When Green Gets Silly — Solar Bikinis and Eco-Bottles

Solar bikiniA long time ago, I stopped telling people that I write about “green” issues (now I say “environmental”), because of just the sort of silliness David Sims highlights in today’s article at ThomasNet Green & Clean, “Green Products We Don’t Need — Solar Bikinis? Eco-Plastic Bottles?

Sims writes,

Somehow we don’t think surveying a garbage dump’s worth of Poland Spring plastic water bottles with 30 percent less plastic and paper warms the hearts of diehard greenies. It’s a bit like marketing Big Macs to vegetarians by saying they’re now 30 percent soybean and only 70 percent meat.

AB — 1 July 2011

SEO Angst: The Secret of Search Engine Optimization

Many who manage web sites invest great effort and expense in search engine optimization (SEO), the practice of optimizing the content and format of a site and its pages so as to attract the most search engine traffic.

SEO is important to online businesses, because qualified web traffic can translate into eyeballs (if a site sells advertising) or sales (if it’s an e-commerce site) or potential clients (if the site is run by, say, a consulting firm).

I’ve been around the practice of SEO for about 15 years (before it was even called SEO), and I’ve come to believe in a central truth about it:

If you want search engine traffic, the first thing you have to do is deserve it.

This means providing honest, substantive content.

This also means offering well-executed services and a customer experience that serves the visitor well.

This concept is approximately equivalent to customer-centeredness in marketing or user-centered design in software development. A business has to make a profit, try to grow, strive for market share — but business success in the long term is hard to come by without a strong customer focus, or user focus in the case of web traffic.

By all means, optimize your site for search engine traffic, but be aware that few businesses make it for very long by tricking Google.

Do what you can to direct web traffic to your site, but make sure you deserve it.

AB — 5 May 2011

New SEO Strategy: Turn Your Customers Into Enemies

Most marketers would say that good strategy requires you to treat your customers well — turn them into raving fans and they will recommend you to friends and family. In the online world, good reviews and links from grateful customers will contribute to good search-engine optimization (SEO), that much-sought collection of factors that results in high rankings in search engines.

But according to a Nov. 26, 2010, article by David Segal in the New York Times, one online entrepreneur has turned conventional wisdom on its head. His solution: Generate good SEO by creating enemies instead of fans. Enraged customers that you have ripped off and abused will fill Internet consumer web sites with negative reviews that will actually increase your ranking in Google searches. (See “A Bully Finds a Pulpit on the Web” for the full astonishing story.)

I would hate to contribute to the success of the retailer profiled in Segal’s article, so I’m not going to name him or his site. This SEO contrarian runs an e-commerce business selling designer eyeglasses. Segal interviewed one of his customers who says that when she complained and tried to get her money back after paying for fake designer frames, she received threats of sexual violence, phony legal documents, harassing phone calls, and a threatening email with a photo of the building where she lives and an “I am watching you” message.

Evidently, though, the marketer in question uses this kind of customer abuse as an SEO strategy. When he received many complaints on one consumer site, he posted this message in response:

Hello, My name is ********* with *********.com I just wanted to let you know that the more replies you people post the more business and the more hits and sales I get. My goal is NEGATIVE advertisement Its a new proven to work strategy when you post all kinds of negative it always turns positive. I never had the amount of traffic I have now since my 1st complaint. I am in heaven.. Thanks so very much for your continued effort. I really appreciate it.

This retailers’s create-enemies strategy is carefully crafted. It has to be, or he would lose his credit card merchant accounts. Segal, who interviewed the retailer, relates:

The only real limit on his antics is imposed by Visa and MasterCard. If too many customers successfully dispute charges in a given month, he can be tossed out of their networks, he says. Precisely how many of these charge-backs is too many is one of the few business subjects that Mr. ********* deems off the record, but suffice it to say he tracks that figure carefully and dials down the animus if he’s nearing his limit. Until the next month arrives, when he dials it back up again.

Has this retailer’s recent notoriety reduced his Google rankings? Evidently not. A search today on “lafont designer eyeglasses” reveals the following rankings:

Google search on 'lafont designer eyeglasses'

 

The listing for the master of dysfunctional customer relations is third in organic search results.

Building a business by enraging your customers is exhausting work, Segal learned from his interview with the retailer:

Mr. ********* typically works from about 10 a.m. until 5 the next morning, spending much of that time feuding with unhappy customers. He describes this grueling regimen of confrontation with a heaviness that is enough to make you want to give him a hug.

“I’m sure this is taking a toll on my health,” he complains. “I probably won’t live as long as you.”

One can only hope.

— AB, 27 Nov. 2010

Classic e-Book on Internet Marketing – Now Available in Free Archive

Some readers might recall that in 1995 I released one of the first e-books published and sold online, The Smart (aka Small) Business Guide to Internet Marketing. Publishing this e-book was a great adventure and was a good experiment in online marketing itself — I didn’t get rich from it, but it did pay the groceries for the Bredenberg family for a few years.

So if you’re interested in finding out what the state-of-the-art thinking was about online marketing in the mid-1990s, the whole thing is now archived on my Optimization Marketing site at: The Smart Business Guide to Internet Marketing.

AB — 25 May 2010

Business Lessons From the Grateful Dead

Not only has the music group the Grateful Dead created a musical and cultural phenomenon, but as a very successful business, they make a good case study in management.

That’s the conclusion drawn by Joshua Green, writing for The Atlantic — see “Management Secrets of the Grateful Dead,” March 2010.

American Beauty album cover at NY Historical SocietyGreen’s article is inspired by the recent announcement that the members of the Grateful Dead would be donating their archives to the University of California at Santa Cruz. UCSC will be using the archives to create extensive publicly-available resources. The institution is currently processing the materials, but you can read about their progress at The Grateful Dead Archive. Initial materials from the archive are on exhibit now through July 4, 2010, at the New-York Historical Society — see “Grateful Dead: Now Playing at the New-York Historical Society.”

Green reviews the curious and controversial history of academic scholarship focused on the Grateful Dead but highlights an interesting truth of the Dead’s story — they were and are a very successful business, and much of that is due to their enlightened focus on providing customer value. Green writes that,

Without intending to—while intending, in fact, to do just the opposite—the band pioneered ideas and practices that were subsequently embraced by corporate America. One was to focus intensely on its most loyal fans. It established a telephone hotline to alert them to its touring schedule ahead of any public announcement, reserved for them some of the best seats in the house, and capped the price of tickets, which the band distributed through its own mail-order house. If you lived in New York and wanted to see a show in Seattle, you didn’t have to travel there to get tickets—and you could get really good tickets, without even camping out. “The Dead were masters of creating and delivering superior customer value,” Barry Barnes, a business professor at the H. Wayne Huizenga School of Business and Entrepreneurship at Nova Southeastern University, in Florida, told me….

As Barnes and other scholars note, the musicians who constituted the Dead were anything but naive about their business. They incorporated early on, and established a board of directors (with a rotating CEO position) consisting of the band, road crew, and other members of the Dead organization. They founded a profitable merchandising division and, peace and love notwithstanding, did not hesitate to sue those who violated their copyrights. But they weren’t greedy, and they adapted well. They famously permitted fans to tape their shows, ceding a major revenue source in potential record sales. According to Barnes, the decision was not entirely selfless: it reflected a shrewd assessment that tape sharing would widen their audience, a ban would be unenforceable, and anyone inclined to tape a show would probably spend money elsewhere, such as on merchandise or tickets. The Dead became one of the most profitable bands of all time.

In the early days of Internet marketing, I remember reading the article by Dead songwriter John Perry Barlow, in Wired magazine of March 1994, “The Economy of Ideas: A framework for patents and copyrights in the Digital Age. (Everything you know about intellectual property is wrong.)” I was impressed at the time by his prescient grasp of the intellectual-property issues presented by the Internet and online commerce.

In that article, Barlow wrote:

With physical goods, there is a direct correlation between scarcity and value. Gold is more valuable than wheat, even though you can’t eat it. While this is not always the case, the situation with information is often precisely the reverse. Most soft goods increase in value as they become more common. Familiarity is an important asset in the world of information. It may often be true that the best way to raise demand for your product is to give it away….

In regard to my own soft product, rock ‘n’ roll songs, there is no question that the band I write them for, the Grateful Dead, has increased its popularity enormously by giving them away. We have been letting people tape our concerts since the early seventies, but instead of reducing the demand for our product, we are now the largest concert draw in America, a fact that is at least in part attributable to the popularity generated by those tapes.

True, I don’t get any royalties on the millions of copies of my songs which have been extracted from concerts, but I see no reason to complain. The fact is, no one but the Grateful Dead can perform a Grateful Dead song, so if you want the experience and not its thin projection, you have to buy a ticket from us. In other words, our intellectual property protection derives from our being the only real-time source of it.

Insights from thinkers like Barlow led me to write my 1995 e-book, The Smart Business Guide to Internet Marketing, one of the first e-books published and sold online (now archived for free at Optimization Marketing). In fact, Barlow was one of the people who bought a copy, although I don’t flatter myself by thinking there was much in it that he hadn’t already thought of.

I think a key insight from the Grateful Dead case study is that a successful business ultimately has to rest on customer relationships. Interactive media and technologies place unprecedented control in the hands of customers, and the smart business these days is the one that realizes that the success of its brand will rest on its customer experience.

In the Atlantic article, Barlow tells Green,

What people today are beginning to realize is what became obvious to us back then—the important correlation is the one between familiarity and value, not scarcity and value. Adam Smith taught that the scarcer you make something, the more valuable it becomes. In the physical world, that works beautifully. But we couldn’t regulate [taping at] our shows, and you can’t online. The Internet doesn’t behave that way. But here’s the thing: if I give my song away to 20 people, and they give it to 20 people, pretty soon everybody knows me, and my value as a creator is dramatically enhanced. That was the value proposition with the Dead.

AB — 16 May 2010

Kodak’s Evocative ‘Turn Around’ Ad From the 1960s

I was happy to find a YouTube version of this Kodak ad from about 1963. I’m not sure why a 12-year-old would understand how it feels to watch your children grow up, but I remember I used to cry watching this ad.

I would have to say this is good advertising — makes a strong emotional connection with the viewer and an excellent tie-in to the product. Until today, I hadn’t seen this ad for over 40 years, but I still remembered that it was for Kodak.

Interestingly, the ad is two minutes long. I understand that the song “Turn Around” is by songwriter Malvina Reynolds.

AB — 7 April 2010