Archive for July, 2004

Hurray, Blogger showing signs of new life

Saturday, July 31st, 2004

Blogger, while it was among the very first to make blogging technology accessible to the public (and it wasn’t all that great at it) has been owned by Google now for at least a year and a half. But you would never have known it had such august parentage until now.

At last Blogger is beginning to catch up with others in terms of functionality and ease of use. Not only have they introduced the ability to edit HTML as a separate function (useful if you want to get a little fancier with formatting), but today I noticed–mirabile dictu!–they’ve introduced keyboard shortcuts for some of the more common operations. This means, folks, that instead of laboriously navigating all over a page to get to buttons, or dragging that frickin’ mouse around to click on this and click on that to get anything done (can you tell I hate using the mouse?), you can keep your fingers on the keyboard and accomplish simple things like making text bold or italic, save a post to draft, and publish a post.

Now that’s my kinda software.

Microsoft shows its brains again

Thursday, July 29th, 2004

Yahoo! is challenging Google and everybody’s jockeying for a piece of the search engine prize money. Now comes Microsoft into the fray with its very own search engine, MSN Search. There’s a lesson to be learned from how they’re approaching this. Below is a screen shot of a piece of their search page. 

As you see from this little snippet, Microsoft has cleverly chosen some of the most popular keywords (meaning these consistently appear in the top listings of words people type into search engines) and given you the option to look there immediately. In other words they’re saving you, the customer, an extra couple of steps when you search. Now, instead of having to type in, say, “dictionary” or “movies,” then click, then search again, you simply click on your topic (that material is pre-searched for you) and immediately type in what you’re looking for.

In another small stroke of genius Microsoft has used its massive programming resources to save you, their customer, significant time and trouble–not just once, but every time you use the service–the very essence of customer-centered thinking.  And oh, my goodness, just THINK how much money people are going to be willing to pay Microsoft to become the, for instance, dictionary that gets picked when you type in the word you want to find!

I predict other search engines will follow shortly. This is so simple it’s brilliant.

SEO attracting more ad dollars

Wednesday, July 28th, 2004

Personalize and localize. That’s the advice of search engine marketing strategists according to Nielsen ratings people–and it’s going to cost you more money. But the overall cost is still affordable compared to other methods of advertising.

So if you want your site to keep people there once they find you, speak to a single person when you write your web copy. And use your heart…

Do your search engine optimization some good–and take a trip to California. Here’s a chance at the Search Engine Strategies session in San Jose, Calif. Aug. 2-5 at the 2004 Conference.  

Preachy rant

Tuesday, July 27th, 2004

Conspiracy and insider trading charges. Another billion-plus dollar swindle is about to be prosecuted against former employees of U.S. Foodservice, Inc. says the Washington Post today.

Apparently they actually created and kept two completely different sets of books–more than a billion dollars different. I don’t know about you, but that kind of behavior makes me wonder what motivation would drive a person to take that kind of risk. Was this personal greed? An insane drive to be better than you are? Bad family debts?

Or was this massive deception due to company attitudes about what constitutes a winning score? I don’t see how anyone in a position of such visibility (the marketing chief and possibly the financial chief)  could have gotten the cooperation of so many employees at their vendor companies (we’re talking the likes of Kraft Foods here) without a pervasive win-at-any-cost atmosphere in all the companies that says ethics are nice to talk about, but they really don’t apply to people with power.

Abraham Lincoln is quoted saying something like this: “A man can stand almost any amount of adversity. For a true test of his character, give him power.”

What's a "worthy" cause, business owner?

Thursday, July 22nd, 2004

For most of us–and for business owners in particular–the desire to be of service is not unmixed with the need to make a living for oneself and those one employs. Sometimes, for entrepreneurs who are not still beating off the wolf from the door, the cause can take the form of investing in the future. If that’s you, here’s a cause worthy of consideration.

A group called MicroSociety is out there helping teachers turn our children’s classrooms into…well…microsocieties. Literally–with a host of products and games and training materials–they are teaching children what it means to make a living, start a business, pay your taxes, write a business plan, sell and market your products, get loans from banks, etc. Students “acquire thinking skills by making the connections between the curriculum instruction, [the] academic and applied learning standards, and daily life,” according to the program description.

Did you graduate from high school and find that you really understood what you were up against out there? Frankly, I was stunned at my own ignorance–and I wondered how come my parents hadn’t prepared me better. Well, surely it wasn’t anybody’s “fault”–I think that starting after World War II Depression-era parents were trying their best to protect kids from experiencing what they’d felt in the “real world.” (And sometimes I think there’s still a lot of that going on today, too.)

Meanwhile, this MicroSociety is about helping teachers teach our kids to assume responsibilities. If we as parents don’t feel able to do that, we might as well support the schools in doing it. Frankly, I think that many of us who have worked hard to get where we are, would rather go easy on our kids. Maybe it feels nice to give them breaks, let them out of responsibility. But let’s face it: that won’t work for long out in the real world.

The program is installed incrementally. Thus costs can be controlled and expectations (of parents, teachers and kids) managed. If you’d like to know more about supporting this programming for our kids–the future of our businesses–check out their website at www.microsociety.org.

RANKING 89 – You, as an owner or executive of a small or midsize business, may not be thinking quite so long term as this type of program. Or maybe you’re a young entrepreneur and this is exactly what you’d like to see happen in our schools. Either way, if you like the ideal, it’s worth putting your mouth–and maybe a little  money–where it might do some good for the future. Yes, education has tremendous value for broadening our minds, but the world isn’t getting any easier to navigate nowadays. It can’t hurt to give our kids a practical way to read–and/or chart–their own maps.

Toyota says: Have it your way

Wednesday, July 21st, 2004

The world’s top automaker (the top 10 models in the U.S.) has found a way to adjust its manufacturing process so that you can get exactly the car you want–even if they hadn’t planned to build one for quite a while.

Just-in-time is a fact of life for most manufacturers today. Inefficiency costs car dealers–big–both in stagnant inventory and in lost sales because they don’t have the vehicle a customer wants (but some other dealer does). But carmakers haven’t been able to figure out a way to keep inventory down, supply specific models,  and still crank the cars off the line with maximum efficiency.

Now Toyota has solved the problem of quickly supplying any of the nearly 60,000 combinations of various options by installing software that connects dealers to factories and factories to suppliers. The system figures out, instantaneously, where they need to get parts and how they need to reorganize the assembly line to accommodate availability. And this article in Forbes goes on to talk about all the other specific ways Toyota has changed how they work to improve turnaround time and thus generate more business.

You know, I used to work in the car business a long time ago. I remember back then how impressed I was that Honda had sent representatives to scout the used car lots of America to look at the 3- and 4-year-old models of their cars–to find out what had gone wrong. Yes, that’s right. There were two little short Japanese guys visiting the used car lot asking if they could borrow the used vehicles on our lots to test them. Seems that Deming guy really did make an impact on the Japanese carmakers (see previous post).

In short, the Japanese carmaker is looking to build business by finding out how to serve the customer better. What a novel idea…

Brand / product genius

Saturday, July 17th, 2004

Stumbled on a program on PBS today–when I heard the name Deming they had my full attention instantly–that was talking about how Nissan built its success worldwide (starting, naturally, with its first foray into the United States market way back in 1947). They found one guy (I apologize that his Japanese name was unfamiliar and I can’t remember it) who’d gone to college in the U.S. and assigned him the task of making it work.
 
But listen to this…they didn’t know if he would succeed, and they didn’t want to risk sullying the name of Nissan if he didn’t.  How wise and provident is that? How incredibly smart to know how valuable your brand is. So they made up a name — Datsun — to market whatever the guy ended up creating with his design team.
 
With great passion and attention to detail–and getting the designers into the mud with clay models (were they the first to do this? it didn’t say so, but it talked as if it was an original idea at the time) that they could hand carve and play with because he wanted them to be able to feel the curves they were working on–they set to work to create a statement…a car that Americans would fall in love with.
 
Now a program about Deming (the guy who invented quality control) combined with stuff about cool cars–I was actually in the car business for a couple of years back a couple of decades ago–is a double whammy of interesting material to me. I learned a helluva lot about business in the car busienss, and a certain amount about cars, too. And even cooler, I got to drive a whole bunch of cars that you and I in our ordinary lives would never get a chance to drive.
 
As I watched the show, I realized they were talking about how Nissan-then-Datsun (I never did understand back then why the name confusion–now I get it) created this incredible car. And I got goosebumps. Because I remembered a car we had on that used car lot. A car, like many others, that I got to take home a couple of nights (because I was a sales star–and that’s another story I’ll tell you sometime), but it was a car that knocked my socks off.
 
I kept watching because the name of that car just wouldn’t come to me, but I knew they were talking about it… As a sales star I often got to drive the coolest ones in stock home for a night or two. I got to drive a Jaguar, a BMW 3-i series when it was brand new (I’ve got a great story about a doctor who came to buy that black beauty one night…), a couple of different models of Porsche (914 and even a 911) and even a deLorean. For several yeas when I was married I drove a red convertible Jensen-Healey…
 
But nothing captured my heart and had my hormones in an uproar like that Datsun. I waited patiently for this program to name it, and when they finally revealed the name of this brilliant car, I suddenly remembered in detail that beautiful sleek gray sports car I took home one night… It was a masterpiece of comfort, sexiness and power. I have always said nothing else compared to the way it drove. The way it hugged the road. The Datsun 280Z.
 
The Z-car series made Nissan in America. After the succes of the 280Z they realized it was safe to dump the Datsun name and start using Nissan. Though Nissan’s fortunes have gone up and down since then, it was great to hear this story of how they truly invested in their success. And the final lines of the program went something like this… “No one could ever have imagined how much one man…and one car…could change the world.”
 
Branding. Faith in an employee. Innovative product. The turnaround guy they hired after they’d lost the ground that original Z-car won for them, spoke on stage about finding the “emotion” in their products and putting the ”passion” back into execution. These are the kinds of inspiring stories every business owner needs to listen carefully to.
 

Express yourself

Friday, July 16th, 2004

Another local company I know has succumbed to the sure-thing lure of the blog. They won’t be sorry–unless they expect too much, too fast. The really big point I want to make is that if you do a blog as just another marketing tool, you may well be disappointed.
 
As marketing tools go, you can find faster, bigger-payoff options. This blogging thing is a combination of forces: not only does it provide value to the customer (when you write it genuinely with all your energy), but it also gives you a powerfully satisfied feeling–especially when you make a good post. What’s a “good” post? Well, it’s one that’s written from your heart about something that’s important to you and your customers–and it tells the truth about a challenge you face or a solution you’ve found.
 
If you can’t imagine revealing your challenges, a blog is probably not going to be a good tool for you. Sometimes we don’t express ourselves openly about our businesses because we think it’s dangerous–we worry that everything we say is giving something away. Not necessarily. Sure it takes a careful approach, and most of us won’t want to write out detailed instructions on how we do what we do. But if you exercise caution, I think you’ll find it well worth your while to begin posting about what you read and the things you learn about solving the issues in your industry.
 
Your clients will love it, your prospects will be impressed, and you will be having a good time talking about issues closest to your business owner’s heart. Sounds like a perfect combination, doesn’t it? Come on–go ahead and do it.

Microsoft going for search engine gold

Wednesday, July 14th, 2004

Well, well, well. Microsoft is flexing its muscles–to the tune of $100 million–in the Internet search area.

Interesting statistics on search engine market share:

As of February of this year, 30% t of Web searches were performed on Google, 28% on Yahoo! and just 15% on Microsoft’s MSN. Unlike the browser market—where standardization actually helped push the Web to the next plateau—advertisers like having multiple search vendors. So while market share fortunes may change, it is unlikely any of the big three search companies will disappear as did Netscape.

Microsoft will attempt to differentiate itself with sharper divisions between natural search results and paid inclusions, and they will introduce their own customized algorithmic search technology, according to a BtoB article by Richard Karpinski.

But here’s my favorite part, folks. The article mentions a–get this–blog post by a Jupiter researcher as the source of its conclusion that Microsoft doesn’t really care about paid inclusion so much as it wants to move away from relying on partners like Yahoo for search results.

Oh, I have so long been crying in the wilderness… But it’s looking like I can relax now. Now that the big guys “get it,” blogging’ll be everywhere soon enough.

And I need to tell you again: this is where it becomes absolutely critical to speak–to write–in your true voice. When you do, your blog will automatically attract the people–the prospects and customers–you want and deserve.

It’s true. I promise. If you need help getting started, email me.

Give yours to the collective wisdom

Monday, July 12th, 2004

Stumbled on this today on the Blogger blog–an entry comparing blogging to the “collective wisdom” James Surowiecki writes about in his new book called The Wisdom of Crowds. A concise review reads:

“If four basic conditions are met, a crowd’s ‘collective intelligence’ will produce better outcomes than a small group of experts, Surowiecki says, even if members of the crowd don’t know all the facts or choose, individually, to act irrationally. ‘Wise crowds’ need (1) diversity of opinion; (2) independence of members from one another; (3) decentralization; and (4) a good method for aggregating opinions.” ~ Publisher’s Weekly

The idea is that blog aggregating (feed) services collect the opinions of thousands upon thousands of bloggers (Technorati asks 3 million) and feed them back to whoever wants to read them. Collective intelligence being…ahem…collected from people who have little in common in the way of physical location or other tangible properties. They’re all just bloggers.

The power of collective wisdom has long been understood. First, one of the immutable tenets of one of the world’s fastest-growing religions, Bahai, is that the will of the majority rules. Even if the choice is later proved wrong, all followers must abide by the decision of the greatest number. And second, the greatest leaders of all times have always consulted the people when making major decisions. Read this recent article on what deans of America’s most prestigious business schools think about what makes a good leader.

If you have an opinion about anything in your business (and who doesn’t?), you might as well put it out there in the collective wisdom. You’re part of it anyway, like it or not.

RANKING 93 – You, as an owner or executive of a small or midsize business, owe it to your customers to contribute your wisdom to the whole. You can reveal truths about things that are just dim memories for most giant corporations. And you are in the thick of dealing with the realities of a changing economy much more directly than the big guys. Go ahead–get your blog on…