2008 Innovation in Review

December 29, 2008

2008 was a strange year.  It was a year that saw a rough economic downturn, a struggle by our government to save some big companies, and an effort by banks across the globe to stabilize themselves.  The term recession was thrown around plenty, and a lot of well established corporations underperformed because of it.

But even so, there were people and companies that were moving in the right direction.  To finish off the year here on Be Innovation, I wanted to touch on some of the most innovative people and creations of the year.

David Plouffe and the rest of Obama’s campaign management team should be recognized for their innovative use of viral marketing in the 2008 presidential campaign.  For the first time, a presidential candidate got in touch with the younger, internet generation.  This not only drove more young people to vote, it increased his “brand awareness”, and made him seem more “available” then most politicians.

Kevin Rose, as Inc Magazine puts it, is the first media maverick of the social web.  In 2008, he saw his company, Digg, gain popularity and value.  It spawned off an internet TV show “Diggnation” and the Kevin Rose web-celeb status.  He owns or operates several other internet ventures and is surely planning more for the future.

Apple, Google, and Research in Motion deserve credit for bringing the mobile web into the hands of consumers.  New 3G phones with one-touch applications and easy web use has made living life on the go easier than ever.  Advancements in touch screen technology, internet availability, and mobile technology have made these phones popular and practical.
There are many, many more people, companies and inventions to mention.  But there is only so much room here.  Take a look at some of these other lists that round out the top innovators/innovations of 2008.

The Economist discusses this year’s winners of the annual innovation awards.  B to B Media Business showcases their top innovators in five different categories.  The Scientist lists their top 10 innovations of the year.  Check out Time Magazine’s top inventions of 2008.  And finally, MediaWeek discusses the most impressive innovations of the year in media and marketing.

And we can all look forward to 2009, which at this moment in time, holds a limitless amount of possible innovations.  2009 will be the year of an “Innovate or Die” mindset for corporate America.  The times are changing (have changed) and it will put a lot of pressure on big companies to adapt and grow in a new direction.

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Do It Yourself Tips for Marketing & PR

December 23, 2008

It’s all over the news, every blog, every station and every person is talking about the economic situation and what’s to come. Large corporations are claiming bankruptcy and laying off hundreds or even thousands of people. If large companies are having trouble, how are small businesses coping during these times?

Marketing and Public Relations is always important. It’s what drives new customers to your business and it’s what reminds your existing customers, that you’re still there and you still care. But it’s never been as important as it is right now.

Many small business owners think marketing and PR isn’t for them, thinking it’ll run them a few too many dollars. If this is you, I’d like to help change your way of thinking.

Here are a few Do-it-Yourself tips on PR and Marketing for any business.

Know your Market.
Do you have a product or service? You want the world to know, right? Having everyone know about your product would be a dream to any business owner, but thinking that way means your marketing is wrong. Know who you’re targeting your product towards. Study your market, how they buy, where they buy and why they buy.

Know Who to Pitch to.
You may have written a fantastic press release but sending out your release about baked goods to an editor of a fashion magazine won’t do anything for you. Find the right media outlet and the right contact before sending out your release or contacting them. Aimlessly sending out press releases is not only ineffective but can also be seen as spam and create a bad name for yourself or your company.

Follow Up.
If you’ve done your research and were able to successfully contact and communicate with the right person, don’t forget to follow up. Editors and producers get hundreds of emails a day and contact several people, so they can easily place your story or pitch on the back burner. Don’t be afraid to follow up with a media alert or a thank you if appropriate. Just remember the no spam rule.

Network, Network, Network.
I don’t think I can say this enough. The only way people will know about your company is through you and your efforts. Go to the parties, the meetings and the trade shows. Shake hands, meet people and always make an impression (the right one!). If you’re a little shy or unsure of which events to go to, there are thousands of networking websites you can join.

Social Networking Sites.
Starting and owning a business can be quite overwhelming and keep you incredibly busy, especially if there are other priorities in your life. Attending networking meetings and events can be hard, which is why social networking sites can play a vital role in marketing your business. There are an endless amount of sites and most of them are quite easy to use. You can establish business connections, publicize your company and its services and increase your client base. You have the ability to reach people on a global scale.

Have an online presence.
Whether you build a website or start a blog, everyone is using the Internet to connect. You don’t have to be a writer or know the ins and outs of computers, starting a blog or website can be quite simple. It’s an easy way to reach out to people and inform them of what’s new and exciting in your company.

Always carry your business cards.
Not just one or two, but a handful. I’ve learned this lesson the hard way. There have been too many instances where I’ve been in the right place, at the right time and I didn’t have a business card on me. Whether it’s in your other purse, your car or you just gave your last one out – there are no excuses. Yes, most people have a phone or a pen and can take down your information but it just sends the wrong message – unorganized and unprepared.

Be prepared to market yourself.
Social gathering, birthday parties, family dinners, any conversation can turn into a lead. You should always be ready to talk about your business and where they can reach you. No need to constantly oversell yourself. When the topic arises or when the time seems right, be ready to market yourself.

The previous article was a guest blog by Rachel Azagury.  Rachel is an entrepreneur and freelance marketing and PR consultant based out of Toronto, Canada.  She writes a blog at http://whichwaytoeasystreet.blogspot.com/ and her website can be found at www.creatingabuzz.ca.  You can email Rachel at rachel@creatingabuzz.ca or follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pinkbrickroad.

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Monetize Twitter then Monetize Everything Else

December 19, 2008

twitter-birdMonetizing the social web.  It’s the hot topic headed into 2009.  How can Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, YouTube, and countless other online services begin to see real revenue and profitability?  And how can they do that without ruining the user experience and creating too much confusion on the websites?

For those familiar with social networks, those who use them daily, it is a constant debate.  From the business end, we can see that value of these networks, and the amount of information they hold, so we know there is money there somewhere.  From the usability end, we can see that attempts to use advertisers and third party publishers have had some negative effects on the cleanliness and function of the interface.  So what to do?

Well, I am not here to answer all the questions.  But I thought I would try my hand at just one.  How can Twitter make money?

I noticed a few days ago that Twitter announced that they were hiring a VP of Business Operations with one clear task, monetize Twitter.  Chances are that I will not get that job.  But if I did, here is what I would try:

1.    Charge Third Party Developers.  Twitter is a great service, and its easy to use.  Developers noticed this right away.  Many tools have come out that made Twitter more accessible from anywhere on and off the web.  Set fees to develop applications and programs that are used in conjunction with Twitter.

2.    Rotate Ads Right of Screen.  The Twitter interface is so clean that many people think ads would ruin the experience.  But as far as I can see, rotating long sidebar ads on the right side of the screen would take nothing away.  Ads can be targeted based on activity (updates, who you follow, @replies).  Show a new ad every time the page is reloaded.

3.    Sell Twitter Software.  Twitter has many uses.  In an office setting, I can see it as a means of communication that surpasses those that we use today.  Why not sell Twitter software to companies for a monthly or yearly fee.  Let them customize the design, add all their employees, and operate it on a different site (businessname.twitter.com).

4.    Twitter Marketing Accounts.  Create a new type of account, for marketers, that you have to pay for.  A marketer account allows you to send updates to a targeted market of Twitter users once or twice daily.  These will show up like normal updates on a person’s home page, but there will be a limited amount so the intrusion is negligible.

5.    Paid Twitter Ad-ons.  Similar to the Twitter Software idea, Twitter could add new services to their existing tool that one would have to sign up and pay for.  Call this a Twitter Pro Account if that is what works.  These could include a news section, forums, directories, finance that allow you to group Tweets together and display headline style information.  This is more valuable simply because it would be easier to classify information.  Charge a one-time upgrade fee or a yearly subscription that is so small that we all sign up.

So there are five things that I would do my first day on the job.  Who will get the job? Will they like my ideas?  Will they follow them?  Will they ever read or hear them?  Whatever happens, this is an important step in monetizing the social web.  And all other networks can be aware of these ideas and use them in their own way.  Prove to us that your inflated values make sense and that your products will bring us further than we ever anticipated.

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Outsource Your Internet Strategy: Value in Innovative Partnerships

December 17, 2008

Web promotion and advertising is essential to the success of many, if not all, companies today.  But it is a tricky area for a lot of people.  It becomes even trickier if you are talking about a brick and mortar company that has no real online experience or activity.  If you are a relative unknown on the web, the chances of you sticking around in the new economy are slim and none.

Luckily, there are companies that dominate business on the web.  I am talking about companies that were formed and developed online, with no real offline business activity.  These companies, like social networks, e-commerce retailers, and search engines operate primarily online and have already carved out their corner of the online marketplace.  So why not reach out to them?

A partnership with an online company can go a long way toward helping an offline company compete in an online world.  Instead of going it alone, and guessing your way to success (or failure, most likely), try leveraging their brand on the web to increase exposure and improve business.  Many organizations (ie. Salvation Army) have tried the hard way only to find out it didn’t work.

Step one, do a little research.  Find out what types of companies are reaching your target audience online.  Figure out who is popular, why they are popular, and how a potential partnership could work.  Prepare yourself for negotiations, but go in with an open mind.  Many of these online companies have their own strategies that have taken them to where they are, and a partnership with an offline company might be a relatively new concept.

Step two, reach out to them.  Tell them what you are interested in doing.  Explain to them how it can help both parties reach new audiences.  Even if all you are doing is adding content to their website, or inventory for them to sell, a simple revenue share might do the trick.  And it will still get you the necessary exposure that your are looking for.

Step three, let go.  Your instinct will be to try to control this new online strategy.  Most things online can only be controlled up to a certain point before consumer behavior takes over.  Most likely, the web-based company you are partnering with will have a better idea of how to implement and manage this strategy, so give them some control.

One basic example would be a retail store with limited online exposure partnering with Woot, Amazon, or an eBay store.  Another is a restaurant that partners with an online menu server to get some attention.  This can be purely marketing and advertising, or it can be co-branded sponsorships.  You can add content, inventory, money, or your own customer base.  Be creative.

In the end, even if it costs you some money, it will still be cheaper than trying to develop your own content online.  And if it works, you can just do more of it.  The truth is, even if you are not struggling now, the time is coming that a company who has no presence on the web will become absolete.

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Goal Setting Can Lead to an Innovative Year

December 15, 2008

I’ve noticed that many blogs and bloggers have started to list or discuss goals for next year.  Over the next few weeks, many people and companies alike will reflect on how they performed in 2008.  They will most likely look at goals and projections that were made at the beginning of the year to on which to base this evaluation.

Goal setting is an important activity for a number of reasons.  First, it gives you a chance to take an objective look at your company from the outside.  You can evaluate where you are, where you ought to be, and where you would like to get to.  This is one of the few times where you can ignore the minute details and focus on the big picture, which can be very helpful, especially for small business owners.

Second, it gives you guidelines of how you will conduct your business in the coming year.  For instance, if you set a goal to reach out to every single customer once a month because this will allow you to develop relationships and improve customer service, everyone in the company will know how important this is.  It won’t get bogged down after a few months because something else suddenly came up.

Finally, goal setting provides excitement and motivation.  When you have something to work towards, it makes the day to day routine a lot more fun and makes the impossible seem achievable.  It creates a culture of success and gets everyone in the company looking forward to a successful future.

When setting goals, it is important to limit the amount of goals you end up creating.  Make them as broad or as specific as possible, but don’t list every single thing that you want to do.  Use bigger goals to show the most important ideas and create a strong vision.  Also, you should always try to make some goals more easily reached than others.  Setting goals that are too easy does not create a strong drive, but setting goals that seem impossible can be stressful.  Try setting smaller goals that will lead to larger, more ambitious ones.

Finally, make sure everyone knows the goals.  Discuss them in teams, and lay out a framework for working towards them so everyone knows how they can help get the company where it needs to be.  This will stimulant creative thinking, innovative ideas, and corporate drive.  With everyone on the same page, the next year is sure to as good as it gets.

What are your goals for 2009?

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Energy Chief and Climate Czar: Time to Step Up

December 11, 2008

global-warmingSo Obama reportedly has named Steven Chu, a Nobel Prize winning physicist, to be his Chief of Energy.  And after being turned down by Al Gore, has selected Carol Browner to be his Climate Czar.  This will be the most important department of the cabinet in the coming years.  Let the debate begin.

Obama has stated that fighting Climate Change and Energy Crises would be a top priority of his administration, a topic that has never gotten the attention it requires.  He said that he would devote $150 Billion over ten years to clean energy technology research and development.  And these two positions will be the topmost voices on where and how we spend this money.

Climate Change and Energy are the most important challenges that face this country right now.  The economic crisis is bad, but we have been there before.  Though it will take a while, things well shake out, and we will get back on track.  Don’t start thinking that the world is falling down around us.

Global warming is something that is affecting the entire planet in a way that we have never seen before, something that, without our attention, will continue to get exponentially worse.  There have been major advances in technology that will allow us to potentially reduce the negative affects we have on the environment, but many more are needed.  We have to continue to raise interest and awareness, continue to develop infrastructure, and continue to invest in new ideas and innovations that allow us to move forward in this area.

The pressure is on the Department of Energy to step up and deliver from day one of the Obama Administration.  As a country, we cannot allow them to hesitate.  We must demand that they experiment with new technology, invest in new ideas, try new things, fail, and try again.  The time is now, and the US has to begin setting an example for the rest of the world to follow.  And guess what, all those people that think this issue is not as important as the economy may want to consider the positive impacts that growth of new energy technologies will have on jobs, trade, and investment.

Remember, Steven Chu and Carol Browner won’t have all the answers.  Give them your ideas, and get your voice heard at Change.gov.

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Don’t Get Caught in the Recession Trap

December 9, 2008

“Oh no, we’re in a recession,” you think to yourself, “How is my small business ever going to survive?”

“We’ll have to lay off the entire staff.  We’ll have to cut our marketing budget.  We can’t buy any new supplies.  Time to buckle down and wait for them to tell me when it’s over.”

It’s time to take a good long look at the reality of your business.  The recession is real, and it may be impacting us for quite some time, but it will not touch everyone.  Everywhere you look there are businesses that are managing to move along quite well.  And if you own or operate a small business, don’t get sucked into thinking that you have to be stingy right now.  That could be the mistake that costs you your success.

The National Small Business Administration has eased lending to small businesses nationwide.  That means that the tightening credit market may not affect you as much as the big corporations.  And for many small businesses, the amount of credit needed is not significant enough to cause any real trouble.

Small businesses are nimble.  You can come up with new and innovative ways to do business early and often.  This leaves the door open to meet new customer needs, market aggressively without spending a lot of money, and offer a little compassion to your bigger clients who may be feeling the recession more than you are.

It’s true, some small businesses are definitely going to be affected.  But many are not.  Many have the opportunity to thrive and grow during this time.  I am currently working with two small businesses that have seen increased growth in the past few months, and there are no signs of slowing.  Here are a few strategies that your small business could use to grow while everyone around you sinks:

1.    Increase your online marketing. It’s cheap and easy to run a couple of search engine ads.  Develop a word of mouth campaign that your customers can use to spread the word.

2.    Lower your prices. Your customers are cutting their spending.  If you want their business now and in the future, cater to their needs.  They will remember you for it.

3.    Offer a free trial to potential customers. If you can take advantage of those people or businesses that are price shopping now, you can steal some market share from the competition.  Now might be the cheapest time to attract new business.

4.    Focus on customer service. People need to know that you care.  Now, more than ever, a good customer service department can go a long way towards forging strong customer loyalty.

5. Create a detailed spending plan.  Don’t be afraid to spend money, just know where it is all going.  Find the things that are working, and do more of it.  When the market comes back, you’ll find yourself on top.

Just because the economy is in a recession, that does not mean you are.  Take a second to think for yourself.  Could your business be doing more right now?  The way to get to where you want to be is to be moving forward as everyone else is standing still.

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