Category Archives: Marketing

Going digital: video surveillance and pulling teeth

Industries have moved into the digital age at different speeds. As information capture becomes digital, a massive amount of data goes “live” and can be parsed and analyzed in real-time. This leads to a host of new possibilities. Here are two examples:

First, in the world of physical security, digital video recorders (DVRs) are a relatively new phenomenon, only gaining mainstream support within the last five years or so. Initially, it was only large, sophisticated security companies that could develop such systems – for example, airport security could track individual passengers as they move throughout the terminal. (And can even detect if a passenger abandons a bag!) Now that digital systems are becoming more commonplace, startups such as Agent VI are able to enter the market as well and leverage the vast data made available by modern digital systems.

Second, the field of dental laboratories is about to change dramatically, as technology moves from physical casts of teeth (for crowns, implants, etc) to digital imaging and CAD/CAM fabrication technology.

The move towards digital technology leads to a wealth of information, which in turn enables secondary, value added services.

One reason YouTube succeeded where others failed

A recent WSJ article mentions that when YouTube tested “pre-roll” ads (i.e., ads that play before the video launches), more than 70% of viewers abandoned the site.

Consider two startups entering the business of sharing videos:

Startup A has a lot of financing, and has not chosen a “revenue model” yet – first it plans on building dominance in the market. Then it will figure out how to monetize the traffic.

Startup B cannot afford to pass on revenue for very long, so it offers an ad-supported service. However, as in the above statistic, pre-roll ads deflect 70% of visitors – and many may switch to Startup A.

If Startup A had a plan for making money, it would have caused them to shrink and fail like Startup B. However, a day will come when Startup A must also make money – and then it will discover that its market share is only the result of its ad-free environment – as soon as it advertises it will lose viewers, too.

The difference between YouTube and most other “Startup A’s” -is that YouTube has a thousand brilliant minds at Google who spent ten months trying to find a solution. Most startups are not that fortunate.

Blogging – Full vs Partial RSS Feeds

As a professional blogger (and professional consultant) I like statistics. For my blog, I want stats on who reads what, so that I can better understand my audience and the articles that are most interesting.

One way to do this is by “forcing a click” – not showing the entire article on either the home page or RSS feed, thereby requiring an interested reader to click the “More…” link.

However, blog readers frequently find “More” links very annoying. A recent example is the Freakonomics blog, which changed from “full feeds” to “partial feeds” when it moved onto the New York Times website. Angry comments are coming in hourly. Another popular blog “Techdirt” believes that full feeds not only make readers happy, but lead to increased readership.

Perhaps this is a variation of the Schrodinger’s cat phenomenon: tracking readers affects readership.

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Book review: “The Laws of Simplicity” by John Maeda

Simplicity is a good thing, says John Maede, a professor at the MIT Media Lab.

“The Laws of Simplicity” presents ten rules and three axioms on how to achieve simplicity:

1. REDUCE everything when possible; use the process of SHE (Shrink, Hide, Embody)

  • Shrink – have more functionality in smaller form-factors
  • Hide – subsume secondary functionality in larger categories (e.g., navigation menus )
  • Embody – imbue item with a feeling of value and quality despite simplicity (e.g., a Bang & Olufsen remote control is very simple but also very heavy)

2. ORGANIZE things into categories makes more thins appear to be fewer – this coincides with the “Hide” above

3. TIME – saving time makes things simpler. Why? because there’s less happening

4. LEARN – the more you know about something, the simpler it appears.

5. DIFFERENCES – Contrast makes things look simpler

6. CONTEXT – focus isn’t always a good thing; carefully consider what might appear peripheral to see how it can create CONTRAST

7. EMOTION – sometimes emotion dictates adding more (versus REDUCE). Ornamental components can be a good thing.

8. TRUST – Trust leads to simplicity

9. FAILURE – some things will defy all attempts at simplification


Some of the “Laws” aren’t laws that lead to simplicity; some laws are contradictory; others are redundant. Here’s how I would reformulate them:

1. ORGANIZE AND SUBORDINATE – structured information is easier to digest than unstructured data; secondary functionality should be hidden behind larger categories

2. REMOVE unnecessary or nonessential elements. Once you’ve done that, wait a day and then REMOVE some more

3. SHRINK AND CLARIFY remaining elements until they are intuitive; summarize; take out distracting details

4. LIMIT DEPTH – remove elements that are too “deep” into hierarchies/categories, since no one will ever find them and they will just add confusion

One way to compete against Microsoft and Google

I was recently asked to comment on a startup that is attempting to compete against both Micrsoft Office and Google Docs & Spreadsheets.

Here is what I suggested:

“Historically, there have been any number of office products that performed better than MS Office but weren’t able to capture share. As a small player, it is extremely unlikely that your fate will be any different – don’t expect to beat Microsoft and Google at their own game.

“Your approach, therefore, must be to develop a fantastic product targeted at a specific niche. The weakness of Google and Microsoft is that they are mass-market products and serve everyone adequately, but no one well. Choose either a niche market segment or a specific functional area – and dominate it. For example, mid-sized law firms, or word process that integrates with CRM for sales folks. If you develop best-in-class applications for a niche, not only will you have a compelling value proposition and easily identifiable target market, but it is much easier to achieve critical mass and become the dominant player.

“One point to note: interoperability is key. There must be seamless, flawless opening and saving of Microsoft apps. There’s the old saying within Microsoft that the next version of office isn’t ready to ship until it breaks previous compatibility standards. It’s your job as a competitor to fight them in this arena – to stay up to date so that your users won’t experience any headache when interacting with the other 98% of users.”

Business growth: focus on strengths or address weaknesses?

I was recently at a meeting with a Senior Vice President of a Fortune 500 company. As we looked at market penetration data, it became strikingly obvious that in some markets the company had nearly 80% market share, while in others, market share was drastically lower. (This is true of all businesses – it’s partly based on how “granularly” you cut the segments.)

This kind of information is only useful if it helps you make decisions: Should we focus sales efforts on segments that are already highly penetrated, or should we focus on weak areas?

The answer is that in areas with high market share – keep doing what works. In areas with low market share, there might be enormous potential – but first you need to understand what went wrong. Is it simply that sales wasn’t targeting those companies, or perhaps the product didn’t sufficiently address those customers’ needs. Fix the problems with product before redirecting sales efforts to under-penetrated markets.

Rock, Paper, Scissors: Strategy or Luck?

Rock Paper ScissorsRock Paper Scissors is a simple game that, theoretically, should depend entirely on chance. (As a three-element group, each option wins against one option but loses against the other.)

However, the game is growing ever more popular, in large part because people believe there is strategy in winning.

There are two main approaches to increasing the odds:

(1) Cheating, such as by delaying one’s throw for a split second – just long enough to see what the opponent has thrown

(2) Anticipating the opponent’s decision, based on their personality, past history, as well as a psychological interpretation of the meaning of each choice – and how it corresponds to the psychographic state of the opponent. For example, Rock is considered an aggressive option; paper may be either considered “weak” or “intellectual,” depending upon the RPS expert you consult. Additionally, some people may have “tells” that give away what they are planning to do.

For further reading, see the the Rock Paper Scissors Society, motto: “Serving the needs of decision makers since 1918.”

Purchase the official Rock Paper Scissors strategy book here:

How to sell a blender…

“…For just 3 easy payments of $33.33”

I was flipping through the TV stations late at night, when I ran across an infomercial for a blender. For someBlender - As Seen on TV reason I found it slightly unusual – maybe it was the high-energy actors at 3:00 in the morning. But I starting thinking about what it takes to sell an ordinary household object at extremely high prices.

Here’s what they did…

First, have a slight twist to make it seem out-of-the-ordinary. This was no ordinary blender, you see, this was a personal blender – that was just the right size for 1-2 servings. Could a normal blender do the same thing – sure. But they didn’t make a comparison – they only emphasized the key feature.

Second, have excitement about the product. There were two high-energy people doing the demo, and two “audience members” on the other side of the counter overjoyed to see how the device would change their lives.

Third, sell the goal, not the means; in other words, emphasize the problem that is solved, not the product that solves it. In this case, they demonstrated how easy it was to make chocolate mousse, fruit shakes, etc. The focus was on the food you could make – and the device was the way to make it. What had initially caught my attention was that the infomercial looked more like a cooking show than an infomercial!

Finally, ignore product defects. The target audience won’t read reviews and will purchase based on what they see in the demo. Once they have purchased, have the user compensate for any deficiencies in the product with a complicated set of instructions – it’s not the fault of the product, it’s the fault of the user.