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Monday, August 31, 2009

Objective analysis of subjective content

It was only a matter of time. In the age of analytics, we have grown accustomed to the idea that any can be measured and that everything should be boiled down into a set of empirical values. I find myself not surprised that several companies are now crawling the web, attempting to quantify… feelings.

In an emerging field called “sentiment analysis,” firms are working to scour chat rooms, blogs and social networks... in search of mentions about their company or products. Moreover, they seek to harvest information about whether those mentions came from passionate fans, or unhappy consumers who might use their blog or “friend list” to vent about a products, services, or experiences that failed to meet expectations. Read more on the matter from a recent story in the New York Times.

Implications: Once upon a time, advertising was a one-way street. Companies ran ads that would be seen, read, or heard by the consumer, and that was that. If a consumer was unhappy, they might write a letter to the company, and receive a letter of apology in return (if they were lucky), or maybe even a discount coupon or other incentive from the company, designed to encourage the customer to “give our company another chance to earn your business.”

The web has made advertising a two-way street. If unhappy, the consumer can talk back to the company through email or a web site. If the company doesn’t listen or respond satisfactorily, the consumer can take-up arms, in the form of a keyboard and mouse… and start a campaign of their own.

Smart companies don’t fear this feedback… they embrace it, knowing consumers long to be satisfied, and the more satisfied they are, the more loyal they will be. Use the web to tell you what’s going right. And use it to learn what you could be doing better (at least, in the minds of your vocal and digital-savvy consumers.)

Want a cheap, easy way to tune-in to the web? Visit, and fill-out the prompts, perhaps using the name of your company or a few key products. The search giant will scour the web for news stories and blog entries that include the topics you have told it to look for. If you have a nice research budget to work with, you could hire a firm that is much more scientific about harvesting information from social networks, blogs, etc.

Yes, it can be both gratifying and terrifying to listen-in on the consumer conversation—or lack thereof—that is happening on the web. But intelligence is a much better vantage point than ignorance.

Mike Anderson

Sunday, August 23, 2009

A starting point for some, a dead end for others

Preparing to write this post, I looked-up the definition of “cul de sac” at One of the entries is, “A street or lane closed at one end.” But another definition is, “any situation in which further progress is impossible.”

A seemingly endless stream of stories has been written about both the volatile real estate market and the sub-prime mortgage meltdown. There is one story—a series, really—that I’d like to share with you, for the way it puts a face on the families who have both lost and gained during the past few years of change. First, I’ll offer the main story, which published in the New York Times on August 22, 2009. It focuses on a neighborhood called Beth Court in California, and sheds some light on the families who are “trading spaces.” The same day, a companion story focused on the types of things some families were selling via garage sales, in an effort to stave-off the credit collectors until another day; the piece also shed light on families who were taking advantage of the deals.

Implications: My heart goes out to anyone who has faced the economic trauma of losing a home, a job, or any other keystone of life which can upset a family and a lifestyle. That having been said, part of my job is to explore “what’s going on” out there, and help people like you anticipate future events that could follow. (It has never been my goal to predict the future, only to suggest a range of possibilities… and inspire you to do the same!)

According to an analysis
published by USA Today, the housing market will continue to have more supply than demand in the U.S. for quite some time, depending on the part of the country you’re in. So, it’s safe to assume that people will continue to migrate; some from owned homes into rented properties, and some from apartments into houses.

An important point begs to be made with regard to either group: Whether someone is trading up, or if they are trading down... THEY ARE STILL TRADING. When a family moves from a large home into an apartment, their lives and belongings often must become more compact; and with relocation, they are not close to the same bank, dry cleaner, grocer, drug store and other vendors they had become accustomed to. They are “up for grabs,” as many of their consumption habits have changed.

The same is true for a family that takes advantage of the current market, moving from a rental property into an owned home that has finally come within financial reach. They are establishing new roots, too, and must also acquire many of the tool kit and workbench items that come with a home they must now repair and improve (often not the case when they were renters).

Both markets still have needs, and both categories of people will still consume. Profit waits for the company who understands and serves those needs.

Mike Anderson

Saturday, August 22, 2009

From unemployed to "Me, Inc."

It turns out necessity could be the mother of more than just invention.

Some people dream of starting a business, but don’t, because there’s too much to lose. (It can be difficult to walk away from the security and benefits of a good job, after all.)

But when the job walks away from the worker, the idea of starting a business is a proposition that goes from “too much to lose” to “nothing to lose” in a big hurry!

I’ve written about this phenomenon before [see “Creating competitors or collaborators” from last February]. But a recent newspaper story reminded me that nothing inspires new business start-ups like old-business lay-offs. I encourage you to walk through this article from the August 22, 2009 NY Times.

Implications: What kinds of business opportunities might emerge, as you think of ways to serve a growing number of people who are now either self-employed, or running a small company of their own?

The small business owner or “company of one” often has rapidly changing needs. Their previous job might have featured insurance and other benefits, an I.T. department if anything when wrong with their laptop, a break room with all the amenities… and a regularly-scheduled paycheck. Now, the CEO of “Me, Inc.,” might just be shopping for things like an affordable group to join for health insurance, a place to go for computer repairs or enterprise solutions, or even something as simple as a new coffee pot. And of course, financial services will be required to help manage the ebb and flow of cash flow that happens with almost every new business start-up.

Beware. The next consumer to walk into your lobby, dealership or store… could really be a company, in disguise.

Mike Anderson

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

UPDATE: Pervasive Technology

Remember when your parents or grandparents suggested that, "You watch too much television?" To them, it was way too much... since the context of their childhood may have included little or no exposure to the medium. (Believe it or not, there was a time when television did not receive the share of entertainment time it does today.)

In that context, see this NY Times story about the sun-up to sun-down impact of technology on some typical, techno-savvy families. The ones who are wired and wire-less... constantly connected to their email, Facebook, Twitter, et al.

Implications: If you're still trying to figure out how to build Web 2.0 or Social Networking into your business model, stop it. Instead, figure out how your customers have built technology into their daily lifestyle... and then consider how you might fit in to that digital world. And don't settle for exposure. Go for engagement.

If it seems like people today are getting way too much technology... could it be that you're comparing today's world to one with a different context?

[Writer's note: Pervasive Technology refers to the trend that, "Not only is technology available almost anywhere... but it seems we cannot escape it." Click here to see other postings on the topic.]

Mike Anderson

Monday, August 10, 2009

A day in the life

As a perpetual student of what makes people tick, I loved this interactive graphic that shows, according to survey research, how the typical American (over the age of 15) spends their day. See hit here, courtesy of the New York Times.

Note that the chart was part of a larger story, which focused on the ways unemployed persons tend to spend the extra time they have on their hands. (Doesn't sound like they're sitting idle.) To see that story, click here.

Implications: Studying how people use their time can help one develop ideas... to make them spend more time with your product or service.

These NY Times stories provide an interesting overview. But have you any idea--have you conducted any research--about how your most important customers are spending their time, and their money, and why?

Mike Anderson

When supplies are getting crushed, prices tend to go up

An interesting story in today’s USA Today suggested that prices for pre-owned vehicles could see a slight spike, since much of the “older inventory” is being absorbed by the Cash for Clunkers program.

Implications: New public policy (or private, for that matter) typically reveals a set of unintended consequences. The original goals for this program were to stimulate the automotive industry, and benefit the environment by offering incentives to junk a gas-guzzler and buy a more fuel-efficient alternative (among other things). It ran out of money quickly, and legislators had to pass additional funding about a week after the program launched. By those measures, the program could be argued as successful. (Of course, paying for the program is a matter of much discussion.)

The program has also had the effect, apparently, of reducing the number of pre-owned cars on the market. And as any good capitalist knows, when the supply goes down, prices tend to go up.
Also today, there was
an Associated Press story in the Dallas Morning news about how charities that used vehicle donations to generate revenue are seeing a drop-off in contributions. In a volatile economy, it seems, the rebate of up to $4,500 on a Clunker is a little too much cash to part with.

I offer no opinion here as to the effectiveness or the side-effects of the CARS program. Only that it is having an impact… beyond that which may have been intended. Any policies like that in your company?

Mike Anderson

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

UPDATE: Getting texting under control

Last week, I wrote about anticipated responses to the increasing incidence of distracted driving (see "Getting texting under control B4 it's 2L8," July 31).

In today's New York Times, there was a story that seems to confirm that a greater regulatory response is in the offing. See the story by clicking here.

Mike Anderson