?

1:10-The web has evolved in 13 years. Browsers havent evolved quite as quickly. From simple display of tagged content to application execution.

1:13-User experience...simple is powerful (hear that web designers?)

1:14-Say goodbye to chrome (where the chrome is all the interface that surrounds the activitiy of the user...back buttons, address bars, etc.).

1:15-No dialogues to interrupt you. "The browser should stay out of the way". Open soource rendering engine (webkit) helps it get that way.

1:17-And the secret is revealed...they have designed this browser to be fast...for the pending mobile world of Android (Google's mobile phone/PDA/device thingy)

1:19-Sandboxing. Because CHrome is built around multiprocess architecture, you can sandbox each session (as in each session plays in its own sandbox). This helps keep things secure and able to overcome hanging processes without taking down the entire browser.

1:20-Oops. Only available for Windows right now. Mac and Linux to come...promise.

1:21-Open source...you can develop your own APIs. CHromium is the name of the Open Source Project.

1:22-And now the demo.

1:24-Sweet. Interface looks like Google search...but with tabs at the top of the window. One can imagine a new era in web design...get rready for tabs out every web page's wazoo.

1:26-The tabs aren't new, but the implementation has lots of little tweaks that make them different (e.g., tabs resize only when you move your mouse)

1:27-haha. They did research and found that people use the search box as the address box on Google search...so they remove the address box. What will that do to ads?

1:29-Chrome learns from your behavior...if you like to search amazon, chrome remembers that and next time you search, it asks if you want to search Amazon. Hmmm...how big does that list get?

1:31-Do all techies shop at the same clothing stores?

1:33-hehe. How to wipe your tracks. Chrome covers your tracks...the Incognito window. You can shift from browsing in a memorable way to an anonymous way. Why would anyone want to do that? Research for a friend, of course.

1:35-making downloads easy. Interesting. Creating tabs that can drag the file wherever you want it or open directly...no more finding the place that that document got downloaded to someplace in the temp/docs/somewhere folder.

1:37-oooh. The browser becomes the app window. Who needs windows?

1:39-More on the performance and stability aspects of multiprocess architecture. You don;t expect one application failure to cause reboot of your system, why should one process in a browser take down the browser?

1:42-and bad guys have to find a way out of their isolated process to take over a system with malware (which is, of course, harder than today's single process approach).

1:45-Plugins are treated as separate processes too so that if they crap out, the window still remains.

Ok, well that was nice. I'm off to get my download and try it for myself.

Got Chrome?: A comic tale on the browser wars

It's shaping up to be the second battle of the browser wars this week. Last Friday, I posted word of Firefox's new Ubiquity utility (which let's you operate the browser by telling it what you want to do...see here).

Now, two pieces of news from Microsoft and Google.

First, last week had Microsoft releasing Internet Explorer 8 (now in beta 2). Microsoft, in a challenge to Google's dominance in the online ad space, creates a new version of the most ubiquitous web browser and allows people to say 'no thank you' to those who would know more about who you are (e.g., Google).

Key features include Privacy and Security. Popup blocking and ad blocking in and of themselves is no big news. But IE8 will allow users to surf, for all intents and purposes, anonymously. The two components are called InPrivate Browsing and InPrivate blocking.

  • InPrivate Browsing allows one browse with no record is kept of visits. The History and Temporary Internet Files are not written/accessed and cookies are stored in memory only. No record is kept of form data or login credentials. When you exit the browser, all traces of your travels disappear.
  • InPrivate Blocking is eliminates any information transfer between sites one visits and third-party sites that provide content to those pages (such as ad netowrks that build profiles based on your visits to other sites...including GOOGLE!).

All this could exert more downward pressure on CPMs as many of the ads can no longer be guaranteed for delivery...or perhaps there will be price support as actual ads served become less (i.e., a reduction in the deliverable inventory).

See more about the IE8 features and benefits here.

Not to be outdone, Google has now come clean on one of their latest, long rumored projects: A web browser. In a challenge to the browser dominance of IE, Google's 'Chrome' web browser has released a comic book style description of why they thought a new browser was necessary--and what it will do.

Because it is not yet available (due sometime on 9/2, but for now the www.google.com/chrome URL gives only a pnf error), the comic book is the most interesting part of the Google side of the war. It does a thorough job of explaining how browsers work, why they are in need of a do-over, and how Chrome will enable users to access applications and activities that traditional browsers never anticipated.

The comic book is available to everyone at Google Books, here. It's worth a glance for no other reason than as an example of simplicity in effectively communicating complex information.

It remains to be seen whether Google's actual browser can be said to be incorporate the same ease and effectiveness.