Archive for December, 2003

Humpty Dumpty is falling

Wednesday, December 31st, 2003

Reported right before Christmas (see entry “Communicate to Compete”) that the German government was opting for Linux over Microsoft products. Today the Associated Press reports that the Israeli government has halted all future purchases of Microsoft products.

For a company that has done so much right–you don’t take over the desktop computing business without having done a whole bunch of things right–this is a defining moment. Governments, according to the AP release, make up 10% of computer-related spending around the globe.

I think I also blogged recently that Microsoft fired an employee for a blog entry. Together, these things are not good signs.

The world hasn’t been sitting still while Microsoft ruled. The recent increase in attacks on faulty security in MS products is creating growing opportunities for entrepreneurs who’ve created viable alternative secure software approaches. Check this out: Smart-Data is a Cleveland-based company that builds “hacker-proof, virus-immune” software programs that run an any platform.

Meanwhile, it’s hard to believe Bill Gates won’t fight back. But he may be well advised to do an about-face and head back towards the open environment that provided his genius its original fertile ground. And that may have to include a new year’s resolution to welcome things like open-source and blogging.

Happy new year, Bill. And to all of you.

Six of one…

Tuesday, December 30th, 2003

Politics has caught onto blogging big time. Kathy Kiely writes a lengthy article in USA Today:

“Veterans of the political scene admit they’re having some trouble adjusting. “When I first got up here, I thought blogging was an Irish dance,” says Tricia Enright, a longtime Capitol Hill press secretary who earlier this year became communications director for Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean. She quickly became a blog believer. Dean, whom bloggers like to cite as Exhibit A of the impact of the medium, runs a blog, hosts other blogs, raises money on blogs and gets ideas from blogs. [as does Democratic underdog contender Dennis Kucinich]

“It is literally like an instant focus group,” Enright says, referring to a small-group polling technique candidates use to gauge voters’ reactions to their ideas. “It does change the way you do things.”

Yeah, they’re talking about politics. But change a few nouns and the truth stands for business just as easily.

Dreams: paying rent with AMEX cards

Monday, December 29th, 2003

Today’s New York Times online (subscription required) reports one large property management firm in Manhattan is letting tenants pay their monthly four- and five-figure rents with American Express–so the tenants can rack up reward points. Many are happily doing so and getting lots of free returns–like trips to exotic locales and sizable gift certificates at high-end retailers like Saks Fifth Avenue.

This is a classic case of a company truly listening to its customers–in this case, complaining about the fact that they’re not getting any ROI on their rent monies (as homeowners do with equity and tax writeoffs)–and responding creatively.

There’s a fee to the landlord, yes (2% of the transaction), but for this one it’s more than made up for by reducing processing time and bounced checks. And the tenants who use the option are thrilled with their gifts–which cost the landlord nothing more.

If you could solve one of your customers’ main complaints and delight them with significant personal gifts at the same time, how much would you pay to do it?

The point is you don’t get a chance to dream up solutions like this if you don’t keep in touch with your customers. A blog is a perfect place to address your customers’ complaints and get their feedback–so you can find creative win-win solutions.

Holiday break

Sunday, December 28th, 2003

We hope that you have been busy celebrating the delight of sharing time with friends and loved ones this holiday season. Rest is good.

Back to serious blogging tomorrow.

Search engine optimization and blogs

Friday, December 26th, 2003

Fortune Small Business magazine tells a story of how small businesses with limited marketing budgets are using multiple marketing options successfully on the web.

Allen Cohen writes that the most popular approach–in the face of rising keyword bid costs–is to combine some keyword bidding at selected search engines with optimizing your pages via keyword-rich content.

Caution: make sure you track your results with the bidding approach. You’ll save money by analyzing your results and pruning your list of keywords. One retail businessperson says: “…the most likely sales come from users who either type a specific phrase into a search engine, such as a product name or niche, or type a broad term and then wade through listings. Traffic from terms like “luggage” do not convert well, while phrases like “Hartmann luggage” do.” The way to do it: bid lower on broad terms and focus on specific, less expensive keywords for your higher spending. You can still be near No. 1, but it will cost less and you’ll get more targeted traffic. Overture has a free utility you can use to track your keyword bidding process.

So here’s an idea. Why not build a blog for each of your major specific search terms? Talk about optimizing with keyword-rich content. That, by their very nature, is exactly what blogs do–fill your pages with fresh, constantly updated relevant information that contains repeated instances of your important keyword phrases.

To those who celebrate Christmas, we hope you had a good one yesterday.

Tech / sales blogs

Wednesday, December 24th, 2003

Ziff Davis, make of highly respected technology-related publications, writes this week in its online Channel Zone article by Kendra Lee that you ought to consider your techies as part of your sales team–and teach them how to recognize sales leads during their work.

Absolutely right. I worked for a highly successful software company that did this instinctively. For the really big prospects, they’d take the tech VP and the director of programming along on later sales calls–because they knew unequivocably they’d be facing not only the prospects’ execs but also their tech team.

While most of their salespeople were quite conversant with many of the tech details of the software, because prospects often wanted customizing, there would be questions that only the programming side would know the answers to.

Let’s see. Regular communication between the sales staff and the tech side through one or more blogs (possibly topic-related) could yield powerful insights on both sides. Then perhaps share some of that interchange in a public blog that prospects at large can see (resulting potentially in less need for explanations later on sales calls).

Could be worth working out.

Communicate to compete

Monday, December 22nd, 2003

EWeek reports that Linux began for the first time to steal serious business from Microsoft in 2003. The City of Munich, Germany decided to migrate its 14,000 Windows computers to Linux. The United Kingdom announced government departments would be implementing Linux projects.

In response, Microsoft–until recently high-and-mightily scoffing at the idea of losing anything to Linux–lowered the price of SQL-Server-2000-for-developers from $450 to $49. So says eWeek in a report on this year’s top 10 tech stories.

What’s happening? Is giant Microsoft–long the master of the desktop business universe so to speak–losing touch with the customer? Sure sounds like it.

In addition, SCO, the originator of Unix (heck, at the first software company I ever worked for I was instructed to explain to clients that SCO Unix was the ONLY way to go and would clearly come to dominate the market…and that was back in 1989) began suing people (starting with IBM) for violating its copyright of the open source operating system. The final verdict isn’t in yet. Stay tuned.

But meanwhile, how do you think blogging might have positively affected this situation? HINT: Think communication–between customers and company, company and vendors. If we keep in touch with what our customers are thinking–and what they’re hearing from competitors about what’s working and what’s not–we’re a lot less likely to get blindsided.

testing 1, testing 2…

Sunday, December 21st, 2003

Testing some new functionality RSS (rich site summary) for this blog that I hope will make this material even more easily accessible.

Rather than dive right in, many readers like to review a descriptive headline that lets them know what they’re getting into before they decided to read the whole article. Some headlines will call to them, others won’t. You are giving your readers a choice–always a smart customer-service-savvy thing to do.

Plus, it’s always good to put your blog on an RSS feed (lets you syndicate your content so you can share the joy, so to speak, with others) especially if you can feed it anywhere you want it to go.

So let’s see how this goes. Should be up and running in a couple of days. I’ll report progress and invite your feedback as we get this set up.

Blogging for political business

Sunday, December 21st, 2003

Never doubt the power of the Internet. Kucinich is the first presidential candidate I’ve known very much about–because his campaign makes heavy use of the Internet–including blogging–to mobilize support and educate voters about the issues. Check out this page full of media, meetup and mingle ideas: Volunteer Action.

And he’s not the only one–there’s a taller guy doing it, too. Here’s a big lift direct from an article by Elisabeth Rosenthal in today’s New York Times online:

“The Dean interactive Web site, Blog for America, where visitors can post any message they want, gets more than 40,000 hits a day. His campaign drew in about $15 million in the financial quarter that ended in September, the vast majority in small online contributions. But the question is whether these numbers add up to a successful campaign on the ground.

So far, Dr. Dean’s Internet-based supporters seem inclined to answer the call to conventional arms. On the national Web site, about 2,000 people have signed up to go to Iowa. In October, when the Dean campaign headquarters posted a request asking supporters to send hand-written letters to a list of officials, 2,500 wrote to former Vice President Al Gore.

Six weeks later, Mr. Gore endorsed Dr. Dean.

“The whole point of the Internet is that it is decentralized and not hierarchical,” said Darrell West, a political science professor at Brown University. “Blogs are perfectly democratic. So it could be a challenge to get the troops moving in the same direction.”

The Internet seemed tailor-made for the Dean campaign, especially in states like Tennessee that do not hold an important primary. Here, the Web provided the Dean campaign with a vehicle for the growth of a galloping home-grown political movement that requires almost no outside supervision or financing….

“The Internet is just a very efficient way to connect people, replacing the inefficient tool of a phone call,” he continued. “What it changes is the ability to organize quickly and efficiently. But you still need old-school shoe-leather campaigning to take it from there.”

I love the way journalists always have to ask quasi-cynical questions in order to prove they are not biased. That’s one of the best things about blogging: no need to qualify or even defend your opinions. They’re yours and so is the blog, and if you want to brag–whether it’s about your candidate, your employees, your accountant, or your whole darn company–you get to. Just be sure you’re bragging about the value you bring your customers…

Wine blogging

Thursday, December 18th, 2003

Sorry. Couldn’t resist this one. A Cleveland Yahoo newsgroup entitled Metropolis carries a lament from a guy who works at a prominent web design firm. Seems a particular wine bar in the popular Warehouse District of Cleveland has been ahead of the curve on doing cool things like serving wine flights (tastes of multiple wines), long before the prestigious publication Wine Spectator started reviewing a bar in New York that does the same thing.

Where, he complains, were they when D’Vine the Cleveland bar innovated this idea? I might add that Noggins in Shaker Heights also started doing it some time ago.

Where indeed. The press can only go to places they know exist. Where is D’Vine’s newsletter? How about their blog?

Go ahead. Ask me what a wine bar would blog about… ” )