Where We’ve Been, Where We’re Going

March 30, 2009

I decided to close this month with a recap of some of the most popular posts thus far in 2009. It has been a solid three months on Be Innovation, as we have seen traffic continue to rise on a weekly basis.  Daily visitors are up 400% from what they were in December, and I have tripled the number of subscribers I had at that point.

I appreciate all of my readers, and especially thank those of you who have joined in the conversation, either through guest posts, emails, or comments.  I hope you continue to do so as we work to provide new and fresh content all the time.

For those who may have missed out on some of the most popular and discussed posts of this year, here is a short recap:

  1. Lend a Finger – This was a very meaningful post to me marking my father’s birthday one year after he passed away.  I discussed the need for charity and the fact that in today’s world, it does not take much to give back and help others.  The response I got (ie. retweets, emails, donations, linkbacks) was incredible.
  2. 13 Ways to Make Google Adwords Work for You – Many companies are taking advantage of Google’s advertising program to make money online.  However, the majority of advertisers are wasting money because they don’t pay attention to some simple steps you can take to increase your Adwords ROI.  Follow these 13 strategies and I guarantee better results.
  3. Hire a Social Media Manager and Start Talking – This post related to news that many companies had started using social media to interact with customers.  Though this is a good thing, and a trend that should continue to grow, there are ways that you can approach the social web to make the whole experience more worth your while.
  4. Steve Jobs to Take Over at GM – TechCrunch ran an article with an open letter to President Obama, explaining that if the auto industry is to regroup and revitalize itself, they should look to innovative leaders like Steve Jobs.  I posted a follow up with thoughts and explaination, backing the controversial article.
  5. Where is our News Going? – This post was interesting, because when I wrote it I was not sure what kind of response it would get.  It is a commentary about the lack of power that major news organizations have nowadays, and some possible suggestions that many people have offered and questioned that could help out those news organizations looking to move forward.

Moving forward, I hope to continue at the pace we have built up over the first three months of the year.  I will continue to post 3-4 new articles each week, and welcome all guest posts.  Just email me your ideas and we can get started.  Thanks again to all my readers and subscribers.

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Getting Attention vs. Getting Respect

March 25, 2009

respectMake an impression.  That is the goal.  Whether you are an entrepreneur, a small business owner, a company, or just a person at an event or party.  But how?

Be different. I have referenced Seth Godin a number of times when I talk about the need to stand out and be different.  But it is very true, and he says it the best (and most often).  No one will ever notice you if you are the same as everyone else.

But here is the catch, there is a difference between getting respect and just getting attention.

Getting attention can help you get in the door. It can make potential clients and customers aware of your existence.  It can start a conversation.  But it doesn’t necessarily lead to success.

The guy who trips over the carpet in the middle of a crowded party might get my attention.  The company that offers a free car to the winner of a contest might get my attention.  But neither of those means anything in the long run.

Getting respect, in a business sense, means having a brand that makes people take notice. In a personal sense, it means that people genuinely understand you, and appreciate your point of view.

Getting respect leads to success.  It means, not only did you get their attention, but you did it in a creative and fashionable way, and you were able to keep their attention after the initial wave of awareness died down.

Getting respect means long term clients, it means brand loyalty, it means word of mouth marketing and referrals, and it means a corporate culture that stands for something.

Next time you have something to say, or you’re in a position to start a conversation, go for respect.  Start with something unique, something creative, and something that stands out.  But be sure to follow up with something real, something of substance, something powerful and meaningful.  The business, or person, that does this, will pave the way for lasting success.

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Dear Facebook: Don’t Listen to Us(ers)

March 23, 2009

markzA big deal is currently being made about the recent redesign of Facebook.  You can read about it anywhere, see it in a new Facebook poll, or check it out for yourself.  It’s the same old story from the same people about the same problems, blah, blah, blah.

In the most recent round of design changes, Facebook changed the Homepage, made company pages more like profile pages, and made some minor font and layout changes on the profiles.  All of these changes were announced ahead of time, and users were updated as the changes came closer.  And then it happened, the changes took effect, and people got angry.

This is nothing new in Mark Zuckerberg’s world. In fact, nearly every time Facebook has changed something about the website they have encountered a backlash from their own community.  And when you serve as many people as the most popular social network does, you would almost expect it.

The crazy thing is, the backlash is usually followed by an explanation from Zuckerberg himself, but no real change (or a very small one), never going back to the way things were before the change.  And what happens to the people who hated the changes?  They just accept things the way they are.  Why? Basically because they are already so hooked as a Facebook user that they will shut their mouths and continue to use the network anyway.

I have a feeling Mark Zuckerberg knows this, and he uses it to his advantage.  Whereas other companies who may shake things up when this many users complain about a new program or design, Facebook seems to be sitting back and waiting for the latest round of craziness to pass.  And I think that is exactly what they should be doing.

Remember when Facebook changed their homepage the first time, adding the news feed that everyone is talking about.  For the first time as users, we were privy to a constant stream of updates from all of our friends.  Remember the backlash that created among the community.  What happened?  People threatened to leave Facebook forever, Mark Zuckerberg issued an apology for springing this on us without telling us before hand, updated a few privacy features, and left the news feed exactly as it was.  Those who fought back against it eventually stopped talking, accepted the change, and moved on.

This is will no doubt happen again with this design change.

In addition, this round of changes increases the value that Facebook has to corporate members and paid sponsors.  By updating these pages and feeding them into the profile-like stream, they allow companies to connect with more people on the network, increasing the chances of Facebook finding new and successful business models.

So when I say that Zuckerberg, and the rest of the team at Facebook, should not listen to the naysayers on this one, I mean it.  Just keep doing what you are doing, focus on improving the service and finding a monetization strategy (one that works), and let us complain all day.

I know this might sound odd coming from someone who discusses the need for companies to listen to their customers to drive forward moving and successful change.  And I also know that many people will disagree with this.  But the point is, Facebook is in a different league.  They are not defined by what their users think because their users have already shown how fickle they are.  No one is going to leave the network because of these design changes, Facebook will not lose any money, and truthfully, the service is not worse.  Sorry guys, Facebook wins.

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Madness? A New Spin on Sports Betting

March 20, 2009

centsportsA longstanding controversy, the art of sports betting has been around as long as people have been playing sports.  And as the internet made gambling from anywhere in the world at any time an effortless, habit forming task, the controversy spread.  What is legal?

The sheer legality of gambling makes it appealing.  As I have said in the past, even negative publicity gets people’s attention.  And if you get their attention, you’re winning the battle.

Now, imagine you can take the concept of sports betting, and make it legal in some way.  Then, say you manage to do that and offer it online, where anyone with a computer and internet access can get to it, anytime.  Sounds like a pretty innovative way to start a business.

Well there are two websites of mention that are doing this, and seem to be doing it well.

First, there’s ESPN.com.  Their website has undergone a massive transformation over the past couple of months, with a clear focus on driving advertising dollars and boosting web traffic.  One very interesting way they have done this is by creating a “Streak for the Cash” contest.

Basically, Streak for the Cash offers up various sporting events that users can “bet” on by selecting the winners.  The first person to collect 25 wins in a row, wins $1 Million.  And it’s free to play.  What this does is brings people to the site over and over again throughout the course of the day/week/month that this contest is active.  The more hits they get, the more ads they can serve, the more money they’ll bring in.

Second, there’s a site most people are not as familiar with, CentSports.com.  I was introduced to CentSports through a friend who had gotten involved and was enjoying the experience.  Immediately I was intrigued.

CentSports operates like a traditional sports betting site, except that you cannot gamble with your own money, making it completely legal.  You open an account, and you get $0.10.  That 10 cents is yours to bet with on whatever you want.  You can build up a large bankroll over time, and whenever you go broke, they’ll put 10 cents back into your account.

Here’s the catch, even though the money you are using is completely free, you can cash out for real money once you get to a certain value.  They have tricky cash out rules, and you have to play for awhile to build up enough money to cash out, but its all very real.

How do they do this? Ads.  Companies have been quick to buy ads on the site, which get displayed with the user’s permission, and often.  The money from these ads supports the weekly payouts to “betters”, and keep the site going.  As the site gets more popular, the ads will definitely continue to get more valuable.

Both of these are examples of websites that are looking to capitalize on the popularity of gambling in a new way.  Make it free (which also means legal) and support yourself with ads.  We’ve seen this model work in many industries, and it looks to be a winning formula here as well.

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What “Minority Report” Taught the Advertising Industry

March 18, 2009

minority-reportMovies can teach us a thing or two about ourselves, our world, our past, and our dreams.  And sometimes, a movie can even teach us a thing or two about our future.

Truthfully, most movies that portray the future try to show the unimaginable, and make us think that its a possibility.  Sometimes they will get it right, other times they will get it wrong, but most times the creator just wants it to look like “the future”.

In the movie, Minority Report, with Tom Cruise, we saw the future of advertising; a future that is approaching very quickly.  Throughout the movie we see that all citizens of this futuristic world are tracked and followed by eye scanners.  In essence, we know where everyone is at all times as long as they have eyes.  Using this technology, ads are served to each person individually as they walk by a “billboard” like computer screen (which are everywhere).

Essentially, the advertisement know not only who is looking at an ad, but who is close enough and could see it if attracted in that direction.  It can use this information to “call out” your name and change or customize the ad to you.  Sounds like a winner to me.

Back to reality. There are a few trends in advertising that suggest we may be headed in the “Minority Report” direction.

First, late last week Google announced their new interest based advertising model for their Adsense programs.  The gist of this new idea is to monitor a person’s online behavior to discover the types of things they are interested in, then serve them ads for those things when visiting a site that uses Adsense.  In addition, anyone with a Google account can customize their interests in order to filter the ads that they will inevitably see.  This is where online advertising was always headed.

But what about “offline” or “traditional” advertising.  Well that is the second thing.  A company by the name of Tru-Media Solutions is just one of a few technology companies that have started putting small cameras in billboard advertisements.  These cameras are used to “monitor” and “recognize” who is looking at the ad.  This technology, combined with billboard screens that can change from one ad to another, could be used exactly the same way that we see the ads in the movie.

The technology in the cameras is still a long way from perfect, but it can monitor things like gender, height, and weight already.  Soon, we will see these cameras with even more capabilities, and ads that are ever more customizable.

This is the future of advertising, an industry that needs to become personalized to become sustainable. There are no more mass markets, where a basic commercial can make you profitable, or where a market analyst can tell you which three magazines to advertise in to reach your “target”.  Now, a successful advertiser needs to reach the potential customer on a personal level to get their attention.  And these are just a few ways that technology is crossing over into the advertising sector and leading us to the future that Minority Report so brilliantly laid out for us.

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hank you.

Obama Looking to Small Businesses for Growth

March 16, 2009

obamaIt was not obvious to everyone during the campaign, but it always appeared that Barack Obama understood the role of small businesses have in the US economy.  An entrepreneurial culture, where small businesses can innovate and drive change is important to any economy, especially a struggling one.  And Barack Obama stressed that more than any of the other candidates.  And now, that message is moving to the front of the economic battle.

Today, President Barack Obama will announce a plan to help struggling small business owners.  This article, from CNN, discusses the two programs that his plan will address right away.

The first, called “the 7a Program“, allows for the Small Business Administration to back up to $2 million in loans to small businesses.  This frees up banks and other lending institutions to once again free up some funds and help small business owners meet the financial needs within the company.

The second, called “the 504 Program“, guarantees up to $4 million for small business development project.  Under the new plan, the fees for borrowers and lenders will be reduced or eliminated to make applying for these funds more attractive.

These are two important steps in turning things around for small businesses.  It is even more important that Barack Obama and the rest of his economic team focus on what small businesses can do to give a much needed boost to the economy.  Increasing the availability of short term funds will go a long way toward relieving many small business owners.  But to improve the nature of the economic climate, it may take more of a concentrated effort on paving the way for successful small business to grow and compete.

Often times, small businesses will find solutions to problems before the larger companies.  The problem is, the landscape is such that larger companies often have too much power and are resistant to change.  We have seen this in the auto industry, the printing/media industry, and the financial industry.  Times are changing and we need the President and his administration to see our flaws and empower those people with the answers to change things.

Small businesses are the start.

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Look to the Volcano

March 13, 2009

volcanoIf you’ve read this blog before, you know that I am constantly telling you to “Always be innovating“.  Yesterday, someone reminded me, if you are constantly changing and doing new things, life gets too hectic and the business could fall apart.  After thinking about that for awhile, I came up with this analogy to help explain what I mean a little more clearly.

Think if your innovation like a volcano.  Volcanoes are not always erupting (thank god).  They lie dormant for years between eruptions.  They are, however, without getting into too much detail about volcanic activity, tectonic plates, and geological theory, always doing something.  Deep beneath the surface, that volcano is getting ready for the next eruption.

And that is what you need to consider when it comes to innovation.  When I say, “always be innovating”, it means always be doing something.  Just like you would tell an entrepreneur to always be doing something that helps you move toward starting a company, you should always be doing something that will eventually lead to your next innovative breakthrough.

Things like brainstorming sessions, a call for ideas from all your employees, hiring a chief of innovation, talking to your customers, and doing various market research are all forms of innovation because they can all lead to innovation.  So I don’t mean that you should always be changing something in a major way.  I mean that there are little things that you can always do to encourage an innovative culture, open yourself up to change, and increase the chance of great innovative opportunities down the road.

And when that volcano erupts, you will have laid the groundwork for the entire company to take a huge step forward. Carry the momentum of innovation with you at all times and breakthroughs will await.

That is the definition of the phrase “Always Be Innovating”.

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