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Sunday, July 20, 2008

Gas prices fueling online education

None of us knows how high gas prices might go, but we can be pretty sure that they’re not going down anytime soon; at the very least, we can assume some volatility in prices at the pump. That issue is impacting education in a big way, as many students are avoiding the idea of “going to school,” at least in the physical sense: Instead, more students are obtaining their education online.

According to a recent story in the New York Times, as many as 79% of U.S. college students live off-campus. With gasoline at or over $4 per gallon, economics is the driving force behind a jump in the number of students who are seeking to make their college education more cost-efficient.

Implications: Think of education as a product that is bought and sold, like any other. (Including the products sold by your company!) In what ways might people choose to make their use of your products more cost-efficient? If you produce a packaged food product, are they making fewer and larger grocery shopping excursions (reducing the number of miles driven back-and-forth to the store, but increasing the quantity of items purchase with each trip)? If you sell a complex product—say, appliances or automobiles—might your consumer be doing more research online, rather than going to the driving expense of traditional comparison shopping? In what way should you alter the design of your web site—or the way your product is displayed in-store—in response to these behavioral changes?

Mike Anderson

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The new anti-establishment

In the previous story, I asked you to set your political convictions aside for a moment, and look at this years’ primary and election process with an objective eye. Think back to the original pack of politicians that started the primary season… and accept the idea that of all those candidates, we might just have the least typical Republican and the least established Democrat to choose from this November. (I hope I have made that point in the most non-partisan way possible!)

Implications: Do you offer all of the most typical products and/or services in your category? Do you offer anything that is not typical of other companies in your category? Does it matter that you offer the best products/services in that category, if people are fed-up with the category, overall?

Is your category at risk of being “fired” by the consumer entirely? (If you fly, think travel agents. If you have a bank account, think If you’re a former Blockbuster customer, think Netflix.)

If your category is broken… is your company (or department) small enough to fix it? Or will you wait for consumers to fix it for you?

Early online activism can be evidence that dominating in a category can be irrelevant… if that category has failed to remain relevant. Little web sites great places for grassroots ideas to spawn, if you’re a consumer. If you’re a company, they’re great places to identify consumer needs that you may not have discovered yet the big, old-fashioned way.

Mike Anderson

Voting against political influence

We’re not even to the conventions yet, and this election offers lessons in public opinion.

Political preferences aside, a recent study indicates that the best way to wrestle influence away from PAC funds, lobbyists and special interests… is to put your money where your mouth is. Voters have contributed small amounts in large quantities during the recently passed primary season, and that generosity shows little sign of ending as we head into the general election.
But this isn’t just about cash. The BYU/Harris Poll report, published by the Center for Media Research, indicates that people who make small contributions to political candidates are more likely to be suspicious of candidates who accept large contributions from the usual sources.

Legislators have long tried to reform how politics is run in the U.S., but with little to show for that effort. (Not a terribly big surprise; those who were elected by a system are probably not the most eager folks to change it… and I mean that in the most politically neutral way.) But it appears the American voter might be more likely to take matters into their own hands… at the ATM, as well as at the ballot box.

Implications: It only makes sense that people are more likely to be passionate about a candidate if they have gone so far as to contribute to the campaign. But it seems that even non-contributors are at least slightly more inclined to think favorably of candidates who have declined funding from traditional PACs, lobbyists, corporations, etc. My point here is not focused on either candidate. My focus is purely on this shift in “where political funding comes from.” The big companies, lobbyists and PACs have to be asking whether…

Perhaps small is the new big.

Where I live, we saw Gen X put their fingerprint on politics in 1998 with the election of an anti-candidate by the name of Jesse Ventura. Having seen the race first-hand, I don’t think Ventura proved himself to be the best candidate a decade ago; he proved himself to be the least candidate-like of the other options. His performance as Governor of Minnesota aside, one important accomplishment of Ventura was to bring lots of people to the voting booth for the first time. In this election, who are the people voting—and contributing—for the first time? Why do you think that is happening?

Mike Anderson