Business Technology what if

facebook, twitter and corners.

Back in the day, around age 10, I went door-to-door selling greeting cards, candy, and other random things from a catalog. We’re talking big money here: I probably made $2 for every item sold. Things were going well until the day I got the newest catalog in the mail and then canvassed my neighborhood.

A curious thing happened at the first few houses. At first I thought it might just be an anomaly. It wasn’t. Someone was moving in my territory. People were telling me that “my partner” had already stopped by and/or they had already place an order. From previous years I knew that there were other people selling the same stuff in my development. We seemed to have naturally settled into defacto boundaries to make life easier on all of us. That is, until now.

So what happened? When the next catalog came out, I rushed out to sell way into his territory. With my beloved mother backing me, I had my competitive advantage of no money down (she fronted the cash allowing me to not ask for money up front, reassuring prospective customers that I was not a 10-year old scam artist) allowing me to hustle some new volume. Within a few cycles, detente was reached. This was sort of the G-rated version of people getting popped over corners on The Wire. OK, maybe not.

What the hell am I talking about? Facebook and Twitter, of course. This post is mostly for my friends in the Valley. In the normal world, no one really cares about battles between websites. Here we live for this stuff. But I digress… As many of you have no doubt already experienced, Facebook launched a completely new home page among other things.

Two things spell out the declaration of war:

The adoption of the Twitter stream look:
Naturally, the public (especially social media “experts” and the media) have caught on to the fact that Facebook has jacked Twitter’s flow and incorporated it. There’s not much to say here, as the visual similarities are so clear.

Making Facebook the place where celebrities want to broadcast.
I think that one of the biggest drivers of Twitter’s surge in mainstream adoption has been the influx of celebrity users. I follow Shaq. Ashton Kutcher, Demi Moore, Britney Spears, Barack Obama’s campaign, and a ton of other notables have used twitter to broadcast snippets from their “lives.” This kind of direct connection would have once only been possible through watching TV or reading a magazine. It can be powerful stuff. Facebook has, until now, only had extremely limited “Fan Pages.” But now, with these pages becoming much more like regular profiles and allowing public figures to broadcast information in a uni-directional manner similar to Twitter, Facebook has moved to head off one of Twitter’s most popular aspects. With this new page functionality, and vanity URL’s (soon to come?) it’s clear that FB means business. Facebook want to be the platform of choice for public figures, and they want them badly.

Facebook has some of the smartest talent in the Valley. It’s safe to assume that they’ve analyzed how many people are piping their tweets into their facebook statuses. With that number growing, that makes for unhappy Facebook’ers. It’s a strong sign that you’re in danger of being disintermediated. If you’re facebook, that can’t stand. Strike one.

Strike two: Twitter was becoming the service de jour of celebrities. You could practically see it. It seemed like every other day Stewart or Colbert was mentioning them or a new celebrity was signing up. Shaq has even been encouraging interaction with his fellow twitteroni’s. I can hear the conversations now. johnny: “Why would I want to sign up for Twitter?” miguel-ramon: “Because I talk to shaq, diddy, and a bunch of people we know on there.” It’s a dead-simple, pretty cool value proposition.

The Facebook crew watched Friendster get eclipsed by MySpace, and then they, themselves, did the dirty to MySpace. Seeing a near hockey stick growth curve, a lot of twitter action within their own service, and the popular media/celebrities fawning over Twitter is a recipe for higher highs, and so facebook tried to, apparently, buy twitter. No deal. So now facebook has decided to come for that corner.

Battles aren’t fought in one direction though. Can Twitter stand pat and wait for Facebook to bludgeon them with their near 200MM active user advantage? By the way, they’reΒ *adding* 5MM users a week. That means they’re adding a Twitter every week to their user base. So, standing pat probably isn’t the play. So what is? I’ll suggest going after Facebook’s corners. Facebook makes it killer easy to efficiently share information, content, photos, etc (I’ve been a die-hard facebook fanboy/addict for years). Twitter should allow you to link/import your content shared elsewhere on the web. I post photos to flickr and link it to my twitter account and my followers get a tweet. I upload a YouTube video? My followers get a tweet. I comment on a blog using my twitter identity? My followers get a tweet. I buy tickets to a concert and want to tell my friends. All of this is opt-in (so relax!) Tweet. You get the picture. If this clutters up the Twitter stream, why not add a second tab for shared content? Wow, wait a minute, that looks like Facebook! Oh, and while you’re at it, why not auto-create a classification for me of “friends” (people who follow me back) vs me and Shaq who it’s clear that I’m not friends with. Privacy matters to many, and this would allow granularity of who gets to see these updates. Wait a minute, information sharing is starting to look very similar…

Will this happen? I have no idea. But I call tell you what Avon, Stringer or Marlo would have done…OK, maybe not Stringer. I still remember back when he was trying to explain to a recently-returned-from-prison-Avon why they shouldn’t be worried about reclaiming their corners and focus on the bigger picture. But, I digress.

Oh, and if I was twitter, I so would not be stressing monetization right now. The future of communication is at stake! (sic)

Marketing what if

what if nike…

What if Nike expanded their definition of “commercials”?

I’ve long been a fan of Nike’s commercials. For fans of sport– those who love playing and watching, Nike has always tried to capture the essence of the sport we love, and of the individuals we admire. I remember the Jordan/Mars Blackman ads, the “tag” commercial, and the Courage commercial I blogged about a few months back– but the list is kind of endless.

So what if Nike changed how they thought about making commercials? What if instead of spending millions of dollars buying all of that TV inventory to broadcast these commercials, they took a chunk of that money, and hired some extra people to produce a bunch more of these beautiful 60 seconds “commercials”. Produce more by a factor of 5x. Then air them once or twice on TV (if at all), and seed them on youtube, facebook, etc. People like me would totally share them on Facebook and on our blogs. Distribution is free when people want to share your message. Nike is one of the rare companies that, by virtue of the category they compete in, and through really great marketing, have tapped into their consumer’s emotions. People associate themselves with the brand and are excited by it. If anyone should be leading the next generation of marketing, it’s a company like Nike.

Here’s the Lebron James, Candyman commercial which stirred this post. Not surprisingly, I love this commercial. Embedded below:

What is this?
This is part of a regular series I’m writing about companies (online and offline) and ideas that I would execute if I was running them. To subscribe to just these marketing/monetization type what if articles, click here. For all my random thoughts, use this link. To give me lots of money so I can give you more ideas contact me.

Marketing what if

what if pandora…

pandoraWhat if Pandora had more ways of making money?

Pandora, a site where you can basically create a radio station that is right for you, has been one of my favorite websites for the past few years. But based on everything I’ve read, more revenue streams would be a good thing for them. So here are some thoughts:

I’ll start with what Pandora does now. I think there current graphical advertising is actually pretty smart. They do custom skins around the “radio” that are for specific advertisers. What’s smart here is that they don’t take the lazy way out and just stick a banner ad or a 300 X 250 nearby. They increase recall of the ad message due to the unconventional size/design. And most importantly (and most novel) is they change the advertising skin every time you skip a song, rate something, or change stations. They know this is a natural point of user attention and leverage this to swap ads. As a brand manager, this is a compelling value proposition for my message. So hat tip to Pandora.

What if Pandora became the advertising platform for new artists?

How? Basically, an artist (the advertiser) would pay to have their songs inserted in relevant users radio station by selecting other artists that they feel they sound like/their fans also like. So I’d get 5 “regular” songs based on my tastes, and then the sixth one would be “sponsored”. It’s still music, so it’s not as jarring as an ad, but for it to be effective for the advertiser, it would also have to be a song that the listener would probably like anyway. This way Pandora’s “music DNA” becomes their secret algorithm for ad matching & new artist discovery. There are like 5 other things I have to add to this product, but short of the writing the actual spec, I’ll stop here. Pandora can contact me for the rest πŸ™‚

I’m a new band that has our first album and have picked our our singles. I know that our music sounds like & most of our fans also like Bruce Springsteen & E-Street Band and Pete Yorn. I go into Pandora, prepay for 1000 “plays” (a sort of pay-per-click) and pick Bruce & Yorn as relevant tastes. Only users who like Springsteen and Yorn would get this “sponsored” song in their stream. Everyone wins (the sign of a great monetization model): artists have very few venues to get discovered, and users will only get “sponsored” songs that they would probably like and will have a method to discover new music.

I really like this idea because it would seem in our digital world the record labels are soon to be obsolete. If you’re an artist you primarily need two things a) promotion and b) distribution. iTunes and the like have distribution taken care of. Once any garage band or corner rapper can get their music in front of the right person at a relatively low cost, and distribution is effectively free we have the trappings of a really healthy music eco-system.

What is this?
This is part of a regular series I’m writing about companies (online and offline) and ideas that I would execute if I was running them. To subscribe to just these marketing/monetization type what if articles, click here. For all my random thoughts, use this link. To give me lots of money so I can give you more ideas contact me.

Marketing what if

what if google maps…

g maps

I love Google Maps. I have no sense of direction whatsoever, and since the days of Mapquest on my AOL in the late 90’s I’ve been hooked on the category. Google Maps has always been the best for me given how uncluttered it is, the crisp AJAX display, and recently the actual street views! Oh, and for a while there I was using it with the GPS in my blackberry to guide me everywhere. Oh how I loved it.

So what if Google Maps actually got intelligent? Today, if I enter my trip, I’ll get the estimated travel time and a second number for with traffic. Google Maps should tell me how long it will take if I were to leave now. Give me the option to change the time of the trip and then estimate traffic load at that time. Or, if I’m a Google Calendar user, see if this syncs up with any of my appts and take the time from there w/an estimate. Think about how many times you’ve had to factor in traffic, etc in your head. With traffic data becoming so cheap and omnipresent, this is a no-brainer. Photos are cool– this is actionable and would help me be on time more. The question people ask when they get to Google maps are 1) How do I get there? and 2) How long will it take me to get there? This improves the second part of that question.

Full disclosure, this was one of the ideas that I suggested to Google when I interviewed with them in 07. I’ll blog about the second suggestion I had later in the week.

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Marketing what if

what if mcdonalds…

What if McDonalds rethought how they looked at marketing?

McD’s is a brand that’s fed its customers for nearly 70 years and fed 47 million people daily. Both its reach and longevity can’t be argued, and are impressive. McD’s makes food that people really like and sells it for a price that can’t be beat. But it is squandering so many opportunities. I say this as one of the biggest customers of fast food in America. Wendy’s got me through college (it’s what we had at the student center). And since then I’ve regularly indulged on McD’s and the King. And, yeah, I know it’s not healthy and that I need to eat better. Anyway.

1) Make the largest, highest-profile, busiest restaurants an experience to visit. I never understood why the McDonalds’ in the heart of NYC, where millions of tourists stop for their meals are just as dilapidated, and sometimes, dirty, as they are elsewhere in the country. Invest in these McD’s to make them the nicest anywhere in the country. When a tourist, visitor, businessman, whatever, stops to eat there they’re blown away by a delightful experience. Triple the staff that’s cleaning so the place is always spotless. Make all the tables and chairs super-comfortable. Make sure the climate is always perfect. Ensure the smell of the place is of muted tasty food. Have a number system so someone will bring your food to your table avoiding clustering around the counter. Increase the assembly staff so the food is carefully prepared and looks amazing. Sure this eats into margins. But this is the best advertising McD’s could ever get. People having a positive experience, leading to increased repeats or new trial in their hometown. Use these stores as advertisements.

2) Pay attention to the details in all your stores. McD’s can’t make all their stores walking ads, but they can pay attention to the details. I’ve heard that McD’s is remodeling all their stores to improve the decor and seating. I think that’s great. But the fundamentals have always been most important to me: A clean store, counter, and visible kitchen area. A cashier who doesn’t sneer at and/or ignore me. And, finally, a meal doesn’t look like it was thrown together by a blind man. The first two are, no doubt, constant topics of conversation at McD’s headquarters. Better procedures, systems, and pay (duh) should take care of these. A carefully made sandwich though is something that I’ve only rarely seen. And when you get to the detail of having a to bag with the sandwich tucked nicely in with the fries, napkins on the side and crisply closed with a fold, that’s pride in a product. That’s a product that people will value.

3. Your stores are everywhere, so use the exterior to announce your offers. I don’t get why McD’s wastes millions of dollars announcing their latest promotion. They have stores every five feet. Take advantage of this with a consistent outdoor spot where you announce the latest promotion. Entice me as I’m passing by. There’s so much more you can do with less.

Moving out to the Bay and from packaged goods to technology wasn’t hard. Why? Because it’s always been my belief that if the product is wrong, all the marketing in the world can’t save you. Making these changes to the product is the *best* marketing McDonald’s can do. When McD’s (and, honestly, every other fast food chain) starts valuing their food and taking pride in the details, I’m pretty sure they’ll begin to build brand loyalty. Maybe then they can spend all that money on commercials.

This is the first in an a series that I’ll be writing about companies (online and offline) and ideas that I would execute if I was running them. Like everyone else, I dream of the day when I can have companies actually pay me for ideas (ha!). Maybe after a 1000 of these, one of the companies will actually approach me πŸ™‚ Here’s the RSS link to subscribe to just articles about marketing. I know there are people who would just want to subscribe to these “marketing” thoughts and not my politics and random other thoughts. (thanks, Ben, for the link!)