The Green Business Plan Contest

ECOnomics: The Environmental Business Plan Challenge: GE and Dow Jones are looking for great business ideas that combine environmental innovation and profitability, because they truly believe that “green” business represents good business.
So if you’re a university student, an MBA candidate or a confident entrepreneur, submit your business idea and you could win $50,000. If you have an enterprise to help the earth, it’s time to get it off the ground.
Contest begins: Saturday, October 15, 2005 12:01 AM (ET)
Deadline for entries: Thursday, December 15, 2005 11:59 PM (ET)
Open to residents of the 50 United States and the District of Columbia who are 21 years of age or older.
Enter here >>

Sears: Are they going the way of K-mart?

Sears, Roebuck and Co. this week launched what it is calling its first fully integrated campaign in years. The effort, “Wish Big,” includes television and print advertising, event marketing, in-store signage and cross-promotion activities, in-mall advertising, direct mail, online programs and public relations. [in Brandweek]
Maybe they need to just work on their strategy. Here’s what a recent article in the Chicago Sun Times had to say about that:
A Wall Street analyst gave voice Monday to rumors that Sears’ ballyhooed strategy of building new stand-alone stores is in trouble.
Sears is counting on its newest store, Sears Essentials, to compete with big-box rivals such as Target, Kohl’s and Wal-Mart, while also selling refrigerators, treadmills, lawn mowers and patio furniture.
Sears has denied reports that it is slowing or halting its plans to convert 400 Kmart stores into Sears Essentials stores within three years — at a cost of about $3.5 million per store. But Sears hasn’t yet announced how many Sears Essentials stores it will open in 2006.
Furthermore, two top Sears executives integral to the strategy have left or are leaving the Hoffman Estates-based retailer, Gregory Melich, an analyst at Morgan Stanley & Co., said in a note to investors Monday.
Catherine David, a former Target executive that Sears named to oversee Sears Essentials and two other stand-alone stores, left the retailer in September.
Sears hired David in July 2004 to turn around the struggling Great Indoors home-decor chain, which Sears had downsized a year earlier to 17 stores.
Sears also is losing Luis Padilla, another former Target executive and a merchandising whiz credited with putting the “chic” in Target’s “cheap chic” reputation. Padilla is leaving at month’s end, following Sears Chairman Edward S. Lampert’s decision to install his own top strategists.
Furthermore, Sears is investing less than its retail rivals in its stand-alone stores, and has cut its advertising by more than 40 percent, Melich wrote.
More than 50 percent of Sears Essentials stores are within five miles of a Target, a Lowe’s or a Home Depot, giving them tough conditions under which to compete, he said.
Other analysts have questioned the Sears Essentials format as unfocused and underwhelming.
“The store seems a hodgepodge of everything, and there’s no clear message to consumers about what to expect,” said Kim Picciola at Chicago-based Morningstar.

Maybe they need to outsource their management…

NYT Refuses Sun Ad Bashing Dell

I must say I loved this ad from Sun. It’s actually fairly brilliant because it:
1) states Sun’s case in a humorous way,
2) highlights the different strategies the two companies are allegedly pursuing (innovation=Sun, low-cost=Dell),
3) beats Dell at its own game- price,
4) has an environmental angle,
5) tells us about the best server in the world!
6) trumpets open source messaging via Solaris…
I could go on and on.
Lucky for Sun that the NYT refused to print the ad, giving it even more buzz… All the news that’s fit to print, eh? They can print Judy Miller, but not an ad?
Well, the ad is on Jonathan Schwartz’s blog– which gives it that much more authenticity!
One more thing- will design and innovation rule the future of global competition? Sun thinks so.
I do too.

Video-on-Demand: Here it is, says Forrester

Interesting analysis from Forrester:
“The iPod video player doesn’t matter. Downloading episodes of Lost and Desperate Housewives to computers barely matters. What does matter is the crack in the traditional television business model opened by the Apple/ABC deal to allow consumers on-demand access to current hit TV shows. Unwittingly, Apple is building the proof of concept for the video-on-demand (VOD) business model. Demands by cable operators to put the same deal on the VOD tier, rebellion by network affiliates, and greater availability of niche content will fracture the old business model.”
The story here.

The Rise and Fall of Brand America

When we express a preference for French holidays, German cars or Italian opera, when we instinctively trust the policies of the Swedish government, comment on the ambition of the Japanese, the bluntness of the Americans or the courtesy of the British, when we avoid investing in Russia, favor Turkey’s entry into Europe or admire the heritage of China and India, we are responding to brand images in exactly the same way as when we’re shopping for clothing or food. But these are far bigger brands than Nike or Nestlé. They are the brands of nations.
Nation brand is an important concept in today’s world. Globalization means that countries compete with each other for the attention, respect and trust of investors, tourists, consumers, donors, immigrants, the media, and the governments of other nations: so a powerful and positive nation brand provides a crucial competitive advantage. It is essential for countries to understand how they are seen by publics around the world; how their achievements and failures, their assets and their liabilities, their people and their products are reflected in their brand image.
Simon Anholt has developed the Anholt-GMI Nation Brands Index – the first analytical ranking of the world’s nation brands. This report: Nation Brands Index – Q3 Report, 2005 tells us how nations view each other. Good stuff.
But even more critical, perhaps, is Anholt’s book: Brand America: The Mother of All Brands.
Here’s how the book is advertised on Anholt’s website:
Q: When is a country like a brand?
A: When it’s the United States of America.
America is more than just a country: it’s the biggest brand in history. Launched as a global brand, managed like a global brand and advertised like a global brand since the Declaration of Independence, America has deliberately marketed itself – as well as its products and culture – with skill, determination and sheer, hardnosed salesmanship.
But today, it’s a brand in trouble. Brand America shows, for the first time in print, how the world’s most successful brand grew to greatness, how close it now is to throwing it all away, and how it might win back those disillusioned ‘consumers’.
For anybody who has ever wondered what was the secret behind America’s greatness, and what happens next to the world’s sole superpower, Brand America is essential reading.
It’ll change your mind about brands, about countries and about America for ever.
Here’s what Phil Kotler had to say about the book:
“Anholt and Hildreth are to be congratulated for raising the issue of why Brand America is suffering a strong decline around the world. They trace American history, the values of Brand America and the growth of anti-Americanism, and offer stimulating suggestions for how to repair our broken image.”
Read it. That’s Brand America: The Mother of All Brands.

Why “Customer Service” is a Joke

Most companies assume they’re giving customers what they want. Usually, they’re kidding themselves. When Bain & Company recently surveyed 362 firms, they found that 80% believe they deliver a “superior experience” to customers. But when they asked the firms’ customers, they found that only 8% are really delivering.
Talk about delusion. Why this huge discrepancy?
The folks at Bain found two reasons for the gap:
“The first is a basic paradox: Most growth initiatives damage the most important source of sustainable, profitable growth-a loyal customer franchise. To increase revenue and profits, businesses do things like raising transaction fees that end up alienating their core customers. Efforts to pursue new customers compound the problem, distracting management from serving the core.
“The second is that good relationships are hard to build. It’s extremely difficult to understand what people really want, keep your promises and maintain a dialogue to ensure you meet customers’ changing needs. Even initiatives to “better understand” customers can backfire, drowning firms in a sea of data.”
I’ll give you the third reason: management confuses actions and activity with outcomes. Just because you have a customer feedback program in place, doesn’t mean it’s effective. The appearance of virtue is not virtue.
More from the report: “Even initiatives to “better understand” customers typically backfire. A company can get so engrossed in collecting and sifting through data on patterns of use, retention, purchases and other transactions that buyers become numbers rather than people, segments rather than individuals. Companies become deaf to the real voices of real customers.” [emphasis added]
Download the report here.

How We Buy: Search!

Yahoo and Compete, Inc., recently announced key findings from a new study which tracked Internet search and transaction activity specifically related to retail apparel Web sites over one year.
The study found that search was used by 20% of the 25 million unique monthly visitors engaging in apparel activity on the sites Compete tracked.
For the study, “Search and the Engaged Customer: An Apparel Study”, Compete analyzed the online shopping behavior of its panel of two million Internet users and conducted a survey of over 400 apparel shoppers who used search, visited one of 49 apparel retailer or manufacturer sites and subsequently purchased apparel offline. The study observed both Web search and sponsored search activity across Yahoo!, Google, Ask Jeeves, MSN, Lycos and Hotbot.
Key findings from the study include:
Search Influences Offline Purchasing. According to the findings, 78% of people who purchased apparel offline after using Internet search reported that search influenced their store visit and purchase. Nearly half (47%) of these buyers have also purchased apparel online and spend 26% more on apparel annually than those who do not use search.
Apparel searchers are highly engaged shoppers. The study found that, over a 60-day shopping period, apparel searchers spent more than 30% more time when visiting retail sites than non-search visitors and were more likely to engage in site activities such as customizing a product image, viewing shipping methods or return policies and submitting an email name. The research also showed that apparel searchers were also more likely to make a purchase (online or offline). Apparel searchers generated an average online conversion rate of 21%, compared with the 18% average conversion rate generated by non-search users.
Consumers use search throughout the buying cycle. Consumers conduct multiple searches and use search throughout their purchase decision, with 21% reporting they use search to find out about new styles and brands, 27% using search to find out about sales and deals and over 50% using search to find a store address, phone number or website.
“It’s clear from these findings that consumers are using search for multiple objectives throughout their apparel shopping process,” said Diane Rinaldo, retail category director, Yahoo! Search Marketing. “Search provides retail marketers a way to reach their customers in a comprehensive manner that allows them to effectively tie together their online and offline sales, enhance brand awareness and increase market share.”
Hmmm. All roads lead to Google. It’s funny, but I’m beginning to feel sorry for Microsoft.

Google’s Product Development & Management Process Revealed

From Marissa Mayer via Evelyn Rodriguez. Download here>>
Thanks for taking notes, Evelyn!
Some highlights:
Small, Agile Engineering Teams
• 3-person units (like start-ups!)
• Unit is a project – they don’t have departments
• Unit is co-located (sit next to each other) also with PM
• Engineers work on project for 3-4 months, then transition to next project
• Very fluid
• With 180 engineers, they can work on 60 projects – so they can afford to invest
on high-risk, high-return projects as well. (They call high-risk projects “Googlettes”)
• Each project manager works with 9-10 people across units. For example, maybe a category such as “Enterprise Infrastructure”
• The technical lead in each unit of 3 is responsible for technical excellence of project.
• Documentation
– Very sparse, only what is needed in Product Requirements Document
(PRD)
– Eric Schmidt: “Late binding decision-making process”
– Evolves based on feedback
– Includes information on general market size, revenue in PRD but believe that “if you build something users use, there will be a way to make money”
• Large Projects
– Example: Enterprise Product – broken into logical modules, thus 4 units
(of 3 people) = 12 people
• Monetization teams
– Larry Page: “No such thing as a successful failure; if it is useful to people, later we can make revenue from it in a logical way.”
Focus on providing value to user first.
– Then create team to execute the “monetization” of most useful products/services.
• Marissa (speaker) was on team to monetize search
– Created AdWords, etc.
This is very, very interesting. Beeg trouble for moose and squirrel, er, Microsoft!

The Advertising Saturation Point

For every automobile, and maybe every product, there’s a threshold beyond which your ad budget is wasted.
That’s the premise of this startlingly clear analysis from Evan Hirsh and Mark Schweizer from Booz Allen Hamilton’s Cleveland office. They ask:
“…What if there was an optimal level of advertising spend for any given product — beyond which the money was completely wasted?”
And explain:
“Economists often speak of “price elasticity”: When prices rise or fall, consumers respond by changing their purchase strategies. That is why price increases do not automatically lead to equivalent rises in revenues. The same kind of elasticity exists with advertising. For any given brand in any given market, there is a saturation point for advertising spend. Up to that point, increases in the ad budget will generate results; but once the market for a product or service is saturated, no matter how much a company spends on advertising, it will not produce enough added sales to justify the cost. The best possible budget places just enough ads to reach the saturation point, and not a dollar’s worth of advertising more. Companies that follow this principle will optimize their overall profitability because they will spend on advertising only what they can recoup in revenues.”
An important wake up call for marketing and advertising strategists everywhere. Download here >>

How it Works: Double Loop Marketing™

I keep getting emails asking me how “Double Loop Marketing” works. Here’s a quick explanation.
Let’s say a company like Texas Instruments wants establish itself as a thought-leader in the RFID marketspace.
In the traditional PR world, they could issue a few press releases, give a few speeches, write a few whitepapers, and then hope the media would cover them.
But what if TI decided on a “Double Loop Marketing™” approach?
What if Texas Instruments brought together its partners, industry thought-leaders, R&D professionals, VC shops, and senior executives in an online thought-leadership-based “double-loop” site to:
– Learn about the latest trends and technologies in RFID
– Define and understand the specific factors that contribute to improving strategy
– Develop recommendations for creating a RFID management discipline within your organization
– Present sample business justifications supporting strategic and learning investments in RFID
– Foster discussion of lessons learned from early adopters
– Disseminate news, events, and thought leadership articles on a monthly basis
– Create a framework for measuring performance and ROI
– Build a worldwide community of interested senior executives and target them w/ e-mail bulletins that include messages from TI and its partners
– Develop industry-specific campaigns promoting the community – including offline events, publications, and more.
– Build a members-only community of practice around the gurus and leading implementors
The site would include blogs as well, from industry experts and TI subject-matter experts.
Of course the cost of something like that is far higher than funding a blog or two, but its impact on the marketspace is far more potent.
By building a thought-leadership hub on RFID, TI establishes itself as “the one to learn from” and as I like to say: moves from “mind share” to “wallet share”
Blogs on the other hand are better suited to the voice of an individual. So if TI doesn’t have the resources to build the “big” site I mention, they can still play by allowing one or more of their subject matter experts to start blogging on the ins-and-outs of RFID.
Of course, great care must be taken to make sure that the expert actually does have something to say, and is not the mouthpiece for a veiled PR initiative. Scoble at Microsoft and Schwartz at Sun come to mind instantly, right?
Not enough? Here’s a slightly longer explanation of Double Loop Marketing.

The Long Tail in Print: Buying Books a Page at a Time

The Amazon “Pages program” would “unbundle” books, by allowing customers to purchase and view the pages they want or need.
Amazon “Upgrade” will give customers the option to purchase a physical book and perpetual online access to the book. [I do like this idea- now I won’t have lug all my books around the world.]
When will this happen? Sometime next year… read about it here.
How does this compare with Google’s “Print Library”?
Here’s what the bloggers are saying:
“Suddenly the reason why publishers and authors are so pissed off at Google becomes a little bit clearer. They think that they’re going to be able to slice and dice their books, selling little pieces of the book as people want them. They’re taking a page from the entertainment industry — and, like that industry, they’re going to discover this plan won’t work very well. They’ve just added friction in the form of additional transaction costs, both mental and monetary to finding information.”
Techdirt
“Ultimately, it’s a very Long Tail idea, isn’t it? Allow people to buy stuff the way they want to, so that you can wring every last cent out of your content, by earning $1 from someone who isn’t willing to spend $10 for the entire book.”
Yellow Handman
“It’s figured out a way to please authors and publishers, spread around the money for everyone, and do the right thing for readers. Google should sit up and take notice.”
Konnecke.com
“It sounds intriguing – especially to folks who conduct research or who cite information. For example, I might want to cite a book in a blog post or an article or something, but not wait for the entire book (or even buy it). But to pay a nominal amount for access to a few pages – well, that might well be worth the cost.”
Walloworld

Adrian Slywotzky: Brand Investment Traps

“Brands have become increasingly fragile and difficult to sustain. Failure to invest in the right mix of activities at the right time risks eroding the brand. On the other hand, those companies that anticipate and avoid the common investment traps can reap superior growth in brand value over a long period of time.”
This from Andrew Pierce and Adrian Slywotzky in MMJ. Download here.
So what are the traps, you ask?
1. Failure to invest over time
2. Wrong investment mix
3. Wrong sequence
4. Myopic focus
5. Wrong touchpoints
6. Wrong positioning
7. Failure to adapt
8. Spending too little on too many brands
9. Overstretching the master brand
10. Dilution
11. Wrong metrics
12. Trying to turn around a dead brand
13. Failure to follow through
I’ll add #14: Executive-Ego-driven branding!

Forrester: It’s Still About Content

Forrester’s Chris Charron notes:
“Now that two-thirds of North American households are online, and broadband has reached 72.5 million US households, value has begun to shift from the business of connecting pipelines and selling products to the market for content. Home networks and cheap devices free media content from the shackles of space and time, opening up distribution, and creating the opportunity for new business models. Fasten your seat belts: The content explosion is only beginning.

Charron predicts:
“As video content breaks free from the constraints of space and time, executives should take some lessons from the music industry. Content executives who are looking at the risks and opportunities of online video distribution should take note:
– TV networks, movie studios, and cable and satellite operators will need to jettison the notion that revenue should derive from a single source, and embrace alternative ways of thinking about making money from video.
– To make alternative video distribution profitable, content producers should begin to focus on the small(er) screen and the creation of unique content that consumers will pay for to use on their mobile phones or iPods.
– Internet video — with its ad-supported model — will increase in quantity and improve in quality. Some of the currently free content will make the leap to fee-based offerings as the video iPod and similar devices prove their worth to content owners and consumers.
– Consumers will begin their own video explosion of video podcasts that will let them be seen AND heard, some with hopes of recognition that would mirror the mainstream success of Internet-goofball-turned-MTV-star Andy Milonakis.
– Traditional TV advertisers will be forced to find new ways to market their wares in portable video: Look out for sponsorships, product-placement, and long form showcase-style ads to become more prevalent.”

How to Spend your Marketing and Ad Budget

Kathy Sierra’s blog post should make you think twice.
Even someone as mainstream as Sergio Zyman says: “The problem in marketing today is that we spend 95% of our time and money on advertising and 5% on the rest of the stuff. What I propose to you today is to flip it around: Spend 5% of your time and money on advertising and 95% on everything else. If you do that, you’ll sell a lot more to your customers.”
I agree. That’s how I discovered Double Loop Marketing.