Saturday, October 23, 2010

Say What?! Both free and priceless at the same time

Earning Our Earned Media

So after much ado about something we are finally on Facebook and Twitter.

In our walled cities analogy we have invested in the farm, we have created the business and have established some owned media- namely our website. We have produced fruit, okay well in our case it is not technically fruit per se, but we have produced a product worth purchasing. We have sold the product to the customers who happened to stop by our farm. They have overwhelmingly liked the fruit and business has been good. Now we want to expand our business. We want to open a farm stand within the walled city of our customer and their network.

So we set up a stand outside the walled city. This is where we are currently at. We have a Twitter account and a Facebook account, but so what? There are two issues we have encountered with this recent foray into leveraging our owned media to get to the all coveted earned media. First and foremost we are still ultimately outside the walls of the city. Secondly now that we have a platform to start a conversation, what do we say?

We are still outside the walls of the city. With our website we learned early on that launching a product is not simply as easy as posting something on the web. Initially we had this idea, as many do, that if you build it they will come. With all the hype about online e commerce conventional wisdom was not only would they come, but they would come in droves. Yes, post a website, and suddenly you would have more business then you could handle. This of course was not the case. Then came Google. Conventional wisdom steps in again with a new claim- buy a Google add- a simple few click and few cents here and there and then they will come in droves. You can sit back, relax and watch the customers roll in. This, of course, was still not the case. Now we have progressed to social media.

Twitter burst on the scene. You could reach large groups with 140 characters and one little click. You could have industry input from the best minds in the industry. You could have instant access in real time to the innovations and inner workings of those you admired, those who inspired you, you could ‘follow’ those who you wanted to follow. Couple Twitter with Facebook with half a billion users is a gold mine just waiting to be tapped. Imagine if you had a fruit stand in that city, more fruit than you could ever produce could be sold. Plus, with the platform being based on customer recommendations and networks, and customer recommendations being the highest driver for other customers, we are assured instant success. Get a Twitter account, build a Facebook page, friend a few friends, and voila, customers for all. Only, of course, this is not the case. Not entirely surprising given that neither paragon of social media business has yet to turn a profit themselves.

Not that our fruit farm isn’t still doing well, it is, and we continue to sell our fruit to those stopping by the farm. But business at the fruit stand hasn’t picked up just yet. We are still outside the city shouting at the walls. We have a Twitter account with no followers. Mind you the Twitter account for An Entrepreneur Accidentally gains followers daily, while the business account remains stagnant. The Facebook page is followed by friends and family, but no customers yet from either social media channel.

Which leads into the second problem of our social media world- what do we say? The crux of the social media is that it is supposed to be a conversation. At the moment we are a bit like the shy person on a date, or the crazy person at the fruit stand shouting at the walls. We don’t have much to say and what we do have to say isn’t yet part of a conversation. It is simply us shouting. So how do we start the conversation?

The success of a social media campaign is defined by engagement. Normally a media campaign would be defined by ROI but the metrics simply aren’t established for how to directly determine the ROI of a social media campaign yet. Or if they are established (as some like HP claim) they aren’t being shared with the rest of us just yet. So how engaged are our customers? I had reviewed all the analytics for our website, which were impressive for engagement, and for our social media campaign, which were dismal. The gap was substantial. When customers came to our website they were engaged, spending what in the web world is considerable time, and were ultimately being turned into purchasing customers. So what was the gap? Where were the social mentions of our product occurring? Starbucks suggested listening to the conversation before joining in. Before trying to force the conversation with your customer listen to what they were saying first and let that be a driver. So I visited and did some searching as to what was being socially said about my particular product.

A bit surprising to me was that people overwhelmingly want to see videos of our product. That is where the conversation is occurring and the social media is happening. Having been in this business for so many years the product seems pretty self explanatory to me. But apparently that is not the case for our customers. The customers take the video of the product as a virtual experience or interaction with the product, and with our company. One of our competitors is excelling at entering into the conversation with customers. The social media buzz is concentrated around this competitor although they don’t even have a Facebook page or a Twitter account. They do, however, have a YouTube channel. We had discussed as part of our social media strategy a possible novelty video using our product in a unique way. The thought never occurred to us that our customers would just want to see the product itself in a video format. Obviously now, in addition to coordinating, creating and maintaining the other social media, we will need to enter into YouTube to enter into our customers conversations. I do think having established our other social media will give us a distinct advantage in integrating the videos into a comprehensive digital approach rather than a single channel of digital engagement.

Not only is social media an amazing technological advancement but it is ‘free’. With all the previous media waves you had to pay someone for the possibility of infinite wealth. But now it is all available for free. Only it isn’t really free. It is time consuming, and your time as an entrepreneur is one of your most precious resources. Time is a bit like Word Press’ slogan is both free and priceless at the same time. Like your customer endorsements and earned media, both free and priceless. One of the challenges of the social media campaign has been how to coordinate the media. There were multiple accounts and pages to log into. Why couldn’t we just post one to one account and have the information circulate throughout all the accounts? There were of course costly social CRM software that would accomplish that fact, and eventually we will need to invest in one of those programs, but there had to be a simpler (and cheaper) immediate solution. I wanted software solution that saved time and resources facilitating the upkeep of this social media campaign. Of course, as it turns out, there are multiple solutions. The two I found most user friendly were for multiple twitter accounts and for multiple social networking platforms. Now on my dashboard I can see the news feed coming in from the various accounts as well as post to the accounts simultaneously. Now I just need to figure out what to post.

Coming next…
Who are we talking to? How do you get an invite into the walled city?
The fruit stand of the future, how business models need to change in the new economy

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Disintermediation of PAID MEDIA: The Third-Wheel

In our continuing analogy of customers as the walled cities the paid media is analogous to the feudal lords. The media conglomerates get a stipend for the privilege of speaking to their audience like when a price was paid to the lord for the privilege of using, and working, his land. The lord did not work the land (produce the goods) nor was he the primary purchaser of said goods. The lord’s value, and consequent wealth, came in that without him one did not have access to the land needed. The paid media exists on the premise that they still have the ownership to these cities, this land, and our livelihoods as small business depend on leasing this all valuable resource. But what happens when this isn’t the case anymore? What happens when we no longer need the feudal lord?

In some ways the demise of paid media is equivalent to the disintermediation that is occurring through all business sectors from a consumer perspective. In the consumer sector there has been a mass disintermediation (removal of the middle man) as now the consumer can buy direct. Consumers, as purchasers, no longer require a retail outlet in order to make a purchase. In days of yore whole businesses were created as simply resellers. The business’ whole function was to have access to the products, or information, and act as an intermediary or channel for the consumer to purchase them. Now consumers can use a myriad of channels (web platforms, apps, browsers) to purchase directly from the manufacturers or, in the case of information, access information directly themselves- hence the disintermediation.

The demise of paid media is the disintermediation of the mass media outlets between the businesses and consumers from the business perspective. Just as the consumer can purchase direct the business likewise can sell direct. We, as small business owners, no longer have to lease the land from the feudal lord. We no longer have to talk to (or rather more aptly at) consumers through the paid media channels. You no longer have to advertize through TV, newspapers, radio or even internet banners to get the word out about your product/brand/service. In fact advertising through those channels has become less and less effective. As the paid media has been taken out of the conversation interactions have become more a conversation between customer/consumer and a business. Like going out on a date paid media has become the awkward third-wheel. The person who is not really involved the conversation but rather keeps trying to interject and interrupt. Paid media is person in the conversation trying terribly hard to be relevant, exciting and engaging but succeeding in being mediocre at best.   

For the moment paid media is still ever present but we are almost to the point on our date that the third-wheel is recognized as such both by themselves and others, and politely excuses themselves from the evening’s activities. So that will leave just us and the customer. Herein lays the questions of this new wave of business. How do we keep the date going? In other words for those customers we have garnered using the paid media of old how do we keep them engaged? How do we keep the conversation going and our business relevant? When a place in the city isn’t determined by allegiance to a feudal lord, when indeed any farmer can be in the city, will your farm still be chosen by the cities inhabitants? This is the crux of the reintermediation, having your business add value back into the interaction. Leveraging consumer input, innovation and intelligence to make the interaction fulfilling and engaging for them as well as you. Businesses are created to fill a need. However, now the consideration is not just the generalized need of a society of a whole but the customized specific need of the individual consumer themselves. To thrive in the new wave of business we need to keep the date going with all of our customers. We need to be chosen on our own accord by the cities inhabitants as providing a valuable service or product.

For the new customers we are looking for an invitation into the walled cities. We are looking to be introduced for that first date. We are looking to start the conversation. The interest and benefits must be mutual, not one sided. With out the gloss and focus of the intermediary businesses, and consumers, must stand on their own. So where does that leave us?

There are three types of media- paid media, owned media and earned media. With the disintermediation of paid media the importance lies with leveraging our owned media to get earned media. Owned media is, for all intents and purposes, your business. It is you- the plot of land, the shop, the snazzy outfit you chose for the date. It is the channel of communication you generate, you control, you upkeep. The earned media is, as the name implies, the word of mouth media. The media you earned because of how cool you are. It is neighboring city who recommended your farm and the friend who set you up on a blind date because she thought you would be a good match.

Coming next, how do we use our owned media to get earned media? What can we do immediately to optimize our owned media to account for the move of the business interaction to a business conversation? Once we are in the conversation what do we say? How do we listen?

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Twitter Resources

Some amazing resources are available at anytime, to anyone, anywhere. Check out who I’m following at:!/entrepreneuracc/following

The TechnoSphere 2: Business Intelligence

  1. Business Intelligence: What is it? Where's it headed?
Where we are:
·         Our systems are not as integrated as they should be. This is the crux of the problem so many small business owners face with their business intelligence or information systems. You start on a system; because it’s cheap. Because it is the system your accountant uses, or at very least, the system your sister-in-law who has graciously agreed to do your books is vaguely familiar with. By the time you get to adding programs they have to integrate with your existing software and systems because that is where all the information lives. So you end up adding on to the existing program/system with other systems that are sold by the same company, or at very least will work the system you have in place. Is it the system you would have purchased or designed at the outset? Likely not, but few small business owners had that advantage when we started nearly ten years ago. The fully integrated system, allowing for substantial growth and long term information tracking, were extremely cost prohibitive and relatively industry specific. Just starting out the resources were such that those programs and systems were quite simply not an option.
·         Our accounting system was also chosen because it was one of the few systems that would support assemblage of raw materials to finished goods. The most cost effective, and widely used, systems- such as Quickbooks- were modular based. At the time you could purchase a module to do the additional accounting you required. Needed inventory tracking? There was a module for that. The catch was that they would only track finished inventory, not raw inventory. There was no module available for assembling the raw inventory and then tracking the raw inventory, work in progress and finished goods. Mind you the need for this tracking was highly theoretical as when we started out we didn’t have the info structure to a) input the information, b) analyze the out put or c) need the system at all. But given that our business was manufacturing in nature it made sense we would eventually need that capacity, and we eventually did.  
·         So, by the time we get to adding other information systems, a CRM for example, we had only one choice. There was only one major CRM on the market that would work with our accounting software that didn’t require a ton of additional employee exporting and importing through an intermediary program. Even then the CRM software’s integration with the accounting software is limited. We don’t have access to specific purchasing information for the client in the CRM software or access to notes and emails sent in the accounting software. The systems are linked only tenuously.
·         In yet a third system of customer input the information a client inputs through all of our web forms then has to be imported separately into the accounting system and the CRM software respectively. In addition the shopping cart used is yet a fourth system where information must be coordinated.
·         Then, of course, there is the additional system of email, which while becoming antiquated, is still a primary form of business communication for many folks. We have an email server but also have to back up the individual email systems as part of the information lives on the individual machines themselves, not in the central server. This is still an upgrade from our first few years of business where we didn’t have a server and all of our information lived on secondary hard drives manually installed in individual computers.
·         Then there are the additional systems like our server, networking, inter office messaging software, server and information back ups (internally, externally, in the fire box and cloud based). There is also a room full of filing cabinets. Yes, that’s right, filling cabinets. Over sixteen of them to be specific housing information and physical copies of images for thousands of images and clients. We have a print business where clients are long term clients. We have a large percentage of repeat business which we encourage by offering exceptional customer service and a commitment to quality. So, if a client calls up after a few years looking to re order we need to provide a product that is somewhat approximate to the previous product ordered. If they order a new product instead, or in addition, to their previous order the new product as well should be in line with their previous order. Herein lies the rub. We have not, as of yet, constructed a way that our digital records can compensate for the physical prints we keep on file. Sometimes a client ordered on an older technology, or with a different substrate, or an old ink formula and their print is vastly different then our current technology. How do you translate a color proofing job to a digital format? Can that even be digitized? If so how would one digitize it?
·         The same goes for the paper copies of invoices etc we keep. Can they or should they be digitized? How does one go about digitizing sixteen filing cabinets worth of information? Is it worth digitizing them with man-hours required verses profit generated from having the information digitized? Would it be better just to proverbially cut our losses and start digital from this point on? Does physical storage have a place in the digital world?
·         We have several remote versions of our systems which is useful when running a small business. Our systems can be operated remotely and work can be done from any location with a wi-fi connection.
·         While we have done a relatively good job of maintaining our systems and trying to have them “talk to each other” the grand notion of all the information being available at any time is still exactly that- a notion, not a reality.

What we can do to improve immediately:
·         Moving to more integrated software/information. We purchased our CRM software almost two years ago now which likely means there have been upgrades to the software itself. A greater level of integration and information may be available with a simple upgrade.
o        While information in the CRM software (notes, documents, tasks etc) are not really necessary to appear in the accounting software it would be helpful to have the information from the accounting software (items purchased, cost per item, total purchase history etc) readily accessible from our CRM software.
o        Additionally it would be nice to have a more automated version of the CRM software. Initially when the software was purchased we were told it could automate some functions based on input in the accounting system, when in fact this wasn’t the case. Automation of those customer contact systems would be incredibly helpful and a huge time and resource savings.
o        Further integration between our web forms and our accounting system and CRM software may also be possible. The web forms, and shopping cart, were created several years ago and there is likely an updated version of both of them that would interface better with the other information input systems.
o        The shopping cart we currently use has an updated version that looks like it will integrate with our website on levels that we have previously had difficulty with. We ship from various zip codes to various zip codes and have various weights and quantities for our products. Previously the two main problems in constructing a shopping cart were the number of items and the complexity of shipping. Since the marginal cost of information storage has become virtually zero the number of items offered in most shopping carts has become unlimited so the number of items restriction has been eliminated. With an upgrade to the premium service it looks like we may also be able to address the complexity of the shipping issue with an availability of 20 shipping zones and various shipping calculators.
§         How will the shopping cart interact with our current accounting and CRM software?
§         Our accounting software came out with a shopping cart module, we need to investigate if this module would be a better choice with our current system
§         Are the shopping carts optimized for mobile viewing?
§         How easy are they to institute with our current site? Do we need to higher out the incorporation of the new cart or can we have one of our current employees do it?
·         It may be time to upgrade our system entirely. There is a new version of our current CRM software (new version that is supposed to combine online shopping system and e commerce, Google analytics, business analysis, customer contact and CRM software while also offering cloud based portions of applications and storage. Perhaps an upgrade to that software would be an instant solution to the dilemmas of our current systems.
·         Creating a customer service system. In addition to purchasing and deploying the new software our business model needs to incorporate the information and input generated by those new systems. They say a system is only as good as the information you put in it but it is only as useful as what you do with the information that comes out of it.
o        Where and when are we going to find the time to learn about the new technology and implement it? Not only is it difficult to find time to research the new technology but then you have to find the resources to purchase the technology. After all of that you need to construct the system that works with the new technology, either as support to or interpretation of the information going into or coming out of the technology. Then you have to learn the new technology as well as teach all of your employees the new technology. Each new technology is a huge resource commitment only part of which is the financial investment.  
o        Making a plan for transition to the new technology/system. How to dovetail the deployment of the new technology to have as little disruption of our services and functions as possible.
o        How are we going to scaffold a listening info structure?
o        How are we going to transition out of owner/operator into more of an owner only capacity?
o        How are we going to translate our current commitment to customer service and quality into a business wide system rather than an employee dependent relationship?

Where things are headed:
·         Accessibility of information for small business
o        Will data mining decrease or increase the gap between business sectors? Previously it was only the very large business that had access to the kind of in-depth customer information and demographics that have now become almost common place with the proliferation of social media. But currently that information still comes at a premium or through an intermediary. As the information, and availability of systems to access the information, continues to be come more interconnected and available will the access to that information become more tightly controlled or less? In other words will the power of Facebook be increased creating a new information oligarchy (as asserted by Michael Wolff) or will in be decreased toppling the social network giant before it ever has a chance to become a profitable social network giant?
o        Back to our analogy of all walled cities the information availability is like a map. The map tells you where the cities are and what the cities have to offer. Where should I best go to schlep my wares? The question is will there be one or two map makers that have the control over the maps or will there be a million roadside stands where you can by the maps?
·         Accessibility of successful businesses systems for small business. There was an article I read once about this ceiling for small business. How there is a large percentage of small business were never likely to make a million dollars in sales. They simply didn’t have the tools to grow beyond that milestone. Furthermore the longer a business said under the million dollar mark the more likely they were never to reach that mark. As I mentioned it is hard to upgrade your systems when you have started with a system that doesn’t coordinate well with other systems. But how will that change when the system you started with does coordinate well with other systems? What will the future look like when the system you started with is the big business system only on a small business level (SaaS)? What will the business ecosystem look like when everyone started with systems like that? When most business have a business model that not only allows for almost infinite expansion but also for innovation?

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The InfoSphere1: Communication Infrastructure-Paid Media

1.       Media Types
a.       PAID MEDIA
Where we are:
·         Currently our primary paid media is Google AdWords. We have never run a television add or coordinated traditional print media campaign.
·         We experimented briefly in advertising in a printed Military contractors guide, however, we found that the military business we received still came from Google and that no one was using the printed guide.
·         In a related amusing advertising situation we ran an add in the GCI phone book. While the ACS phone book is more widely used the GCI phone book was trying to gain market share and notoriety and was offering substantial rate discounts on its ads. We took advantage of the initial offer and part way through the year were contacted by GCI to do an order for GCI for a promotion they were rolling out. The kicker? GCI had found us not by using their own widely touted phone book but rather by using Google like everyone else. Needless to say we did not renew our ad campaign with them.
·         We also have some PPC (pay per click) campaign with emerging search platform Microsoft’s Bing and a few business oriented search vehicles like
·         We give to various charitable organizations throughout the year. Occasionally we receive an ad in a program, or magazine, in return for the donation. This “paid media” though really is primarily a donation to a worthy cause as we have found there to be little to know business actually generated through these printed adds. On that note I think many of these organizations need to update the advertising they offer.
o        We are constantly receiving phone calls from organizations looking for donations. Frequently they offer a business card ad, half page ad, or full page ad in exchange for sponsorship at various levels. The idea of course is that the company that is being solicited is receiving something of value in return for their monetary, or physical, donation. For tax purposes only the actual expense of the items being donated can be deducted by the company. So if the company donates money then the money itself is of course tax deductible. However, if they company donates a physical item then only the costs of creating that item may be deducted. This is the same costs that would have already been deductible for the company for tax purposes. But if the company had sold that item they would have had the same tax deduction but also would have received income for the item. And intern has additional deductions that could offset the income. Thus the donation of the item results in a loss to the company either in the form of cash or lost revenue. Given the corporate structure companies are not, as a general rule, altruistic entities. Companies operate to make revenue and increase the value to the shareholders. It follows then that if a non profit wishes to be successful on a large scale with their donation solicitations they must be offering something that will offset the companies loss, a value added service.
o        The pitch is usually made that the program or magazine will be seen by X number of people who will be attending the event/convention etc. The programs are the epitome of the old advertising. Your ad is one add in a book full of ads, usually printed in poor black and white quality, which no one reads. Not only is the program book or magazine a poor advertisement for the business but also represents an unnecessary cost for the non profit. As some of the donation from the companies goes to subsidize the organization seeking the solicitations, as well as the charitable function that organization completes, it is also an ineffective use of the corporations funds.
o        Building on the concept of social marketing, the new celebrity, and the infosphere as a place- a more effective use would be to leverage the non profits celebrity to promote the corporation through social marketing in the infosphere. So, for example, if a non profit is bringing up a musician for a performance and would like to use that event as a fundraiser. They could feature that event on their website and promote it through their facebook page and local media generators. The corporation would receive an appropriate sized link/logo with corresponding placement based on the size of the donations. The placement would occur for a limited time linked to the event wherein the business could choose to renew or not for the next upcoming event. This may also be mutually beneficial as the company could provide a link to the event it was helping to sponsor. The company would be establishing its legitimacy and charitable nature; gaining increase traffic from the non profit leveraging its members but also gaining links and search engine rankings. The non profit likewise may gain some traffic and support from the corporation. Both entities would also easily be able to track the success of the campaign through analytics to determine whether or not the campaign/event was successful. The non profit would also have an edge as it could then build on the success of previous campaigns to solicit for future campaigns. Another benefit of this system is that the resources required are front loaded. Rather than having to employee, or outsource, constant maintenance of a special separate event solicitation program the solicitation program blends with the other programs- website etc that is already being maintained. It is twice the millage, possibly exponentially more, out of an existing resource.
o        Finally non profits should consider expanding their presence in the virtual world. Zynga makes games for facebook wherein real money is exchanged for virtual goods. If a non profit could partner with a company such as this there are phenomenal possibilities for substantial profit. For example Zynga partners with a non profit where with a donation to the non profit you receive say a special virtual product not available through other means. Zynga will get to deduct the money donated, an advantage as there were relatively no expenses associated with the virtual product, and gets to create a scarcity of a product to drive sales of accompanying products. The non profit will gain funds and notoriety. As far as I can tell the virtual world is a far under utilized resource for non profits.

What we can do to improve immediately:
·         Paid media has not yet caught up to the new media and the new celebrity. So how do we operate most effectively within the current paid media options to leverage our owned media to earn media? How can we capitalize on the new celebrity?
·         Facebook adds. Google has started advertising on Facebook, why shouldn’t we? It will require some investigation though as to how the juggernaut of Facebook advertizing works. With Google we are simply making our information available to those searching for it. Some one types in “custom printed mouse pads” and we want to be there. We want to be readily in the scope of view as a resource and while we have great natural rankings we also pay for the right to be at near the top of the sponsored links as well. But the Google campaign is, at this point, highly refined for us. We don’t advertise under mouse pads the general term as the clients that general term attracted may or may not be looking for customized mouse pads. The majority of them ended up being personal clients who were a waste of time and resources. Likewise we no longer advertise under the term coaster as it was bringing up folks who were looking for roller coasters and then clicking on our link out of curiosity. We have carefully monitored where our Adsense ads are being posted and have, over time, weeded out those placements that were not advantageous. The backend analytics has resulted in a campaign that is effective and well managed. So what of Facebook?
o        Facebook is a different conversation then Google. The Google customer knows what they are looking for whereas on Facebook you have to know the customer you are looking for. It is a role reversal of sorts from an advertising perspective where now we are trying to choose the client rather than making it easy for the client to choose us.
o        Facebook is a data mining wizard. The level of information available about the customer is mind blowing and frankly a bit scary. While larger business with more complex CRM software, or customer interfaces, may be able to tell you precisely who their clients are, we simply can not. Our systems thus far have not been able to track the average age of our customers, income level or even sex. Geographically our clients span coast to coast and range from small orders of 25 to large orders of 50k. So who exactly are we marketing to? This seems like an obvious question that would have been answered eons ago in the protozoal stage of our business but that is not the case. It the prior days when business were entirely local you would have a good sense of customers because they were physically coming into your store to purchase goods. With the online world your customer could be anyone from anywhere. When our business was much smaller I still had an effective pulse of some purchasing patterns simply because I was involved in every sale. When you are the only sales person it is easy to know at very least what has been sold and in general have some idea as to who you are selling to. As the business has grown the sales become numbers, not people, and we lost what little pulse we had. I still have great relationships with my customers, however, I have less of an understanding of what those relationships mean from a financial standpoint. There has been some disconnect between our systems.
o        We have various systems for tracking information for our customers, accounting and CRM etc, but we don’t even have an input for the types of questions Facebook can answer. I suppose in the immediate time it will be a trial and error process to advertise on Facebook.  Try an ad, track the response and gage its effectiveness and then try another. However, in the long term the bigger questions are going to become increasingly important. How are we going to enter into the conversation if we don’t even know who we are having the conversation with? We are asking for entrance into the walled city of our customers but are we asking for entrance into the upper class neighborhood or the slums?  
·         Leverage non profit donations. While non profits have not yet figured out how to market themselves effectively in the new info sphere we hope to be able to leverage their celebrity to our advantage. We are going to make a page of our site dedicated to donations as well as post those affiliations on our Facebook form. While not as effective as the coordinated campaign proposed above would be it will be infinitely more effective then our current method of advertizing our donations, which isn’t. Currently we have been relegated to the printed program version of advertising which, as mentioned, is highly ineffective.

Where we are headed:
·         Somehow paid media will evolve to exploit and leverage the new celebrity.
·         Paid media will find out how to leverage the social media marketing in a way other than pop up and banner ads or stealth marketing.
·         There is a growing sense that there will be another force yet unseen in the online paid media. In late September marketing experts agreed that in three years there will be a decline in the dominance of Facebook and Google. There will be an “other” source that will take up 25% of the market. This report has been debated by some as irrelevant due to the small sampling of experts used and the “other” is undefined as to whether it is a single entity or a conglomerate of smaller entities. However, the point is still valid. The browser as a platform may, or may not, be decrease but there is obviously a surge of apps and stand alone platforms that are causing the paid media world to become increasingly fragmented. I agree that there will be an other force in this marketing world as the development of technology and the infosphere continues to exponentially increase. The question is not if, but is when any by who?
·         An amusing side note is in my thinking of paid media traditional printed and television media weren’t even part of my thought process. I think newspapers and traditional print media are essentially dead. Not that they aren’t relevant, which is debatable, but rather that they aren’t profitable. When a vehicle is supported by advertising, and the ROI falls on that advertising so sharply that it is no longer a good economic choice, then the advertisers will eventually cease. When the advertisers cease the profit will cease and when the profit ceases the business will cease. Old print media is an antiquated business model that is no longer relevant in our my media age. There will, of course, be a place for paid media advertizing, as above, but it will not be here.   

The TechnoSphere1: Production-Distribution & Energy Systems

Current Marketing Issues: Key Emerging Technologies  
    1. The Web Is Dead...
Where we are:
·         Death of the browser as main interface is it happening? Has it already happened? Does it matter? Although the stats are skewed, and in some cases misleading, it doesn’t really matter. If YouTube watching is classified as web browsing or video viewing is a pointless discussion from a marketer’s perspective. The question is how I get the user to see my product or message. The discussion of the inclusion of YouTube viewing is analogous to arguing about whether the video was viewed on a TV or computer. What does it matter? What matters is that the only way to capitalize on the shift with YouTube is to have something posted there. Regardless of whether YouTube is being accessed from a browser, phone, or blue ray player it is being accessed. Unlike hulu and similar sites there are no commercials on YouTube so there is a disconnect between the old media viewing and new media viewing. Instead of looking at platforms as walled gardens perhaps we should look at customers’ infospheres that way. Customers’ infospheres are like the walled cities of old. Anymore to be trying to reach a customer through old paid media is like shouting at the castle walls from the other side of the moat. What we need to do is find a way to have the customer lower the drawbridge so we can become part of the interactions that occur within the city walls. The paradox is that more integrated our communications become they simultaneously become more exclusive and individualized. The more you have access to vendors of a product the more you can afford to be picky about which vendor you use. Back to the analogy of the walled city before there was one blacksmith in town so you used him. Then suddenly you could choose from thousands or hundreds of thousands of blacksmiths. Blacksmiths were shouting at you from all directions about why to chose them. There were samples of their work and lists of why they were the best blacksmith ever. How would you choose which blacksmith was best. Well, it makes sense to ask your friends, colleagues and like minded acquaintances which blacksmith they use. Once you get enough recommendations you find that a couple blacksmiths have risen to the proverbial top. You decide that you will take the best and then recommend those to others. Those blacksmiths are now inside the walled city, the chosen vendors for that person and perhaps others connected with. You are in the walled city. How do we get invited into the city?
·         The argument is interesting whether Facebook, and analogous walled garden platforms, have supplanted Google though. Or whether as some contended the Facebook of today is just the MySpace of tomorrow. So are we chasing the next monopoly, or oligarchy, of tomorrow or are we trying to stay abreast of the innovations occurring collectively, and individually, that are currently expressed by those megalomaniacs? So is Facebook causing the death of the web or has the web itself innovated to expand to include Facebook? Are the technologies divergent or convergent?
·         As a society celebrity has always been able to sell things. We want to be like the “cool kids” and want the power, status and monetary rewards that will theoretically bring us. We want happiness, those folks look happy so we want what they’ve got. The nature of celebrity with mass media was film, television and political stars. Celebrities were ordained by those already famous or the mass media juggernauts that made them so. With the new wave of technology we have a reversal of roles. We have not only self made celebrities but also self made celebrities that then become mass media celebrities. People become celebrities based on their fan followings, their musings, their abilities or even their YouTube idiocy. The fame they posses is no less viable though from a marketing endorsement standpoint but paid media has not found the way to capitalize on the new celebrity media flow.
What we can do to improve immediately:
·         Being web based the challenge is to make sure that customers can find you when they need you. After that initial point of contact the product, and accompanying service, will have to sell itself, however, that initial contact is what the web provides for us. I suppose with the current discussion I should say the internet provides that for us although currently in our world it is the web that provides it as we are not really on the internet yet. It is an important distinction. We live and die by Google. Google natural rankings and Adwords. When we started this business Yahoo actually had live human beings looking at sites and ranking them according to their relevance. When Google search engines came on the scene our ranking went from number two to some where around 27,000th. It was like our business had suddenly turned off the lights and we were no longer in operation. That led to a long road of website redesign, tangoing with SEO optimization (and various companies promising such, and finally landing in alliance with the omnipresent Google. So what if the web is dead? I am not certain if it is dead but it certainly is changing and morphing to include apps that do not operate the way of the traditional browser.
·         We need to get into the conversation with the new internet users. We need to be accessible not just through the web or browser, as is currently the case, but also through the devices and platforms attached to the internet. The quickest, cheapest and easiest way to do this is through getting a social networking presence.
o        Create a twitter account- done
§         Easy but need to do some more research about how to effectively use this for our business
·         If this is really all a conversation and communication with customers what do customers want to hear? What are other businesses tweeting?
·         If the gauge is what would be interesting to me it is difficult as I have not been interested in starting this conversation and have not had a twitter account until now.
·         What will be interesting to folks but non obtrusive?
§         Need to modify to create a listening info structure
·         Who is tweeting to us?
·         Who is listening and responding to incoming tweets
·         How are we going to track and implement the incoming information to make this a useful vehicle of communication?
§         Signing up was easy but then we had difficulty being able to even find the business on twitter, still working some bugs out here
§         Need to connect twitter to our Facebook page, and advertise it on the main site
o        Create a Facebook account
§         This is NOT as easy as everyone is continuing to make it sound
·         Could not sign up with a generic email which they don’t announce anywhere so it took me several tries just to get the fan page set up
·         It was a phenomenally easy to set up a personal page and publish it, the business interface not nearly as easy.
·         Once it is set up connecting it with our site requires technical knowledge that will need to be outsourced
§         Once up and going some of the same concerns as the twitter account
·         Online presence IS our identity as a business, not part of our identity as a business, so it is of the upmost importance to maintain
·         We provide exceptional service and communication to our customers and need a system in place to provide that same level of service to customers contacting and responding to us through Facebook
·         Need to upkeep the page to remain relevant and interesting, keep up our side of the relationship
·         Need to figure out, again, how to use this page not only as a platform to speak (as the website is currently) but also to listen. See above concerns to work out
o        Look into advertising on Facebook
§         Google just started advertising there
o        Start a blog
§         All the same concerns, who is going to do it, who is going to respond, how are we going to digest and utilize the incoming information etc.
o        More targeted marketing
o        Post a YouTube video
§         This will likely not be immediately but would be a good way to link our online presence as the video can be posted on Facebook as well.
§         What do we want to say? Possibility of going for viral marketing with this option. Some ideas we have generated is making interesting things out of our materials, we have always wanted to make a mouse pad couch for example, with video serving a dual purpose of being entertaining and simultaneously and advertisement.
§         The YouTube video has the possibility of being a really effective infomercial for our brand. An infomercial that will have instant access to mobile phones, blue ray players, personal computers with us only having to take the resources to create the initial video.
·         Advantages
o        Effective way to get into the walled city. I am confident in our product and service that we offer that once we are in the city we can do a good enough job to stay there.
o        Utilizing the existing technologies will automatically make us optimized for viewing on a variety of devices. In other words we don’t have the capital to invest to make our website viewable from every type of smart phone. However, now with Facebook we don’t have to! Facebook can be viewed on the smart phone and is already optimized. Thus accessibility to our information will increase dramatically as the platforms have already put the programming in place for us to be accessible on a variety of devices.
o        Our competition is not in the infosphere yet, so in some senses we have a huge opportunity here
o        Increases brand validity now becoming part of the circle of conversation
Where things are headed:
·         Paid media will catch up to the new media world. Currently the Freeconomics is based on what have quickly become antiquated business models of advertising and cross subsidies. The new paid media will find a way to leverage the new conversations to corporate advantage. We will then in turn contract this new paid media to help us get more earned media and build on our owned media. What will the new paid media look like and how will it cope with the destruction of mass media? That I don’t know.
·         Very interested in the virtual world concept
o        Possibility of a second life store. We sell promotional products. Could we open a virtual store for other virtual companies to promote their virtual products? Could we then translate the virtual brand recognition to physical products?
·         Not sure
·         There is an increasing gap between the haves and the have nots
o        Exponential access to those who have access to the information will cause the gap to increase
o        Bound to have social, political and economical ramifications to the chasm
o        Not certain how this will effect our industry, our state, or even our country but I am certain it will and think it should be something we as a business, and as a country, keep an eye on
·         Is go local happening? Way to simultaneously capitalize on shift to digital while also growing locally
o        Four Square
o        Location Posting, tagging etc

    1. Cloud Computing What it really means
Where we are:
·         Still relatively physical in nature
·         Server based with storage on site
·         All our programs run on site- we have some off site backups but bandwidth restrictions make mass off site non realistic at this point. In Alaska the info structure hasn’t yet caught up to the capabilities of the technology. It is 85k to bring cable connection to the commercial building we occupy. The DSL offered in the building maxes out at a 512 upload. We have over 3 terabytes of information for well over twelve thousand customers. At a 512 upload speed off site is currently not an effective option.
·         Huge concerns over provider and security issues
o        Sensitive financial information for customers. It maybe old fashioned but I feel safer with information being stored on something we have physical control of. I realize that ultimately with the remote accessibility the information isn’t technically any more secure then it would be on a virtual cloud on a river somewhere but it feels more secure. I think this will be another hurdle for cloud computing to overcome is the concept that it will be less secure then the physical storage options.
o        The reliability of the provider is also a concern. What happens if we can’t access our information? What recourse is available to us as a consumer? Vetting the provider of these services will be critical in the coming age. I would expect that simplifying that process and providing some sort of rating system will become its own industry. The value added portion of cloud computing. Over the years we have occasionally had difficulties with various vendors. If a vendor held all of your information, your business would be in their hands. That is a risk I am extremely reticent to take.
What we can do to improve immediately:
·         Work on moving some simple things to the cloud. We could definitely work on moving some of our antiquated, non essential information, to the cloud. We need to work on vetting providers and whether it is even a necessary or cost effective option for us at this juncture. Do we need to move to the cloud immediately? I think the advantage to working on it would be that we wouldn’t be so terribly behind the technological curve
·         Investigation of cloud services and software. Especially some CRM software that would coordinate better with our current accounting system. We purchased our current CRM software based on the coordination with our accounting software but still the accessibility of information is difficult and in some cases disjointed. The software as a service may allow us to tap into programming and info structure that we would not have the resources to create as far as a system goes but we could access on a pay as needed basis. I think this is a large advantage of the movement to the cloud for small businesses (less than 10 million according to the federal government) is that we will have access to programs and capacities that we would never have been able to create or afford previously. In some ways cloud computing will be an equalizer with respect to that access.
Where things are headed:
·         I think physical systems will remain, but I could be wrong. We will likely keep our current server based system for quite sometime as we have a tendency to get the most out of a given technology. However, the proliferation of information will soon necessitate a move to the clouds for pure capacity reasons.
·         Software systems will become more integrated as the base using them continues to increase. There will inevitably be proverbial bugs to be worked out but given the exponential growth of technology, and diffusion of that technology, I think in ten years we will be primarily cloud based in both our storage and software. Also I think software innovations will happen so quickly once applications are cloud based that it will be somewhat necessary to be in the cloud. Outdated versions, file accessibility problems etc.
·         Accessing bandwidth will continue to be a problem in Alaska though. Our physical and geographical limitations will continue to be frustrating. I think the best way to resolve this situation would be to move to a satellite based system, however, that would necessitate some political changes that may or may not occur.