The Power of Good Graphics

I love observing how data is presented for maximum effectiveness. Today I saw a slide that came out of the Congressman Roy Blunt’s office detailing how competing policy proposals would impact the price of gasoline.

I am NOT posting this to highlight partisan issues but simply to highlight how the presentation takes advantage of a graphic that is contextual to the topic at hand, the gas station price sign. This is a really effective slide that presents a lot of information in a form that is easily digestible and has good context to the subject matter.

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Unfortunate Marketing Promotions

Baskin-Robbins is launching soft serve ice cream to, I guess, better compete with a resurgent Dairy Queen. In one of the more mystifying marketing plans I can recall hearing, they have pregnant celebrity Tori Spelling pitching the stuff to pregnant women today. I say mystifying because OB/GYNs consistently advise pregnant women that soft serve ice cream is not safe to eat while pregnant or breast feeding. The primary concern is that the machines can harbor some deadly bacteria, like listeria. More here, here, and here.

To help welcome the company’s new addition and to pay tribute to all moms-to-be, Baskin-Robbins is turning “hump day,” as it is traditionally known into “Bump Day” for one day on Wednesday, May 21, 2008 with the help of special host and expectant mom, Tori Spelling. During Bump Day, moms-to-be will receive a free 3 oz. cone of Soft Serve*. Leading up to Baskin-Robbins introduction of Soft Serve, the company also conducted a Soft Serve survey, to determine Americans’ Soft Serve eating habits.

[From Baskin-Robbins Launches a New Twist - Soft Serve]

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Organic Food Myths

Here’s a sobering look at the organic food industry and what’s interesting to consider is that the myths debunked here are simply not questioned by consumers, who almost universally believe that organic food is better when in fact it appears that the only certainty about organics is that it is a reliable strategy for boosting prices.

Reading this reminded me of the power of words, in this case “organic”. I thought back to a marketing professor who asked what one word is responsible for selling more shampoo than any claim or branding exercise; the answer, “repeat”.

Like Chris Yeh, I believe one of the greatest sins we are committing globally is not throwing our weight behind GMA. Genetically modified foods are capable of boosting nutritional value, developing crops that are sustainable in parts of the world that have adverse climate conditions, don’t require pesticides or fungicides, and reduce dependencies on fertilizers that are petroleum products.

This high level of infection among organic chickens could cross-contaminate non-organic chickens processed on the same production lines. Organic farmers boast that their animals are not routinely treated with antibiotics or (for example) worming medicines. But, as a result, organic animals suffer more diseases. In 2006 an Austrian and Dutch study found that a quarter of organic pigs had pneumonia against 4 per cent of conventionally raised pigs; their piglets died twice as often.

Disease is the major reason why organic animals are only half the weight of conventionally reared animals – so organic farming is not necessarily a boon to animal welfare.

[From The great organic myths: Why organic foods are an indulgence the world can't afford - Green Living, Environment - The Independent]

Community Managers and Managing Communities

I wonder how most organizations are handling the role of community manager. I’m curious where a community manager reports. Marketing? HR? Customer service? I wonder how organizations are justifying the cost, and what they believe the role entails for level of effort. How are companies using the role in either direction?

[From On Managing A Community | chrisbrogan.com]

NewsGator has a new community manager. I hired Josh Larson a few weeks ago to take on this newly formed role. The truth is that we were all doing some measure of community management before Josh came on board, we just were not focused on it and a lot of stuff fell through the cracks.

As you can imagine given my background in corporate blogging, this is an area that interests me greatly, but it’s not just about blogging on behalf of a company. I think that is where a lot of companies go wrong on this front, they think that just getting someone to “go blog it out” is enough when in fact community management is like marketing like customer support is to engineering. All are critical functions but community management is about advocacy more than promotion, just like customer support.

This is also why Josh reports to me instead of to our marketing group. I want this role to represent marketplace advocacy and I thought that ultimately I am responsible for that so it makes sense for the role to report to me. I also happen to care alot about the tactics by which we manage community, an outgrowth of my now many years of experience in corporate social media.

Our community manager has several distinct but interconnected roles. The first is easy, establish and grow a meaningful blog presence through which we expose and highlight our activities AND connect directly with influencers, power users, early adopters, customers, and many other groups of individuals who are relevant to our market space.

A blog is just a tool, which means that we will use many tools at our disposal to reach out and with an authentic voice talk about what we are doing and listen about what we could be doing. What we are doing with Twitter is another example of how we are taking advantage of social media tools to connect to our marketplace.

Communities are about networks and as such the community manager is responsible for building out and maintaining networks related to the above groups, and like a pilot who’s hands are on many levers apply leverage to various constituencies as determined by what our objectives are. The important aspect of this is that for a network to remain vibrant and active, we have to give back as much as we take.

There are probably a dozen other responsibilities that fallen within the scope of community manager but in the final equation it comes down to the commitment of the company to support that person in his/her role. I think we have a well earned track record at working with our community and not just talking to it, which hopefully means we are prepared to amp up those efforts with a person who is dedicated to the task.

Like all things that are on the forward edge there is an element of learning as we go, but this type of role is not so new as to suggest it’s all experimentation. We, as an industry, know from recent experience that the marketplace is demanding a richer interaction with companies so I think we’re on the forward edge of mainstream as opposed to on the bleeding edge.

DMA Irony

Is it not fantastically ironic that the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) puts their news site behind a registration page? If anyone should be aware of the bounce rates when registration is required, it should be the DMA. But it gets worse, when you actually do click on create a visitor account you are presented with a process straight out of the 1990’s, first doing a database search and then asking you to create a “new customer record”. I haven’t seen descriptions like that since I worked at SAP.

And they ask you, actually they require, your email… like I’m gonna give my email address to the DMA.

It’s really quite disappointing because they have some really good content, it’s too bad their web team never quite made it into the 21st century.

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Now That is Spin

Today I saw an advertisement for The Gilmartin Group, a San Mateo real estate company, that made my head turn. The voiceover began with:

“Negative media confusion has created a buying opportunity…”

and went on unconvincingly about how this is the best time to buy real estate yada yada yada, you could almost smell the fear coming through the television. I wish I could find that video on youtube so that you too could enjoy it in it’s spectacularly cheesy glory.

At any rate, apparently the troubles in the real estate market are all much ado about nothing and the fault of the media, nothing to see here so move on…

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A Web Shift in the Way Advertisers Seek Clicks

I wrote about this last week, studying vertical ad networks has been really eye opening for me. It’s the long tail in advertising…

The improved technology has helped. Ad networks once served ads to pages where no advertiser wanted to be, like pages that get few hits or those with controversial content. Now, though, many attractive sites are not major home pages. Also, many ad networks now offer targeting (as do portals, for a higher price), matching ads to likely buyers.

[From A Web Shift in the Way Advertisers Seek Clicks - New York Times]

Monster Cables Gets Soundly Beaten

When we put our home theatre in I became obsessed with cables for the simple reason that you can easily spend as much on cables as all your equipment. Through one of the audio forums I found Blue Jeans Cable and had high quality speaker, interconnect, and various other cables made to length for what I thought was a pretty reasonable price.

Monster Cables sent Blue Jeans Cable a cease-and-desist letter claiming patent infringement for a specific product line. Turns out that the president of Blue Jeans is a former lawyer with considerable experience and his letter to Monster simply embarrasses the company. It’s lengthy but well worth the read and when you are finished ask yourself how you feel about the brand image of Monster.

I say this because my observation has been that Monster Cable typically operates in a hit-and-run fashion. Your client threatens litigation, expecting the victim to panic and plead for mercy; and what follows is a quickie negotiation session that ends with payment and a licensing agreement. Your client then uses this collection of licensing agreements to convince others under similar threat to accede to its demands. Let me be clear about this: there are only two ways for you to get anything out of me. You will either need to (1) convince me that I have infringed, or (2) obtain a final judgment to that effect from a court of competent jurisdiction. It may be that my inability to see the pragmatic value of settling frivolous claims is a deep character flaw, and I am sure a few of the insurance carriers for whom I have done work have seen it that way; but it is how I have done business for the last quarter-century and you are not going to change my mind. If you sue me, the case will go to judgment, and I will hold the court’s attention upon the merits of your claims–or, to speak more precisely, the absence of merit from your claims–from start to finish. Not only am I unintimidated by litigation; I sometimes rather miss it.

I will also point out to you that if you do choose to undertake litigation, your “upside” is tremendously limited. If you somehow managed, despite the formidable obstacles in your way, to obtain a finding of infringement, and if you were successful at recovering a large licensing fee–say, ten cents per connector–as the measure of damages, your recovery to date would not reach four figures. On the downside, I will advance defenses which, if successful, will substantially undermine your future efforts to use these patents and marks to threaten others with these types of actions; as you are of course aware, it is easier today for your competitors to use collateral estoppel offensively than it ever has been before. Also, there is little doubt that making baseless claims of trade dress infringement and design patent infringement is an improper business tactic, which can give rise to unfair competition claims, and for a company of Monster’s size, potential antitrust violations with treble damages and attorneys’ fees.

[From Blue Jeans Cable Strikes Back - Response to Monster Cable — Audioholics Home Theater Reviews and News]

I have many friends who are lawyers and I mean this as no disrespect to the legal profession but companies should seriously clip the wings of their corporate lawyers. They should put them in a glass case with a sign “break in case of actual legal need” because left unfettered the corporate legal goons end up hurting their companies as frequently as helping.

I saw this at SAP with a frightening degree of frequency. The corporate lawyers would impose an unhealthy degree of control over strategy… I could go on but I think you know what I mean.

Vertical Ad Networks Are About Advertisers

Ad networks cater to people buying advertising because that’s where the money is flowing and advertisers care about where their ads are being placed. This is why vertical ad networks make sense, they vet destinations for appropriateness and fit. SyndiGO is another one to watch; they build a vertical ad network for you as an advertiser.

Similarly, Travel Ad Network should also roll up a bunch of travel properties to get a better footprint, and a vertical integration. The Travel space is slightly more complicated, because of the considerable clout of the vertical search engines, of which, Kayak also intends to pull together a vertical ad network.

[From Vertical Ad Networks: Evolution - Sramana Mitra on Strategy]

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SKYY Vodka Supports Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo

This will go down in the annals of great press releases at the expense of a competitor. Skyy, a very good vodka btw, is taking advantage of the Absolut stumble I covered here. Over on the Absolut blog, Ms. Erickson has been very quiet after the 2 non-apologies, one of them she proclaimed as “genuine and sincere”, have fallen like a lead balloon under the weight of 7,000 comments, the overwhelming majority negative.

Pernod Ricard picked a bad month to acquire Absolut...

“Don’t get me started on the Gadsden Purchase,” continues Karraker. “I think the folks in Tucson and Yuma would be rubbed the wrong way if they hear this landmark deal was somehow nullified as suggested by Absolut, a Swedish-owned brand.”

[From SKYY(R) Vodka, Made in the USA, Proudly Supports Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo]