marketing and sales executives from Silicon Valley

Monday, July 27, 2009

No Search Ads for Coca Cola

I was watching the twitcast from revenue bootcamp (#revenuebootcamp) when I saw a message from designmom. It read:
Coca Cola is one of the top 5 advertisers on the world and they don't do search ads.
At first I thought "wow", but then I thought "why should they?"

Coca Cola is a major brand offering a product that is largely a consumable impulse buy. Correct me if I'm wrong, but have any of you searched for anything related to Coca Cola before buying a Coke? I know I haven't, and I don't know anyone who has. To put it in broader market perspective, do college or high school students search for "Coke" when they want to buy one? Do your parents or grand parents search for it? What if we broaden the scope to not just Coke, but to other comparable consumable impulse buys in the same category. Does anyone search for Sprite, 7up, Pepsi, etc? In reality, the Coca Cola company does run search ads for coke rewards and other loyalty programs, yes, but not for the consumable.

Maybe there's a lesson here that a subconscious truth for me may be explicitly proposed as a general rule of thumb: Consumable impulse buys have an inherently short buying cycles and are poor search advertising targets. This matters in the bigger picture of advertising. Even in a recession, a flight to measurement and ROI does not guarantee increased usefulness or applicability of search advertising for the product itself.

Now the real lesson here, is that advertising is situational - it has a time, place, and context. Not all forms of advertising applies for all products, and, some advertising only makes sense in certain contexts as well. Thus is makes sense to advertise Coke in movie theaters, since it could influence you to buy more Coke, and a search ad wouldn't apply there. Your situation is an entertainment venue where people eat and drink. On the other hand, if you love Coke and are going to a Coke Museum, when you search for Coke or Coke Museum you may get search ads for the Coke loyalty program, Coke related film shorts, or other promotional programs. The context is looking for information and the search ad is intended to further loyalty and word of mouth, not satisfy an immediate need to eat or drink.

So, @designmom, thanks for the topic, and for reminding me about the rules of advertising, the importance of context, and that search advertising isn't the necessarily the answer to all revenue problems.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Who is supporting your customers?

There are three truisms about supporting customers, regardless of your product or service:
  • A customer's primary goal is to have what they bought, or even are using for 'free', work the way that they expect
  • Huge numbers of people feel ill-served or ignored by the companies they've patronized
  • You can't control the conversation about your products - and you may not even know the conversation is taking place
Even consumers who aren't technology mavens are likely to start trying to solve their problems with a basic internet search. Do you know - have you ever looked? - what two or three top search results they're going to see? Does a company-sponsored site show up? Do you know about the sites that do?

As a simple test, I did a Google search on 'Canon S2 Camera Problems'. The top search returns?,,,and No Canon sites showed up in the first 4 pages of results. In fairness to Canon, if the search was 'Canon S2 Camera Support' then a Canon USA site was on the top of the list. But the point remains valid - you have to know what your customers are seeing and where they're seeing it.

One example from two of those sites ( and a 'stuck shutter' reported by an seemingly large number of people. The fixes suggested including 'jogging the shutter open by tapping the camera against a wooden surface'. This was not from a Canon representative, so it 's hard to know if this is a recommended solution (seems unlikely), or if Canon is aware of a problem with this particular model. But it might give a consumer pause - and the lack of a response from Canon doesn't help the perceptions.

The simple fact is that most of the entries in discussion/tech support forums are going to be negative by their nature - after all, not too many people post a lack of a problem. There are more and more independent support sites like that actively solicit participation by vendors - and implicitly set customer expectations around that participation.

Shopping and review oriented sites may be somewhat less negative since many consumers feel compelled to defend their purchase choices, but there is still plenty of 'dirty laundry' hanging out there. All of these sources are having an influence on future purchase decisions for everyone who visits.

So some things to ponder until my next post:
  • Do you really know what people are saying about your products?
  • Are the customer support resources you've invested in, like FAQs and knowledge bases, doing the job based on the questions being addressed elsewhere like FixYa and GetSatisfaction?
  • Is there something you can do to reach out to customers with a problem, rather than hoping that they find you?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Be a sustainability business shark

Sharks have thrived for eons, and not by waiting it out.
Is your business still moving, or waiting for more target-rich times?
Many firms are hanging on in survival mode, but need a more sustainable focus to thrive.

Witness the growing number of government-owned companies, and those successful mainly via acquisitions - it seems harder to make a sustainable business these days. What sustains a business, really? Customers, of course. So could too much internal business focus actually be a problem?

At large and small businesses alike, I experienced the daily draw to focus internally - after all, these are the people in front of you every day. It's easier to deal with what is in front of you. Easier positive feedback loop too. There's something to be said for a tight organization, esprit de corps and all, but in this economy, with every customer watching their spend, lack of customer focus could be the critical factor in whether your company is on the way up or down. And that could make for some uncomfortable internal meetings. Like layoffs. Which, by the way, are easily quantifiable ‘benefits’ to the organization (at least in the very short term).

But consider some longer term business sustainability thinking.
How about words like value creation, unique value proposition, and customer satisfaction? Would things work better for business if those terms were more commonly used today? If all hands focus on cost-cutting, or on the internals of the ship, who's left to ensure it serves its intended purpose, taking customers where they need to go, and encouraging them to book another trip?

Customers aren’t interested in our ship, just in where it can take them. And cost-cutting invariably springs leaks.

Given economic recoveries last much longer than recessions, now is the time to soak up all the mindshare, marketshare, and wallet-share of weaker, less-focused companies. And enjoy a the longer ride up.
Why just survive, when you can thrive?

Next post will take a look at using this recession to work out the fundamentals and getting your business model right to provide security and profits for the long-term: Still on a cost-cutting diet, or finding fresh meat?

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Valley Arrogance and the Niche Market Blinders

What? Arrogance in Silicon Valley? Surely you jest.

It's true, and no matter how many times I've seen companies flail and fail, as engineers and marketers insist that they're "right", this phenomenon is alive and well in the SF Bay Area. This is both good and bad, depending on where you sit, and what you do on a day to day basis. At its worst, this phenomenon is typified by the "who uses that technology/service" remarks and the "I've moved on to X, which is much superior". At it's best, the press and investors-types call the technology or service "revolutionary" in hindsight, the 30+ also-rans fall by the wayside, and no one snickers because at least one worked.

While every market shifts, the true value of a technology or service is firmly established when the technology, company, or service makes serious money. The "moved on" comments become justified when the new technology, service, company overshadows the previous generation and a new way of business is established. Why does this matter? From a business perspective, respect typically comes from generating revenue, not just buzz and coolness. In my experience, many, many more people have been fired, reprimanded, and demoted for choosing cool technology that did not do the job at all, did not do the job better - to justify cost incursions, or generate enough added value than those who stuck with established, working products & services.

The saying used to be "nobody gets fired for buying IBM", and versions of that phrase still largely ring true. Here's a few examples the come to mind. Feel free to add better ones in the comments if you have them.
- Apple Newton & General Magic's Magiclink: I loved both of them, as did everyone here in Silicon Valley, but they died a tragic death as the love didn't spread very far
- Windows NT vs XP: While "everyone" was supposedly on XP in 2004, I ran into numerous businesses AND government agencies that still used NT. If you didn't know that your enterprise software may not have sold at all.
- Vadem Clio: Another valley love-fest for this "convertable tablet", very cool, and everyone adored it when they saw it, even years after the company went out of business
- Facebook vs. MySpace: Silicon Valley types seem to pan MySpace while trumpeting Facebook, even though MySpace still makes significant revenue today, and has made more for the past three years while people were cheering the superiority of Facebook
- Twitter vs. Google: Twitter gets a sureal amount of buzz about real-time search, while Google continues to dominate search, besting Cuil, Powerset, A9, and other Google killers over the years

Many will and should argue that "when the main stream gets it, it's too late." It's too late for what? Bragging? No, there are two different forces at work here. Building an innovative, valuable service/business that's disruptive is one thing, while establishing a sustainable trustable business is another. It often takes innovation and value creation to establish a sustainable trusted business, but what you often see is bragging and chest beating by startups who do something differently, because they can. Forget about the successful operating companies that have not been bested by the startup. The user bravado, which accompanies the early adopter myopia, when translated, is basically "I use a cooler service than you, but ignore that it makes less money and appeals to less people than what's out there".

The point here isn't that I favor any of the old or new companies/services/products, but that buzz, coolness, and Silicon Valley boasting can really mean little without the revenue, longevity, and trust of being an established business. Arrogance from believing you are the best is a weaker foundation than pride, accomplishment, and satisfaction of actually being the best and/or dominant market force.