Lend a Finger

January 29, 2009

et-fingerWhat can you do with just one finger? Now before anybody starts to get vulgar, let me take a minute to explain.

The web has allowed us to reach out to almost anyone, anywhere in the world with a few clicks of the mouse.  It has allowed us to search through millions of pages of information on any topic our little hearts can imagine.  And it has given us the gift of access to anything we want; movies, music, books, news, etc.

What the web has also allowed us to do is help people.  This is an area that we are just starting to tap into, and it’s an important one to take notice of.  President Obama has referred to this moment in time as the dawning of a new era of responsibility.  We have a responsibility to each other.  We can help solve some of the world’s problems if we work together.

A little over a year ago, my dad was taken from us after a bout with cancer.  For the nearly four years that he struggled with the disease, I was left to ponder how in the world someronald_mcdonald_logoone like me could do anything to help.  And in the year that he has been gone, those same thoughts have plagued me.  But now I realize, it has nothing to do with what I can do.  It has to do with what we can do, the people, in masses, if we put our minds to it.

Today would have been my father’s birthday, and in honor of him I have donated to a charity dealing directly with brain tumors.  That is how I will “Lend a Finger” to help today.  Below I have listed a number of links to various charities and charity rating authorities.  It is my hope that you will take a moment to review them and donate if possible.

jimmyvThe goal is not to give all of our money to cancer research, but to begin to spread the movement. Together, we can do so much to help.  And the internet has allowed us to help in so many simple ways.  So “Lend a Finger” today.  You can lend a finger by clicking your way to a donation, sending a gift, writing an email, or anything else you can think of.  And take the time to pass this on to others.

cancerresearchinstituteIf everyone you know takes a few minutes out of the day to think about how they can help someone else, we can start to move forward.  We can be a nation of change, fulfilling a responsibility to ourselves, our families, and future generations.

The American Brain Tumor Association

The Ronald McDonald House

Sunshine Kids Organization

The Jimmy V Foundation

The Cancer Research Institute

Top Rated Charities from Charity Watch

Even if you can’t give today, you can do a great deal to help by passing this on.  If you have a Twitter account, Tweet this.  If you’re on Facebook, post this using the button below.  If you are on Digg, Digg it.  Email it to friends, and subscribe to receive future updates on the strength of this movement.  Post a blog describing how you plan to Lend a Finger, and asking for others to do the same.

There are people in this world that we can help.  And if it doesn’t come from us, where will it come from?  Use the comments section as a starting point.  Share with us how you plan on spreading the “Lend a Finger” campaign.

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Facebook and Change

January 27, 2009

Facebook AdvertisingIn the past few weeks a lot of things have been happening around the Facebook community.  Police made an arrest after someone made a positive identification of a bank robber off of a Facebook photo.  A woman was fired from his job after staying home from work “sick” and posting that he was too hung over to work on his profile.  Another woman was notified that she was fired through a message on her Facebook account.  Prince Harry was dumped, and the only way he found out was a Facebook profile update.  In addition, Burger King ran an interesting, successful viral ad using Facebook as a platform.

We have to realize that we are living in a world that has changed.  And not because we elected a black man as President.  But because he addresses the nation weekly using YouTube.  It’s not because Comcast offers a number of free movies on demand.  It’s because they have a Twitter account to deal with customer service issues.  It’s because the online world is no longer the online world.  The online world has crossed over into the real world.

No longer can you live in this world without being affected in some way with what is going on online.  The virtual space isn’t virtual, its physical.

This day was coming. It wasn’t long in the making, in fact, it just kind of popped up on us.  But it’s here.  And it’s time to recognize that and stop running from it.

There is a bounty of information out there, go find it.  There are millions of ways to connect with people, start connecting.  There are thousands of products competing for your business, find the best one.  Stop ignoring the world that you don’t understand.  Start taking advantage of it, otherwise the rest of the world is taking advantage of you.

There is no longer a divide between the internet and the physical world.  We’re all living in both.  Start living again.

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Ad Market Down, Innovate to Increase Value

January 23, 2009

logoseamlesswebboxIn a down economy, many things take a hit.  One market that is hurting right now is the advertising market.  Advertisers are spending less money, pulling ads that they don’t necessarily feel good about, and eliminating all ads that do not convert.  This means that websites that rely on advertising revenue to survive must respond in any way possible.

The two most important things that you have to consider when selling ads are website traffic and advertiser relevance.  Since advertisers are going to need to see real results to continue to advertise in this economy, websites need to be able to produce those results right away.

  1. Increase the value of the site. Increasing the value of a website will help drive more traffic.  The more traffic you get, the more ads you can serve.  This will help you reach more advertisers, and charge more for each ad.
  2. Increase the quality of your ads. Increasing the value of your ads means analyzing what it is that your users are looking for while they are on your site.  If it is a free service, most likely there is information that your users are looking for.  Nailing down the right ads to fit with the user experience can increase your click through and conversion rate a great deal.

For a quick example, take a look at two very similar websites, Seamless Web and Menu Pages.  Both sites are designed as online directories of restaurants in New York City.  Both serve the same purpose: I want to order food but I don’t know where or what.  On both, I can narrow down my search by location, value, type of food, etc.

The major difference is quite simple, Seamless Web allows you to order directly off of the website, while Menu Pages does not.  What does this mean?  Seamless Web has created an enormous amount of value to their site by making it more useful to its users.  And while Menu Pages is a great service, and possibly more popular, they fail to meet all the needs of their users.  For that reason, Seamless Web is set up to get more traffic, and more traffic can lead to greater ad sales.

One final example is Plenty-of-Fish, a free online dating site.  Plenty-of-Fish creator Markus Frind created the site with a simple concept, find an industry in which all competitors are charging, offer the same thing for free, and sell ads.  The idea has flourished.  By adding value to the site (making it free), he has made it one of the most popular online dating services in the world.  With all the traffic he gets from members and potential members, he can serve more ads than similar websites.  And if the average click through rate of an ad is constant, more ads means more $$$.

These are a couple of things to consider as you begin to create or redesign a service.  Websites that show real value to advertisers are going to get the advertising money.  And in this type of economy, it’s something that you need to do to survive.

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Big Picture, Simple Execution, Strong Vision

January 21, 2009

20070514-toyota-logoToyota may move to the number 1 automaker in the world in 2009, replacing GM.  They did this by continuing to see the big picture, work to sell globally, and produce cars that met or exceeded customer demands.  They didn’t use any crazy schemes, remarkable innovations, or cut throat marketing.

Early in its history, Google became the most popular search engine, moving past Yahoo.  They did this by creating a faster, more accurate search engine than we had seen before.  And though this takes a lot of research and innovative technology, it is basically just offering a service that people needed; one that was easier to use.

My point here is that a company does not have to execute any major, outside the box, strategy to succeed.  The most successful, long lasting companies in the world have done one thing consistently: Give customers what they need/want.  Whether it’s Google, Toyota, Apple, FedEx, IBM, or your small business.

So what does this mean for you?

Well, right now it means simplifying your vision to get through the recession.  It means concentrating on one or two things that you do well, and building on them.  Define what your customers need from you and give it to them, no questions asked.  If you do this, you’ll keep clients, it’s as simple as that.

In the future, it means establishing a set of core principles or values that you are going to stick to.  If you believe in offering the latest technology enhancements to your products, don’t cut corners or your customers will call you out on it.  If you believe in following up on your sales with superior service and maintenance, don’t hire weak support staff.  Look at the big picture, see what you need to do to succeed, and do it.  You’ll get in more trouble and take on greater risk by changing philosophies, changing industries, or changing strategies unnecessarily.

And this same idea that works in the business world can work for Barack Obama.

Dear President Obama,

Congratulations, you’ve made it.  Time to get to work.  You’re running the show and the people expect certain things from you.  So make the government work for us, and start to execute the things you’ve promised.  If you give us what you said you’d give us, we’ll love you for it.  If you carry out as we expect, the world can move forward.  Like a strong company, this country will only work with clear vision and leadership, core values and principles, and simple, straightforward execution.

Sometimes innovation comes from doing what’s right, and what is needed.

Signed,
Zach Heller, “Be Innovation”

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Where is Our News Going?

January 19, 2009

breaking-newsSeth Godin will have you believe that major media companies are on the way out. But is that really the case?

I would argue the opposite, though I add a warning that if these companies do not innovate in the way they obtain and dispense information, they’re dead. I think that, in the area of news, these major corporate networks are still best situated to develop their technology and deliver information to the public in new and relevant ways.

Why Major News Organization Can Still Win

  1. Access – these organizations have the credibility and network skills to get inside information. They can access people at the highest levels, in all parts of the world, and deliver the most up to date information from anywhere.
  2. Money – Established corporate networks have the resources needed to overhaul their technology. It’s true that they need to re-evaluate their real time and web efforts, but they have the ability to do that. Find the value that your readers are looking for and give it to them, no questions asked.
  3. Loyalty – People are less loyal these days to brands or companies because “shopping around” has become much easier. However, when it comes to news and other important information, there is a credibility factor that is difficult to get around. People are not as comfortable getting news from lesser known blogs or other online sources.

What They Need to Do

  1. Personalization – The web and other mobile technologies have allowed people to customize the information they get, and how they see it. Make it easy for readers to sign up for alerts in certain areas, and give them the information how they ask for it.
  2. Email – Utilize email systems to let people get the news they want when they want it. All the stories you run should be available in email format, and people should not have to ask for them more than once.
  3. Social MediaTwitter and other social networks have become valuable resources for providing and passing along important news as it breaks. There is no reason that a news service cannot tap into that “real time” power and use it. Learn how to capitalize on these systems and incorporate them into your strategy.
  4. Blogs, blog readers, and bookmarking – Stories need to be passed from person to person to spread. Newsworthy is a term that now applies to something that deserves to be relayed on to friends. Incorporate blogging and social bookmarking tools to your website to give people the option to spread the best stories. This builds brand awareness and keeps you relevant.
  5. Feedback – Reach out for and pay attention to your readers’ opinions. This can be on a story by story basis or feedback on your services in general. Listen to people because if there is anything that the social web has taught us, it’s that we all have something to say.

The major thing that these corporate news services and media companies have to acknowledge is that the old way of doing things no longer works. Evaluate where your information is coming from and how it is getting out. Learn that people want access to the information they are interested in, no fluff, and they want it free. Give that to them and then rebuild accordingly. It’s time to fight for your readers our die.

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Hire a Social Media Manager and Start Talking

January 15, 2009

social-mediaWhy would a company need to hire someone whose job it is to manage social media?  To me, the answer to that question is obvious.  And if you know anything about the social web, you probably agree.  The problem is that the majority of companies out there don’t know as much as we do, because they are either out of touch or just don’t care.

The emerging world of social media offers networks like Twitter, Facebook, and MySpace.  It offers an endless array of blogs and other sources for news and opinions.  It offers the sharing of information, videos, pictures, thoughts, and ideas.  This is where people are talking.  This is where people are learning about new things.  And this is where you need to be.

But you can’t do it by yourself.  There are too many areas that you need to be aware of and on top of at all times.  And there are too many resources out there to help you to ignore.

Step 1: Evaluate the Social Media landscape and find out where you fit in. As Marc Meyer (twitter.com/Marc_Meyer) says, not every company or customer may be a fit.  In addition, not every company needs to be involved in every aspect of social media.  But there are areas you can capitalize on, whether you use it for customer service, contests and promotions, ideas, or brand building.  The key is to understand it.

Step 2: Define your customer from a social media perspective. Are your existing customers using social media, and in what way?  Are there potential customers on the social web that present an opportunity?  The better you understand your customers’ habits on the web, the more you will understand how to reach them.

Step 3: Spend the money. The reason I say to hire someone whose primary job it is to manage your social media efforts is twofold.  One, you want to give them control to communicate, interact, and adapt on their own.  Two, for brand building, one clear message across social media channels is important.  As “SMcuter” (twitter.com/SMcuter) would say, too many cooks in the kitchen leads to inconsistency and poorly laid out plans.

Seth Godin reminds us that if no one is talking about you, you’re boring.  But the truth is, you can start the conversation.  And you can take part in the conversation.  This is as true for large corporations like Microsoft and IBM as it is for local businesses like clothing stores and restaurants.

Hire someone who understands the web, someone with vision and creativity.  It takes a combination of different backgrounds, such as technology and marketing.  It’s a new job role, and one that many people will be looking to fill.  Give them freedom, give them a voice, and put them to work.  In the end, this will be an inexpensive way to create a buzz, to build your brand, and to seek out new customers.

Do you agree?

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Become Your Own Customer to Create Your Edge – Part 2

January 13, 2009

565617-90600ca2-4795-4c27-91d4-9931469f070bLast Friday I laid out the basic framework for finding your competitive advantage by viewing your industry from the customer’s point of view.  To see that post, click here.

This time around, let’s go over a few ways that you can use your competitive advantage to successfully market your company.  Assuming that you took some time to find the area(s) that your company goes above and beyond the competition, you’ll now want to use that information in your marketing materials.  Highlight the big differences that you will use to build your success.

1. Equip your sales and customer support teams with the information they need.  These are the people that interact with your customers at the most personal level, usually answering many questions and offering endless assistance.  Make sure they know how to describe the advantages of choosing your company over another.

2. Don’t be afraid to reference your competition in marketing materials. Making false claims is illegal, but explaining the advantages and disadvantages of companies within an industry is not.  Dominoes is doing this in their ads against Subway right now.  If your service is more convenient, say it.  If your products are cheaper, say it.  Direct comparisons will help attract attention.

3. Build your competitive advantage into product names and descriptions.  Using your website, flyers, brochures, or ads as a way of communicating, come up with many ways to answer your customers questions about your products.  Direct, convincing statements like “The One Stop Shop for All Your Travel Needs” let a customer know exactly where you stand.

In addition to marketing the advantages, you should always try to build on them.  Take your strengths, the things that you are good at, and improve them.  Take your competitive edge to the next level and blow away the competition.

If you are the fastest at something, how can you make it even faster?  It might be as simple as streamlining the sales process and cutting out a step or two.  If you pride yourself on being the most user friendly, what can you add to make it even more so?  Try adding some information to your site, cutting our unnecessary options, or giving the user more control over what they get.

This is when some simple brainstorming sessions with you and your employees can really pay off.  Don’t discount any ideas, there is always a way to make things better.  We want to hear what you have to say. What are some of the ways that you market and improve on your competitive advantage?  Leave your comments below.

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