March 22, 2008

Taking the Phone Book Straight to the Trash

Filed under: Advertising,Technology — Emily Reeves @ 6:55 am

A few weeks ago I opened my front door to find a bag with my new phone book in it sitting on my porch. I picked it up and walked the entire bag straight to my recycling bin, dropped it in, and walked away. I have no use for a phone book. My computer is almost always on and if it is not, my cell phones are, and it is easier and faster to look up information online. In fact, most of the time, I can find the information I need online without actually having to make a phone call! It is brilliant – I don’t ever have to have a human interaction or worry about being disappointed by poor customer service and terrible phone etiquette. Which begs the question: why are phone books still printed AND distributed it at all? Why can’t I at least opt out of this waste?

Slate.com is thinking about this to–check it out for a history on phone books. Phone book usage really comes down to generational differences:

“Ask anyone under 30 about phone books, though, and you might as well inquire about Victrola needles. The Yellow Pages Association claims that even young households use them when the occasion—a wedding, for instance—demands reliable listings. But printed phone books are a maturing industry, with only about six in 10 businesses and individuals still regularly relying on them. Yet even as directories hemorrhage content to the Web and to unlisted cell numbers, enough oldsters—those, say, who still recall physically dialing numbers in a rotary motion—continue using them enough to keep profits rolling in. In other words, you remaining four in 10 recipients can expect a lot more doorstops and spider-smashers in your future.”

“The phone book’s most fervent users these days are the cult of young YouTubers who, left with piles of directories that only their parents and professors could want, demonstrate the old parlor trick of ripping a phone book in half. (It’s harder than tearing an apple but probably easier than rolling up frying pans.) A fat Yellow Book is also perfect for punking dorm mates—this video by Tufts students has achieved phone-book infamy—or just for pummeling them. But it’s a throwaway comment in the Tufts prank that deals the most punishing blow of all: ‘They must not have gotten the memo about phone books not being useful anymore.’”

Check out some of the more entertaining phone book uses:

March 12, 2008

Addicted to Web Surfing

Filed under: Technology — Emily Reeves @ 5:31 pm

Supposedly, once you start surfing, you can’t stop.  We are all information junkies and just can’t seem to get enough of it.  Reported in the Wall Street Journal:

“What is it about a Web site that might make it literally irresistible? Clues are offered by research conducted by Irving Biederman, a neuroscientist at the University of Southern California, who is interested in the evolutionary and biological basis of the human need for information.

“Dr. Biederman first showed a collection of photographs to volunteer test subjects, and found they said they preferred certain kinds of pictures (monkeys in a tree or a group of houses along a river) over others (an empty parking lot or a pile of old paint cans).

“The preferred pictures had certain common features, including a good vantage on a landscape and an element of mystery. In one way or another, said Dr. Biederman, they all presented new information that somehow needed to be interpreted.

“When he hooked up volunteers to a brain-scanning machine, the preferred pictures were shown to generate much more brain activity than the unpreferred shots. While researchers don’t yet know what exactly these brain scans signify, a likely possibility involves increased production of the brain’s pleasure-enhancing neurotransmitters called opioids.

“In other words, coming across what Dr. Biederman calls new and richly interpretable information triggers a chemical reaction that makes us feel good, which in turn causes us to seek out even more of it. The reverse is true as well: We want to avoid not getting those hits because, for one, we are so averse to boredom.

“It is something we seem hard-wired to do, says Dr. Biederman. When you find new information, you get an opioid hit, and we are junkies for those. You might call us ‘infovores.’

“For most of human history, there was little chance of overdosing on information, because any one day in the Olduvai Gorge was a lot like any other. Today, though, we can find in the course of a few hours online more information than our ancient ancestors could in their whole lives.

“…technology is playing a trick on us. We are programmed for scarcity and can’t dial back when something is abundant.”

Men Don’t Hate Shopping

Filed under: Culture — Emily Reeves @ 1:00 pm

“They shop for casual clothing more than ever before, tend to buy many of the household grocery items and gladly will pick up at least shower gel and cologne grooming products for themselves.” — reported in Ad Age.  Some interesting facts:

  • 62% purchase clothes only to replace those that have worn out.  Only 17% follow fashion trends in style, colors or brands.
  • 65% do at least half the household food shopping. (My guess is that they are purchasing from a list created by a female in their lives!)
  • 64% think shower gel is an acceptable grooming product, but other than that the majority did not recognize grooming products as having formulations especially for them.

Media Spending Changes

Filed under: Advertising — Emily Reeves @ 12:46 pm

Reported in Ad Age.

Text Analytics

Filed under: Marketing,Technology — Emily Reeves @ 12:37 pm

“Text Analytics–a general term for the mining and interpretation of written words–has been used for more than two decades, most notably by the defense industry as far back as the Cold War to read into the word choices and text of, say, a speech written by Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev.” — according to a recent article in Ad Age.

The article goes on to say that marketers are increasingly using text analytics to mine information from customer service surveys, e-mails, online forums, and blogs.  “…while the blogosphere and social networks have so far not proved great advertising media, text analytics offers the potential to make them stronger marketing vehicles.”

Dove used the tool to not only understand reactions to their campaign, but to gain an understanding of what motivates people, which issues are most important to women in their target group, and how to create better products and messaging for them.  All by using text analytics from content on its own message boards.

What a fantastic way to leverage social media tools with a quantitative analysis!

Tech Addiction

Filed under: Technology — Emily Reeves @ 7:17 am

Check out the hilarious article in The New Yorker this week about technology and the absurdity of it.  I think my favorite part was the first paragraph:

“Shortly before Valentine’s Day, a study was released claiming that forty-seven per cent of men in Britain would give up sex in return for a big-screen plasma television…As with all matters relating to technology, numbers are key: precisely how long were those men prepared to go without sex?  And how large a screen?  (Answers: six months; fifty inches.)”

Other highlights:

“When teen-age girls window-shop these days, they don’t linger longingly outside show boutiques or record stores.  They cluster, sighing, noses pressed against the glass, in front of cell-phone stores.  But few of these devices will ever be used for talking.  The real purpose of a phone, as everyone knows, is texting.  Only techno-tards make actual phone calls…”

“Congratulations.  You, but especially I, now require the kindness of an eight-year-old…to turn on the television, let alone the living-room lights.  This may be the first generation of children who are better qualified to survive in the world than their parents, especially if survival depends on maneuvering loyal droids to fire ranged weapons using a nunchuck.”

Great read.  Enjoy.

March 5, 2008

Ask.com Targets Women

Filed under: Technology — Emily Reeves @ 8:37 am

The CEO of Ask.com announced a shift in the search engine’s strategy yesterday, as reported in the WSJ. He now wants to “focus Ask on its core audience, predominantly women who use the site to ask questions about topics like entertainment and health. To do that, he says, the company will launch new products and enhance its technology through efforts like pulling in more community-generated answers.”

“The new strategy…is a retreat from efforts by former Ask management to broaden the search engine’s audience beyond middle-American, predominantly female consumers, who have long made up its core, to more technologically sophisticated audiences. Just last summer Ask had begun offering search results that combine text, video, maps and other results on one screen.”

The search engine also plans to “refocus the company’s products and marketing on the area where Ask believes it is strongest — searches framed as questions, as opposed to single words or phrases.”

This shift makes so much sense. Rather than competing in an already saturated search market where Google is king, Ask is smart to focus on a niche audience with whom they have already had success. And, by focusing on a niche audience, the search results will be so much more relevant for those users. I love this idea.

March 3, 2008

New Kind of Sampling

Filed under: Marketing — Emily Reeves @ 11:53 am

Product sampling has always been used by consumer-product companies on the premise: “try it, you’ll like it.”  But for sampling to work, you have to have a product for them to sample.  HBO has a product and in the past has offered limited-time-only access to its subscription channel in an effort to get people to sign up.  With technology now allowing online viewing of video for the masses, HBO is taking an interesting new approach to sampling: putting episodes of one its new series online for free.

“While the show has enjoyed wide critical acclaim, some viewers have checked out. The first week of episodes drew 316,000 viewers, on average, and the numbers have declined steadily, to an average of 196,000 in week four.

“Now the pay cable channel is doing something it normally does not do: give away some of the episodes. The first three weeks of “In Treatment” are available free on HBO.com, and the first four episodes are also on YouTube [see episode one here].

“HBO says the free episodes are part of a sampling strategy for the series that is unconnected to the ratings.”

This is a great idea for getting viewers hooked and wanting more.

Epitome of Consumer Contribution

Filed under: Technology,That's Just Cool — Emily Reeves @ 11:36 am

The talk in business these days is all about how to involve the consumer–the end user–in the brand. Through brand interactions, comes loyalty. Bonus for businesses: consumers want that involvement too. They want to contribute to product creation, give their opinions on product reviews, throw out advertising ideas. All of this is an effort to be heard. Consumers are desperate to find outlets where they can feel individual and important. And brands are giving them an outlet to do this (good thing, since consumers would do it anyway).
The convergence of these two desires results in blogs, product reviews, and consumer contribution to content. The epitome of consumer contribution to content is the amazing Wikipedia. The NY Review of Books has a great piece summing up the success and addictive qualities of Wikipedia when contributing content for the world to read:

“More people use Wikipedia than Amazon or eBay—in fact it’s up there in the top-ten Alexa rankings with those moneyed funhouses MySpace, Facebook, and YouTube. Why? Because it has 2.2 million articles, and because it’s very often the first hit in a Google search, and because it just feels good to find something there—even, or especially, when the article you find is maybe a little clumsily written. Any inelegance, or typo, or relic of vandalism reminds you that this gigantic encyclopedia isn’t a commercial product. There are no banners for E*Trade or Classmates.com, no side sprinklings of AdSense.”

“It worked and grew because it tapped into the heretofore unmarshaled energies of the uncredentialed. The thesis procrastinators, the history buffs, the passionate fans of the alternate universes of Garth Nix, Robotech, Half-Life, P.G. Wodehouse, Battlestar Galactica, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Charles Dickens, or Ultraman—all those people who hoped that their years of collecting comics or reading novels or staring at TV screens hadn’t been a waste of time—would pour the fruits of their brains into Wikipedia, because Wikipedia added up to something. This wasn’t like writing reviews on Amazon, where you were just one of a million people urging a tiny opinion and a Listmania list onto the world—this was an effort to build something that made sense apart from one’s own opinion, something that helped the whole human cause roll forward.”

And on the thrills of the edit:

“I clicked the ‘edit this page’ tab, and immediately had an odd, almost lightheaded feeling, as if I had passed through the looking glass and was being allowed to fiddle with some huge engine or delicate piece of biomedical equipment. It seemed much too easy to do damage; you ask, Why don’t the words resist me more? Soon, though, you get used to it. You recall the central Wikipedian directive: ‘Be Bold.’ You start to like life on the inside.”

Providing consumers an outlet to interact with a brand and be heard can give a brand that addictive quality needed to bring consumers back again and again.

Others might view Wikipedia differently, and not quite so democratic, as noted on Slate.com:

“While Wikipedia does show the creative potential of online communities, it’s a mistake to assume the site owes its success to the wisdom of the online crowd.

“Social-media sites like Wikipedia and Digg are celebrated as shining examples of Web democracy, places built by millions of Web users who all act as writers, editors, and voters. In reality, a small number of people are running the show. According to researchers in Palo Alto, 1percent of Wikipedia users are responsible for about half of the site’s edits. The site also deploys bots—supervised by a special caste of devoted users—that help standardize format, prevent vandalism, and root out folks who flood the site with obscenities. This is not the wisdom of the crowd. This is the wisdom of the chaperones.”

The Softer Side of Wal-Mart?

Filed under: Technology — Emily Reeves @ 9:59 am

Over the holiday shopping season, Wal-Mart launched a new blog, CheckOutBlog.com.  This blog is a new and interesting approach for Wal-Mart.  The NY Times reported on this new blog over the weekend:

“Known for its strict, by-the-books culture — accepting a cup of coffee from a supplier can be a firing offense — Wal-Mart is now encouraging its merchants to speak frankly, even critically, about the products the chain carries.

“This unusual new Web site, which was quietly created during the holiday shopping season, has become a forum for unvarnished rants about gadgets, raves about new video games and advice on selecting environmentally sustainable food.

“…Wal-Mart’s site…turns the traditional model on its head. Instead of relying on polished high-level executives, it is written by little-known buyers, largely without editing.

“The result is an intensely personal window into the lives, preferences and quirks of the powerful tastemakers at Wal-Mart, the nation’s largest retailer, who have spent years shielded from public view.”

I wonder if won’t still be met with some skepticism just because it is hosted by “Wal-Mart.”  It is a very interesting approach, and if nothing else, shows some progressiveness for the brand that is right in line with positioning it has taken on sustainability. If they keep this up, they just might gradually change perceptions of Wal-Mart — a task that at once seemed impossible, but could now be a plausible outcome.