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Sunday
Mar302014

Do We Dare Say that Journalism Has Hit the Bottom?

Last week the Pew Center released its State of the News Media report for 2014.  While the report reinforces the headwinds faced by traditional media outlets (ad revenues down 52% from 2003), it also illuminates growth in digital only news outlets that now number over 500 and employ about 5,000 full time professionals. Could it be time for the journalists to stop blaming technologists for depriving them of the means to pay for the essential service they provide?

Jeff Jarvis anointed Johannes Gutenberg as the original technologist in his 2012 book Gutenberg the Geek.  Whether or not Gutenberg needed Jarvis’ endorsement, journalism and technology have certainly been dance partners for hundreds of years.  Gutenberg’s movable type printing press brought about revolutions in business, religion, and politics and gave story tellers the ability to reach a larger audience than ever thought possible at open mic night in 1439 Strasbourg.

The advertising industry traces its roots to the very same 15th century when the practice of paying artists including Michelangelo to produce art that contained certain messages.  Many of these new visual advertisements were religious in nature. Soon politicians and business people were the fast followers of this new technology; commissioning works that were clearly promotional.  In early renaissance Italy, everybody who was anybody had a portrait with a 3D background showing off the Filippo Brunelleschi’s new technology of perspective drawing.

About a hundred years later the Gutenbergers and the Brunelleschis joined their ability to print things cheaply and their desire to encourage readers to buy things and gave birth in 1525 to advertisements as we know them today.  In fact the New York Times Book Review was not an original idea, because those early ads were mostly for books and were found in the precursor to newspapers, the broadsheet.

All of this is to make the simple case that technology is just doing what it does.  Yes, Craigslist, Yahoo!, Google, Facebook, Twitter and the rest of the techies have stolen away the revenue the newsrooms needed to survive.  However, their geek ancestors created the technology that enabled advertising and newspapers some 500 years ago for the same reason the newsroom is in the emergency room today.  The geeks are still just doing what they do.

Technology people don’t under-appreciate Ed Murrow.  23 generations after Gutenberg, they are still in the business of delivering as much information as possible to as many people as possible as cheaply as possible.  The argument that we are replacing the system that brought us back from the brink of McCarthyism with a system that serves up the best grumpy cat videos has been used to cling tightly to the way that it was for long enough.  We have now seen how new media actors like Julian Assange, Ed Snowden, and Glenn Greenwald, have worked with the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Der Spiegel to revive the fourth estate.

Certainly, there is much work to be done.  A flood of technology energy is being applied to this industry, and not just the high profile purchase of the Washington Post by Jeff Bezos, or the founding of First Look Media by Pierre Omidyar.  New media organizations are everywhere, both succeeding and failing fast in their pursuit of good journalism.  We know that 5,000 jobs created in the new digital world do not fill the hole created by the tens of thousands of jobs lost in traditional newsrooms, but it does seem possible that the bottom has been reached and working together journalism and technology are building something we should be watching.

 

Wednesday
Oct312012

What if Advertising Doesn't Work… At All?

Forget not knowing which half does not work.  Click through rates are at 0.02 – it is not that hard to imagine 0.00.  OK, maybe a Bud advert gets a guy off of the couch and headed to the frig to have another beer.  But outside of that could there be anyone left that believes anything they see in advertising?

When AT&T says they have the best cell coverage, or BP says they really care about the environment, we know that in fact the opposite is true.  Following this line of thinking I suppose the scale of advertising effectiveness could go below 0.  There are a few attack ads I have seen this campaign season that have inspired me to fight harder for the guy being attacked.  I would put that in the negative effectiveness category.

Advertising worldwide is a $400B industry.  If everyone comes to believe that advertising just does not work, it could free up that money to do other things – like lower the cost of products, or pay for R&D.  Alternatively, it could be a means to accelerate creative destruction.  Essentially a tax on companies that make bad products or that have weak values.  They spend their last available dollars on big branding efforts and then go out of business.

It is interesting to note that Google, a company that makes its money selling advertising, does very little advertising of its own products and services.   We could say that with over 65% market share – they don’t have to advertise.  If we see a big campaign out of Google, it may be a sign the end is near!

What will a world without advertising look like?

Sunday
Oct282012

The Microsoft Effect

The Hawthorne Effect famously demonstrated the changes to worker productivity resulting from changes in work environment.  Like many studies the key learning turned out to be somewhat different than anticipated.  Initially intended to figure out if lighting levels or other environmental factors impacted productivity the result turned out to be that workers did better when working together to improve the conditions.  The improvements were not dependent on the changes but on the process of working together to make the changes.

I have to wonder if the same thing is happening in the Microsoft/Google/Apple race for the hearts and minds of the workers.  Each is courting the users with new and improved ways to be productive.   Microsoft has of course dominated the worker productivity area with the Office suite and the addition over the years of Outlook, Access, Visio, and OneNote. Google helps workers find stuff and has innovated around the edges with priority inbox in gmail and better spam filtering and Google docs and drive. Apple has turned the world mobile, brought about the app revolution, and companies now shower iPhones and iPads on their employees like they used to do with sales trips to Hawaii.

I am 24 hours into using my new Windows RT Surface and all I can think about is how much work I could do on the thing.  It has been 90 years since Elton Mayo did his study in Hawthore, IL, maybe it is time for a new study.  We could call the key learnings the Microsoft Effect.

Friday
Oct262012

Technology That Changes The Game 

It was a relatively short time ago that computers were produced in the dozens, cost millions of dollars, and were run by the phone company, the government, and a few very big businesses.  The most technological thing that a small business had was a cash register.

In an office environment like a law firm or an accounting firm, there were typists, and a copy machine, and the only cloud application was the connection to AT&Ts big computer (the phone).  In some cases professionals had specialized tools -- I for example had my HP12C programmable calculator.  I never programmed it to do anything though.  Amazingly, HP still sells that very calculator - 30 years later.

Then came the PC and voicemail and email and mobile phones and well, we all became computer operators plus whatever our jobs had been before that.  Now we spend so much time staring at the screen that we feel like computer operators all of the time -- so it is no wonder that we sometimes forget that we have actual jobs to do.  Facebook even relieves us from having to pull away from the computer to waste time at the water cooler.  

We have become much more productive despite the time we have to spend getting our machines to work for us.  Since the introduction of the PC, GDP per capita in the US has grown from $27,000 to $47,000 per year.  And that is the average for the entire country.

Keep in mind that workers that use PCs have done much better than the rest of the population, so the productivity has more than doubled for PC users. Advances in technology drive our economy and our ever improving quality of life.  This is an easy argument to make when you consider that penecilin was an advancement in technology.  A bit harder in the context of nuclear weapons. 

These advances in technology have provided for us so much extra time and money that we don't know what to do with it all.  Most of us have more than one computer plus a phone with computer like computing power plus maybe a tablet too.  

There are two types of advances in technology: incremental things and game changers. New computing capacity that reduces the time to run a report from a giant database is incremental.  New sensors that report every person's location, everything they purchase, and many of the things that they think and say into a giant database is a game changer.

The incremental things we get from technology are gains in efficiency that make one business more productive than another.  Game changers are new capabilities that just could not be done before and that completely change the business environment.

As the cost of compute cycles comes down the incremental functions will blend into the background and deliver less and less profit to their makers -- so look out HP and Dell.  Game changers will become the whole game and command more and more of the profits.  And as always the pace of change will be accelerating.  Very few companies have the will to change their own game.  Apple did it with the iPhone and now generates half of their revenues from a product they introduced only 5 years ago.  Google did it to the advertising industry -- but it remains to be seen if they can do it to themselves.  Microsoft is in the process of trying to change their game with Windows 8.  Will they be able to do it?  

 

 

Thursday
Oct252012

Advertisers Trade Digital Dimes for Mobile Pennies

Tomorrow is the big Windows 8 / Surface Launch, so I will continue on with the Microsoft vs. Google vs. Apple thinking from yesterday.  

Henry Ford is credited with the famous line:  "I know that fifty percent of my advertising is wasted, I just don't know which half."  I wrote a post about this a few years back and also dug into the idea that Google is trading analog dollars for digital dimes.  Which turns out to be easier for Google, the company that gets the dimes, than for other advertising providers that are losing the dollars.  The advertising dime migration is fueling a whole bunch of creative destruction in the advertising business.

It is going to get much worse.  Every day advertising gets more measurable and it might just turn out that the non productive half of the advertising business is in fact bigger than half.  In an anemic growth environment, or worse yet another recession, companies might just find a better use for a big part of the $600B presently spent on advertising.

If so, what happens to all of the technology companies that have placed their bets on making advertisers their customers?  What if the digital dimes get traded for mobile advert pennies?  Google was perfectly happy getting new revenue away from the newspapers -- so they did not care that their prices were a tenth of the market.  But if Google has to trade its own dimes of revenue for pennies -- it is going to hurt.

All the while Microsoft soldiers on making businesses productive.

Wednesday
Oct242012

Business Runs on Microsoft Software.  Period.

It is insteresting and instructive to take a step back from the big ecosystem builders and think about who their customers are and what they are selling.  Just so we all start from the same point on the map, I am going to clarify that customers are the people that pay and they pay for whatever a vendor is selling.

Microsoft

This is a big week for Microsoft with the long anticipated Windows 8 launch.  Even though I am very much looking forward to getting my MS Surface (hardware) this week, Microsoft is still the maker of software and its customers paid $16 B in the most recent quarter and generated $5.3B in profits including for operating system software ($3.2B revenue /$1.6B profit), servers and dev tools ($4.5B/$1.7B), and productivity and business software ($5.5B/$3.6B).  This is highly profitable business with one half of all revenue returned in profits.  You will notice that a bit over $2B is missing from this revenue analysis - because that is the amount MS generates from XBox -- without generating any profit.  Ouch!

Simply, customers pay Microsoft for the software they need to be productive.  Anyone who has tried to be productive on an iPad knows what I am talking about.  Producers need Microsoft's products to produce.

Apple

Apple quite famously makes more revenue and profit on the iPhone than all of Microsoft combined.  In its most recent quarter it generated $16.2 B of a total of $35B from the iPhone at 43% margins.  Any company that can grow from zero in 2007 when the iPhone was introduced to over $60B in annual revenue from a single new product line - deserves to be the worlds most valuable company.  Even more impressive is the $9.2B in iPad revenue last quarter from a product just 30 months in the market.  However, as Apple is demonstrating with the change of the standard cable plug on the latest version of the iPhone - it is selling devices that are driven by their popularity, not by business acceptance.

So, customers pay Apple for fashionable gadgets and Apple cranks out fashionable gadgets like no one else.

Google

Google has revenues about the same size as Microsoft's.  The most recent quarter concluded with $14.1B in revenue and $7.45B in profits. 75% of Google's revenue comes from advertising.  Advertising was 97% before the acquisition of Motorola -- and Motorola now makes up 19% of Google's revenue.  Google makes all kinds of software (gmail, Google docs...) but most users get those services for free -- and the customers are the companies that pay to place their advertisements where those users can see them.

So customers pay Google for advertising.  Google dominates the search market with 65% of all internet search traffic.

When analyzed from the perspective of the paying customer it is almost hard to believe that these three companies are fierce competitors.  No one buys Microsoft products to be seen with them in the first class lounge at the airport.  Almost no one pays Microsoft for advertising.  Just about everyone pays Microsoft to make their businesses run.

 

Friday
Oct192012

What is CRN Smoking?

CRN ran a story this morning about how Microsoft is like Philip Morris.  I know that expecting web sites to avoid link bait is like expecting candidates running for the oval office to tell the truth.  Even so, this one is over the top.  There are many companies with comparable growth rates to Microsoft.  Picking the one that sells an addictive product that causes cancer and that spent decades undermining efforts to understand the effects of cigarette smoke -- is poor form.

The article did make one good point though:  when channel partners pick the vendors they partner with, they are making investments.  In fact, they are making very big investments.  

CRN says that channel partners should partner with Apple, Cognizant, Google, Rackspace, and Salesforce.com instead of Microsoft because those companies are growing faster. Really?!?

Let's take this apart company by company:

Apple:  Apple is in fact starting a partner program.  Apple however does not have a single enterprise software app.  It can offer a desktop operating system, and a productivity suite, but Microsoft has hundreds of products -- and most of them solve very real enterprise computing problems.  

Cognizant:  Most people have never heard of this company.  It is in fact a $6 billion dollar company, but it is a consulting and outsourcing firm -- a competitor to most channel partners.  I bet it is a very big Microsoft partner.  So there really is no reason a solution partner would partner with this organization instead of Microsoft.

Google:  Google is kicking everyone's behind in search.  True.  But I can't think of how it would make sense as a channel partner to give up Microsoft's partner program in exchange for Google.  Google offers no side by side go to market capabilities to support partners.  Even if we were to humor CRN and think for 10 more seconds about this one - how can a partner make any money deploying Google Docs?  This is one of those cases where Google takes a dollar someone else is making and turns it into a dime of advertising for itself.  So Google can take revenue away from Microsoft, but it does not have that dollar to share with its channel partners.

Rackspace:  Rackspace is not even a software company.  

Salesforce.com:  Salesforce.com, like Oracle (where Benioff came from) has a nasty habit of eating its own young.  A few companies have made a living working with Salesforce.com, but most get run over by their scorched earth sales team.  And all of that to partner with a company that has one product.  Oh sorry, two products if you count Chatter as a seperate product.

Microsoft has made its way in the world by working side by side with its hundreds of thousands of partners worldwide.  There are some companies that are growing faster, but none that comes anywhere close to supporting a partner ecosystem like Microsoft does.

It is hard to imagine what CRN was smoking when they proposed that Microsoft was like Philip Morris!

Tuesday
Oct092012

Licking the Cookie

Fortune Magazine and an unfortunate number of other publications have reported on phenomenon called "Licking the Cookie" at Microsoft.  You know, practice of claiming ownership of a project and therefore preventing anyone else from actually working on it.  Just like when you were a kid and your younger sister licked the last cookie on the plate to keep you from eating it.

The image is hard to get out of my head and now I see the same phenomenon everywhere.  What is it that compels people to get in the way of a problem, just so that one day, if they ever get around to it, they could take a swing at solving it?  Owning unsolved perpetual problems does not seem like the most logical way to advance or otherwise gain job security.

This dynamic does enter the logical universe when the cookie licker also owns whatever would be replaced when the problem is solved.  The guy in charge of a multi-year CRM implementation would most certainly throw sand in the gears of any conversation with Salesforce.com.  Better yet, he could lick the Salesforce.com cookie and make sure its evaluation never ever sees the light of day.

Entrenched interests are doing this everywhere.  Most visible to me is the movie industry trying to prevent a free and open internet and drafting behind them are the television and cable people.  Every once in a while a bright light shines out from one of the big auto makers, but for the most part they are sitting heavily on alternative fuel vehicles.

We are very lucky here in the US because we have a vibrant start up ecosystem that will gladly run around the ends of the big fat cookie lickers.  Not so much in other economies.  So thank you Google for turning the newspaper industry up side down and go Tesla!

 

Thursday
Sep272012

Amazon Could Crush Apple in Maps, and Maybe Google Too

The biz is all cranked up over the Apple vs Google Maps thing that came from the latest release of Apple's mobile operating system, IOS 6.  See this article in the NY Times.

In the background however, Amazon has been building its own maps capability.  In July of this year Amazon bought mapping company UpNext and I think Amazon could come from behind to leapfrog Apple and maybe even catch up to Google.

Impossible?  After all, the reason that Apple has rushed its mapping solution to market before it is ready is because Apple needs user data to improve the service.  

Amazon just happens to have a close relationship, a codependent relationship some would say, with delivery companyies like UPS and FedEx.  UPS has 250,000 drivers!  It would not surprise me if there are 500,000 drivers worldwide driving all day, every day, delivering stuff -- much of which is from Amazon.  This year Google announced it has driven 5 million miles collecting mapping data.    If Amazon got its 500,000 drivers to collect map data -- that would be only 10 miles for each driver.  It would take more time to install the collection equipment than it would to surpass all of Google's collections efforts so far.  Call it a week to install the stuff and by the end of the first day, Amazon would have 10x the data that Google has collected.  

Not only that, but professional drivers in every market in the whole world could return much higher quality data than users could.

Could be cool.

Thursday
Jul192012

Meaningful Marketing: 3 Must Haves

To some people the words "meaningful" and "marketing" just should not be found together.  I prefer to think of this as an opportunity instead of an oxymoron.  Rarely does a day go by without hearing someone discard ideas, thoughts, or proposals as worthless with a dismissive comment like "oh, that's just marketing".

Despite this flood of popular sentiment against the value of marketing, it is possible for marketing departments to do something meaningful.  Take Google Fiber for example.  Later this month, Google will go live with its fiber network in Kansas City.  This initiative to bring super high speed internet connections to an entire community will have some engineering value, but really it is brilliant marketing.  Meaningful Marketing in fact.

Here is where I set the bar on achieving meaning in marketing:

New Revenue:  No way around it, Marketing must create new revenue.  This is the same measure everyone else uses, so I thought I would put it first.  Don't roll your eyes yet, the next two do propose less traditional measures of meaning.  And after this item I am not going to include "building the brand", "supporting the key messaging" or any other marketing mumbo jumbo.  In the case of Google Fiber, the 25% of the population in the Kansas City community that do not now use the Internet -- will clearly be a new revenue opportunity for Google.

Bi-Directional:  Just like the Cluetrain Manifesto said over a decade ago.  Marketing should be a conversation.  A full page advertisement is a megaphone blasting away at customers - not bi-directional at all.  The Google Fiber idea is bi-directional because Google will see what the customers decide to do with their connection.  Even if they do nothing, that in itself is a communication to Google.  Some people will say that a company like Google is not good at meaningful marketing because they have no phone number on their web site and no call center to call.  I disagree.  Google watches every communication customers send -- as they use Google's search engine -- and make daily improvements to the algorithm in response.

Intrinsic Value:  Finally, and very few people do this today, marketing should have some intrinsic value of its own - and that is value to the customer.  Marketers often think that even if their campaign does not drive revenue, it does support the brand, or generates goodwill.  This is not of value to the customer.  Google Fiber does have intrinsic value because a free fiber connection to the internet does benefit those that are connected.   

I am on the hunt for other examples of Meaningful Marketing initiatives.  Feel free to send them my way.