Post by Schwartz Creative Director and EVP Carol McGarry
In mid-November, MassNetComms and MITX sponsored a breakfast on the Future of Open Networks with a panel of speakers from Google, Nokia, AT&T Mobility and Aegis Media North America:
Moderator Josh Martin from Yankee Group asked the speakers to address: How open will wireless and broadband systems be in the future? How will open networks affect digital media, wireless applications and networking companies?
The discussion coalesced around a few major themes: the momentum behind openness, the primacy of the consumer experience and the challenges of developing strong business models. Rich Miner from Google noted that the industry is moving toward openness—the trend has started, putting pressure on all the service providers to jump in--and toward an “all you can eat” approach to bandwidth for consumers. The move to open platforms has created a good opportunity for both entrepreneurs who can develop more innovative applications and for the consumers who use those applications.
Now companies have to figure out how to monetize and embrace openness. The carriers could have opened up their platforms to integrate location but they missed that opportunity. The next opportunity is billing via mobile, said Rich, with the phone as an easy way to put transactions on carrier bills.
While the openness genie is out of the bottle, panelists noted that standards may still be the industry’s Achilles heel. With multiple platforms, the challenge for developers continues to be reaching scale that can support a strong business model. Will competitors standardize? Android could fragment like UNIX or come together as a major platform.
The panelists discussed how the industry needs to enable a food chain so that everyone makes money from new applications and evolving business models. Rich Miner noted that Google aims to share revenues from applications with carriers. Jon Phenix from Nokia commented that publishers like ESPN and The New York Times are starting to design properties around mobile. They’re looking to monetize their off deck traffic by integrating mobile into online ad buys, but are not driving substantial revenues yet.
Sarah Fay from Aegis compared the state of mobile advertising to the early day of Internet advertising with those annoying pop-up ads. Marketers need to overcome the feeling that ads are an intrusion and recognize that they can be a pleasing experience for consumers. Rich Miner cautioned that navigating to an ad is a challenge on most mobile phones and you are constrained on what you can display.
Panelists often came back to the theme of addressing consumer needs. “The mobile phone is the most personal device we carry,” said Steve Krom from AT&T. Service providers need to understand consumer needs, provide many choices and develop the right business models.
Posted by Chuck Tanowitz on December 17, 2008 at 10:30 AM
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Really interesting info from Josh Bernoff, author of Groundswell and Forrester analyst. (You've likely read his book, written with former Forrester analyst Charlene Li, about the use of social technologies to reach customers.)
His general conclusion, described in a recent blog post about survey data collected in Q2 of this year, is that consumers trust corporate blogs less than any other information source included in the survey. Tops were, naturally, info from friends or groups of other consumers.
He does add more nuance to the issue of lack of trust in corporate blogs and makes some recommendations. The many comments on his post add further dimension and are well worth a look.
What's equally interesting to me, despite the fact that it isn't Mr. Bernoff's main point, is that traditional media fares pretty well, which is not surprising. Much of the value that technology PR brings is reaching journalists (AS WELL AS bloggers, but not one to the exclusion of the other) who themselves vet information about clients or their products or related issues and then, by writing about companies/products/issues, may lend a certain degree of legitimacy to the information.
Journalists generally take care to present "the other side of the story"--information about competitors or different perspectives. Not always, but normally, and that sensitive BS detector and the resulting trust it can create in many people is what makes the media one of the best routes for communicating with target audiences.
Another key point, I thought, was that search engine results are seen as pretty trustworthy. Tech PR, when pursued in concert with smart search engine optimization, can boost organic search results. To me, this survey shows the important benefit that we provide clients when we make technology communications work in concert with SEO.
, Josh Bernoff
, tech PR
, technology PR
Posted by Laura Kempke on December 16, 2008 at 10:23 AM
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Guest post by Schwartz EVP Dave Close
In a badly damaged and worsening economy most marketing executives aren’t thinking about spending more money. The understandable tendency is to pull back, reduce spending, stop some marketing initiatives and try to ride out uncertainty with caution.
That’s the conventional wisdom in most corporate environments, but it’s wrong. When the economy turns bad and it seems like opportunities are shrinking, the winners will be the ones who face the gut-check, take a deep breath and pour it on in marketing. It’s easy to see why: when your competitors go silent you have a rare opportunity to fill the silence with your message.
The brave marketers – the confident, the bold, the risk-takers – will actually increase their branding and publicity efforts, although they may change their mix of marketing programs. They know their messages will get through more clearly and with wider exposure. They’ll also get more bang for their marketing buck because there’s downward pricing pressure on marketing services. The results may not show up immediately in increased sales – after all, the economy is bad. The short-term win may be to stay even and avoid declining sales. But the confident marketers are planning ahead, positioning their companies and their products to slingshot into the lead at the first signs of a recovery. This approach was discussed in a well-known Management Review article 15 years ago called “Fortune Follows the Brave,” and it holds true today.
I say this is a “gut-check” because truly confident marketing and communications executives face resistance in advocating for increased or stable spending. For example, a MarketingSherpa survey from February, 2008 (before the current disastrous economic problems took hold) showed the problem. In a tough economy, 43% of executive managers said they would cut marketing first, while just 9% said it was a time to invest in marketing. In large companies, 39% said they had seen marketing cuts already, and 21% expected cuts. In September MarketingSherpa updated the numbers and things had taken a turn for the worse. Most of these executives were reporting on advertising spending, which is the part of the communications mix that usually gets slashed during downturns. You have only to pick up your ever-shrinking newspaper to see that this is true.
Still, advertising is just one part of the communications mix. Once you’ve reduced or cut advertising, how do you keep your message in front of customers? As an executive at a PR agency I’ll take a courageous and selfless stand and say this is the time to increase your PR efforts. There’s a marketing saying: “it costs to advertise and it pays to publicize.” We know this from direct experience.
Our agency has been serving innovative technology and healthcare companies for almost 20 years. We started the company in the depths of the 1990-1991 downturn and we served a client based of technology startups when the tech bubble burst from 2000 through 2002. Those were times of severe spending cuts at most companies. We had clients simply stop their advertising and PR efforts. They saved money in the short term and crippled their companies over the long term.
In computing and networking technology – crowded markets with a fast pace of innovation – brand position and image are fragile things. Go into cryogenic suspension and the public will forget about you quickly. The most cost-effective way to keep your message current and to maintain or grow awareness of your products is through credible, disinterested, independent third-party coverage in the media stimulated by PR. That used to mean newspapers, magazines and broadcast. It still does, but even more important is the coverage in online information outlets, blogs, YouTube and all the other types of instant information sources. These actually amplify the impact of your PR budget by spreading coverage far and wide, beyond the original source of the story. People forward articles, but they seldom forward ads.
Some companies spend 100 to 200 times more on advertising than on PR, yet research shows PR to be just as credible a source of information to potential customers. We’ve made our reputation representing smaller, innovative companies. In good times or bad, the companies we represent see gains in awareness, positive brand image and sales leads. Think back to the 2001 downturn when Red Hat became the hottest story in the software industry. They were battling Microsoft. Our client Red Hat spent nothing on advertising; Microsoft spent hundreds of millions. Red Hat did it all through PR and word-of-mouth, and they leveled the playing field in the minds of software users.
The dynamics behind that situation apply in today’s brutal economy. PR costs much less than advertising, tradeshows or other parts of the communications mix. Along with direct marketing, it is the most effective, fastest, flexible and measurable way to communicate to your target audiences.
But it takes some courage for communicators to fight against cuts or even to secure more funding during these times. A 2005 study "Turning Adversity Into Advantage: Does Proactive Marketing During a Recession Pay Off?" presented results from a survey of 154 senior marketing executives. I like this quote from the paper:
"Athletes often choose times of stress to mount attacks: strong runners and bicycle racers may increase their pace on hills or under other challenging conditions. In a similar vein, proactive marketing includes both the sensing of the existence of the opportunity (a tough hill and fatigued opponents) and an aggressive response (possessing the necessary strength or nerve) to the opportunity.”
In a gut-check economy, the strong – and the bold – will win.
Tags: public relations strategy
Posted by Chuck Tanowitz on December 15, 2008 at 10:16 AM
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Back in the 1970’s the owners of Manhattan’s Studio 54 described how they chose their evening’s mix of patrons as “tossing the perfect salad.” In that case the salad consisted of hedonists, disco divas, jet setters, moguls and the occasional lucky resident of an outlying borough. Most were left languishing outside the velvet ropes.
This week's Web Innovators Group gathering at the Royal Sonesta Hotel in Cambridge was a much more democratic affair. In this case, the salad was tossed with a mix of some 1,000 web and mobile entrepreneurs, VCs, Harvard and M.I.T. B-school students, job seekers, reporters and industry analysts.
Hosted by Venrock’s David Beisel, WebInno provides early-stage startups in the Boston area an opportunity to present to their peers and exchange ideas. The evening was divided into three “Main Dish” DEMO-style presentations in the packed Grand Ballroom. Audience members vote in real time for their favorite presentation via their mobile phones.
Meanwhile, the audience could check out six informal “Side Dish” tabletop presentations in the adjoining suites. The evening also included an interactive session on “Raising Angel Financing 101,” led by James Geshwiler, Managing Director of the CommonAngels.
The dominant theme was collaboration, content and social networking for smart phones like the Apple iPhone and BlackBerry. Here’s a rundown of the main presenters:
TripChill™ – A nifty “mobile travel concierge platform” for the iPhone and other mobile devices from the founders of Skyward Innovations, Inc.. TripChill delivers flight status/gate notifications, and, if your flight is cancelled, offers a range of alternate itineraries. If you are stranded, TripChill delivers local hotel and car service choices within set budget parameters. When you land, TripChill delivers an e-mail welcoming you to your destination, indicating baggage claim logistics and even where you parked your car. Release in beta on the Web in August, coming soon to the iPhone App Store.
Local Motors – The winner of the audience’s popular vote, Local Motors answers the questions: What if…We built the car of your dreams? ... It was green? ...We made it in your town? ...We listened? Founder John B. Rogers, Jr. described his vision of building “really sexy cars that people will want to buy” and clicked on a futuristic vehicle that resembled a snub-nosed Batmobile, complete with De Lorean-style gull-wing doors. Did I mention these are fuel-efficient, “green” vehicles?
Crimson Hexagon –The company name comes from “The Library of Babel,” a short story by Jorge Luis Borges. Based on the work of Harvard Professor Gary King, Crimson Hexagon looks at blogs, Twitter feeds, online communities and identifies, qualifies and quantifies opinions being expressed. It looks especially useful for tracking the success of marketing campaigns, political campaigns and monitoring consumer brands (“buzz tracking”).
CEO Candace Fleming demoed the solution by using Sarah Palin as an example. There in easy-to-read graphs were the peaks of concern about the VP candidates’ “policy knowledge” that tracked directly to her prime time network interviews. Wade Roush at Xconomy recently wrote a good piece on Crimson Hexagon, worth checking out.
The “Side Dish” Presentations ranged from InfoMedMD – a personalized, Health 2.0 medical symptoms checker created by Dr. Joseph Bentivegna – to Pixability, an online service that promises to turn your shaky video footage into a high-quality, Hollywood-style production. I’m sure we’ll be hearing a lot more from these companies and am certainly looking forward to the next WebInno meeting in March.
The organization also has started a LinkedIn group, which is worth joining if you haven't already.
Tags: Boston Tech
, Boston Technology
, venture capital
, Web 2.0
, Web Innovators Group
Posted by Doug Russell on December 11, 2008 at 9:23 AM
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Retailing exists for no other reason than to fulfill our holiday wish lists. While the stores are open year round, they only start making money at the start of the holiday shopping season, hence the name “Black Friday.”
So the start of the 2008 holiday shopping season seems as good a time as any to examine where the mobile retailing market is headed.
While the mobile web has received quite a bit of attention over the last year, and will continue to be on the forefront for the foreseeable future, not many people use their mobile phones for ecommerce.
My client Mark Watson, CEO of Volantis, recently pointed out to me that people use their handsets for communicating and social networking, but you don’t often see people shopping on eBay through their mobile phones. That makes sense as eBay is more of a browsing environment and people tend not to browse on their on the small handheld screens.
The handsets are, however, making inroads in the retail sector. Volantis, for one, operates Ubik.com, which enables any business to create a mobile website. That means even the local bookstore or coffee shop can have a site that works on your little LG flip phone as well as on that sleek new iPhone you asked Santa to bring this year.
Mobile Monday was filled with players looking to take retailing and retail advertising to the mobile phone.
Drync, which has its primary purpose as helping people use their mobile device to remember and research wines, has an added benefit of allowing people to purchase wines right then and there. So if you think about a person who is out and tries a wine, they can find out more information then order a few bottles delivered to their home before ever leaving the restaurant.
Ordering products through the mobile phone is great, but imagine getting the same information in the store as you do online. It’s one thing to walk into the Home Depot and pick up a cordless drill. It’s quite another to pick up that drill and then be able to see customer reviews.
Mobegic is working with retailers to help them match their mobile sites with the depth of their fixed Internet sites. The idea is to make it so people can access the same information on their mobile phones as they have at their computer screens. In the store people have more information to use to shop while other shoppers can make purchases even when they are neither in the store nor at their computers. This starts to blend the world of online and offline commerce in a way that has never been possible.
A major advantage of shopping online is the ability to quickly and easily comparison shop. If you think back to the days before the online world we would comparison shop by going from store to store. That worked for expensive items like cameras, cars and furniture, but when it came to smaller items we usually just followed our instinct. Now we can comparison shop for everything, even a gallon of gas.
But what happens if you come across an item in a store and just don’t know if this is a good price? Pongr answers that problem by letting you take a picture of the item and then search for it based on image recognition. Not only can you find the best prices but you can also look for more information on that particular product.
In many ways all of these companies are aimed at the same goal: leveling the retail playing field. They put information into the hands of consumers and let them make the choice as to where, when and how to buy.
What the consumers and retailers do with this new-found freedom and power is what we should be watching for with the next holiday season.
, Mobile Mondays
Posted by Chuck Tanowitz on December 2, 2008 at 1:31 PM
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