I have updated my main website, www.thomaswatsonconsulting.com, and merged this WordPress.com blog into it. Click on that site link, and you will go directly to the new site. The www.thomaswatsonconsulting.com domain name also takes you directly there. I’ll be adding more content – some from the old site, and some entirely new as I add new blog posts to the site. I hope you will enjoy the convenience of the combination of the two sites into one.

Posted by: watsontcbc | December 5, 2009

Twitter and the Internet vs. Traditional News Media

I just read a fascinating string on Tech Crunch that started with a story called “This is Why the Internet (and Twitter) Wins“, by MG Siegler. You can read it at http://bit.ly/8w01Vg (the comments continue on three additional pages). To summarize it for you, the author asserts that the Internet (and Twitter) are better news and information delivery channels than traditional TV, radio and print – and will ultimately lead to their demise. Why? the Internet (and Twitter) is faster – even up-to-the-second,  beating the pants off the traditional media in that area. The comments in the string following the article (or blog) are essentially an extensive argument among proponents and opponents regarding this viewpoint.

Frankly, I think they all miss the mark — well, I can’t actually say “all”, since I didn’t read Every-Single-One. OK, so allow me to say instead that the ones I read and skimmed (quite a few of them!) demonstrated that they appeared to be taking some sort of stand in favor of something – Twitter, TV, journalism, blogging, newspaper, and so on. Each person asserting that their favorite is the “best”, and why the other is not. It seems to me everyone forgot that after the actual content itself, information delivery ultimately really just comes down to three things: audience, mix and profit.

  • Audience: there is a wide variety of tastes, habits and reading patterns among readers (that means you, me and everyone else who can read this). One thing is particularly evident in discussions on news delivery: preferences for accuracy vs timeliness is a key separating factor in news media. But it appears to me that because of the variety of preferences, both remain important.
  • Mix: Anyone who has worked in PR and advertising knows that the key to getting information out to the audience you want to reach is known as “mix” – placing information in various places based on audience habits and preferences. We gather information in various ways depending on the specific information we seek, where we are, when it is, what our preferences are, and so on. No one medium can deliver to all our various criteria.
  • Profit ultimately drives everything in a capitalistic, or “free”, economy for two main reasons: everyone needs to make a living, and that every single business must make a profit, or it ceases to exist. That goes for Twitter as well as newspapers. It goes for Google, just like it does for CNN.  Plus, that same economy means everyone is willing to pay for something they value highly enough – examples abound:  double espresso lattes, SUVs, health care, and so on.

We are currently in the midst of a sort-of “wild west”, an information delivery “revolution”. We are faced with and daily have to deal with constantly changing choices, unknowns and opportunities. We have to sort out the varying needs, and balance the trade-offs of accuracy, inaccuracy, timeliness and tardiness in the wide spectrum of options.

So, instead of using and arguing for just one medium for your information source or delivery channel, use and publish via the ones that meet the need or reach the right audience. In fact, I suspect if we are really honest with ourselves, we will realize we really do get our information from a wide variety or sources, and weigh them differently according to our perceptions of that delivery channel. And the same thing is true with our own information delivery – we use the channel that best suits the need. If we don’t, we are only reaching a fraction of the audience we could by using a mixture of channels.

In any case, the information delivery methods that survive will ultimately be determined by the audience and the profits.

Posted by: watsontcbc | March 27, 2009

People and the Digital World

I attended a digital marketing and social media conference recently, which addressed a wide variety of digital communications technologies, channels, methods, and creative. It was fun to see such excitement and energy around this medium. But something about the conversations and presentations was disturbing to me. It seemed to revolve around the digital media and technology itself, and not as much around the people using it.

The fact is that it’s the same people using the Internet to communicate, learn, and buy today that were shopping at brick-and-mortar stores, reading newspapers and magazines, watching television 10+ years ago. Granted, a new generation has grown up which is comfortable with digital media, but everyone is increasingly embracing the digital medium as a part of daily life, and it has no generational boundaries.  As an example, my own 94 year-old father, who is constantly using his computer (in fact he’s on his fourth or fifth one), communicates via email, is on Facebook, uses Picasa to share his digital photography, and frequently buys things online. Research  indicates this is probably more common than you may expect: “Older Americans Not Out of It”

So, when I attend a conference on marketing and social interaction that revolves around the technology, and speakers shout things like “death to print”, “newspapers deserve to die”, etc. I am not inspired. Not that I love newspapers, necessarily. I simply wonder if people involved in this medium are missing the point: People are people, regardless of where they find their information and buy and socialize. The methods may differ because of the medium, but are the behaviors really that much different?  Let’s admit it, “they” is “us” – you and me – if you are reading what I’ve posted here. Where did we get our information 10 years ago? We read, watch, learn, research, express opinions, talk to friends, get others recommendations, make a decision and buy, relay experiences to others throughout our lives. The biggest difference now is that we are able to communicate our opinions and experiences much faster and with far more people. So, when you really stop to think about it, the most basic behaviors are essentially unchanged.

Recent research bears this out. According to a new national study by Opinion Research Corporation, sponsored by Adfusion, and published in Media Post’s Research Brief titled “Internet Article-based Ads Grab more Clicks” (full report available on ARAnet), people are responding better to online advertising that “tells a story”. The study results suggest to me that people are transferring past behaviors with print into digital media. Pop-ups, banners, and other similar digital display media are seen more clearly as ads, given less immediate credibility and are often skipped over (much less clicked on) – but they do serve a valuable brand impression. Articles, or practically anything delivered in text including search results and sponsored links, appear more credible, garnering better response. Email credibility probably excludes spam, and the remaining email are generally from companies they are already interested in. These behaviors are really not much different than in the past. For example, when we get direct mail, most of us sort it over a wastebasket, tossing anything unwanted or irrelevant. Email is treated the same way, except we use spam filters and a delete key. It all comes down to the value and relevance of the content. Delivery is changing, and sources of information are changing, modes of communication and interaction are exploding. But people are the same. We simply have to understand how people’s basic behaviors have been transferred to the digital world.

A parting thought: Regardless of what medium you use, it is now more important than ever to listen to your customers, base all your marketing on clear objectives with quantitative and qualitative measures, and above all: deliver what you promise. Because it ultimately comes down to this: whatever you say, and however well you measure it, if what you say is not proven true in the person’s experience with you, your product or service, they will talk about it. And in today’s medium, far more people will hear. So if you want increased sales and loyalty, make sure you are delivering a the product and service than you are promising, admit your mistakes, and delight your customer at every opportunity. If you do that, your customers will speak well of you to others across the Internet, and that is the most effective marketing of all.

Posted by: watsontcbc | March 14, 2009

Save Marketing/IT money with an Open Source CRM solution.

Times are tough, and companies are having to find ways to cut expenses. The question is where to cut, and do so in such a way that you not only don’t stunt potential growth, but enable it. For small to medium sized companies needing to streamline marketing and sales, and improve the quality of customer engagement and retention, a CRM system can be very effective tool. The problem is that they tend to require a substantial investment, which is the opposite of what many companies are wanting to do with their financial resources right now. But, instead of postponing the idea until business improves, consider implementing an open source solution.

If you are not familiar with what that is, here’s a definition from Wikipedia:

“Open source software (OSS) is defined as computer software for which the source code and certain other rights normally reserved for copyright holders are provided under a software license that meets the Open Source Definition or that is in the public domain. This permits users to use, change, and improve the software, and to redistribute it in modified or unmodified forms. It is very often developed in a public, collaborative manner.”

Right, I know, I’ve heard the objections, too – OSS has a reputation of being unreliable, it can require IT time to tweak it to suit your specific needs, and to provide feedback and contribute code. But the Open Source industry and network has really matured, and these notions are not as true today. Plus, there are a lot of good open source solutions out there. Click here a list of open source CRM programs, provided by Wikipedia.

I have first-hand experience with implementing an open source CRM solution, and found it to be an excellent choice. A company I have worked for as Marketing Director needed a CRM solution, but didn’t have the money to buy into an conventional solution. So IT and I started digging into open source options.

We settled on Sugar CRM. When we started trying it out in late 2004, it was a brand new, and somewhat immature solution, lacking a number of features we really wanted. But, it had enough capability for us to justify the work to install it and train everyone on it. It proved it’s effectiveness right away, allowing us to streamline and automate several marketing and sales processes, and increase the quality of leads that ended up in the hands of the sales people. It also enabled far better management of relationships with new and existing customers – across the company.

Somewhat surprisingly, it turned out to be an even better solution than we thought. The open source model must have worked well, because they rapidly churned out updates – and not an annoying string of minor tweaks and bug fixes. We found most of the updates to include at least reasonable feature enhancements, and in several instances, significant improvements. Equally surprising, the releases were remarkably stable.

They now offer more robust solutions for sale, but there is still the free, basic open source application, called Community Edition that can be downloaded and installed on your server right now. By the way, I say “basic” loosely here, because today’s Sugar CRM Community Edition is actually a feature-rich app. All the features that we had wished for when we first started using the program – and many more besides – are now in the free Community Edition. I highly recommend it for small and medium-sized companies that want to save money on software for marketing.

Posted by: watsontcbc | March 5, 2009

150/20/1 Lighting. Man, I love this stuff.

IEE, from UC Santa Barbara, is at it again with another brilliant – literally – energy efficiency solution. In my view, this breakthrough represents history-making technology. OK, maybe I’m a bit zealous, but seriously, this is a big deal.  They’ve come up with a lighting source LED (I don’t dare call it a light “bulb”) that produces 150 watts of light at 20 times the efficiency of an incandescent light bulb, for one dollar. Even if you compare it with “compact” fluorescent lighting sources, which are only 25% more efficient than incandescent, you are still talking about a huge efficiency improvement. Just as importantly, this breakthrough at this price means they have reached commercial viability.

I’m really excited about this invention, for two main reasons. First, we must save energy, and we, as a nation, use a lot of lighting. This technology, when it is mass-produced  and replaces existing lighting, represents a huge potential energy savings. IEE cites a potential $115 billion saved by 2025 in the US alone, and 133 new power plants that we won’t need to build. Secondly, I hate fluorescent lighting, no matter what the form. I mean it. It is a dangerous pollution source when disposed of, because of the toxic materials – mercury, specifically – lining the bulbs. It is a health hazard when bulbs break because of the toxic nature of these materials, mercury, of course. (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/23694819/). Plus, it is widely held, if not unequivocally proven, to have negative effects on the health of people who live and work in exclusively fluorescent-lit environments (http://www.daylighting.com/hazards.asp). Even if you discount this, you can’t get around the dangers of mercury poisoning both individuals and environment from broken and improperly disposed bulbs.

So, thanks, IEE. Your LED’s an energy efficient lighting technology that I can really get behind. Let me know when you line up a manufacturer, and when and where I can start buying these things. (or if you want help marketing them – just show me where to sign up!)

Posted by: watsontcbc | March 4, 2009

What do water, fuel, flour, and electricity have in common?

That’s an odd combination. In fact, that’s the short list. The long list includes:

All of this is the MFRFP: Multi Functional Rural Fuel Platform. Starting with vegetable oil seeds, such as soybeans, this machine performs all these functions. Multi-functional platforms have been around for several years, but this appears to be the first one that incorporates refining the source material into a fuel for immediate use – it produces diesel, kerosene and gasoline. In fact, whereas previous units use conventional fossil-based diesel to fuel the engine that drives all it’s functions, this unit generates it’s own fuel. This both sets it apart from it’s predecessors, and makes this machine a renewable energy device. I’ll say it again: it runs off the very fuel it produces, and produces far more fuel than it needs. It will run for 10 hours on 3 gallons of fuel, and produces 8 gallons of fuel per hour.

Because this unit is self-sustaining, it is no longer limited to providing just a municipal type of benefit to the community in which it is installed, as previous units did. In the MFRFP site’s own words: “With it’s fuel generation capability, it provides the missing piece of the development puzzle by enabling poor, rural communities to generate cash from the sales of fuel produced in the community. The ability to earn money is the missing piece in the rural development puzzle that has plagued the aid community and developing world alike in their poverty alleviation efforts for the last 30 years. The MFRFP provides an opportunity for poor, rural communities to join the global trading system and sell a valuable commodity to the world. In this way, the MFRFP’s revenue stream provides the ability to turn the conventional thinking on providing aid to poor, rural communities on its head. The MFRFP for the first time provides entrepreneurial and job opportunities for the local populations living in poor, rural communities that are far more lucrative than can be found in cities or in other countries.”

Check it out at http://www.mfrfp.org/

Posted by: watsontcbc | March 4, 2009

US generates the most wind energy. Which state is tops?

I read a really interesting article in the LA Times on Sunday, on the new jobs being created by wind energy. These 30-story machines need maintenance: “Wind Power Idustry Seeks Trained Workforce” Fantastic news for those hardy souls who love a dangerous challenge, and need a new career. The growth of this industry in a time when most businesses are struggling means a growing source of jobs – not just in maintenance, but also in design, manufacture and installation. What also caught my eye were two statistics:

1. The US has passed Germany as the world leader in wind power generation measured by megawatts generated: “The U.S. last year surpassed Germany as the world’s No. 1 wind-powered nation, with more than 25,000 megawatts in place. Wind could supply 20% of America’s electricity needs by 2030, up from less than 1% now, according to a recent Energy Department report.” (Marla Dickerson, LA Times, March 1, 2009). Pretty exciting, in my view, as it means we have clearly embarked in a journey toward more intelligent energy generation.

2. The top three states in wind power generation are Texas, California and Iowa. Iowa? Wait a minute. Iowa is nearly 1/5 the size of Texas, and just under 1/3 the size of California. According to a Wikipedia chart, Texas is #1, with 6698 MW, California is second with 2537 MW, and Iowa third, with 1655 MW. But here’s the thing: Iowa is the smaller state, and when I compared the watts generated per square mile, Iowa tops the other two:

Iowa: 29.41 KW/Sq Mile

Texas: 24.94 KW/Sq Mile

California:15.50 KW/Sq Mile

I live in California, and have seen the wind farms in Tehachepe many times, awed by the many busily spinning turbines. Texas I’ve been to, and even though I have not seen the turbines first hand, with the broad plains and the sheer size of the state, I can easily understand it’s leadership in total MW generation. But Iowa? I think this state is to be congratulated on their vigorous embrace of this power generation method. As I stated in a previous post, I drove across it this summer, and saw the surprising number of existing and under-construction wind farms, and the amazing number of trucks carrying wind turbines.

I am impressed, Iowa.  Congratulations on your vigorous embrace of this power generation method, and investment in your power future. I hope many other states follow your example, embracing whichever renewable energy resource makes sense for their geography and resources.

Posted by: watsontcbc | March 3, 2009

Simple Solar Solution Saving Lives on Chad

Sometimes energy technology can be so simple and effective, it can be deployed anywhere at the lowest of cost. And in this case it has far greater benefit than saving energy. This simple application of solar heating principles not only make cooking a much simpler proposition for these refugees in Chad, but saves the women from having to leave the safety of the refugee camp to gather firewood, where they are at seroius risk of murder and rape. Beyond that, widespread application of this simple technology in poor areas of the world could have many other benefits.  See the article “The Simple Tool That Saves Women’s Lives”.

Posted by: watsontcbc | February 25, 2009

The Future is Now for Energy and Environment

Sources of renewable energy have been an interest of mine for many years. I really got introduced to it when I got to know several people at the Solar Energy Research Institute in Golden, Colorado, where my wife worked in 1980. Pres. Bush renamed it the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in 1993, but their mission is the same: “to develop renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies and transfer these technologies to the private sector”.  Since then, I have kept an eye on the developing technologies of renewable energy, with particular interest in solar photovoltaic (PV), fuel cells, wind, geothermal and transportation motivation. In recent years, I had an opportunity to work for a small urban renewal organization in northern Illinois called Zion Development. Along with it’s primary goal of restoring deteriorated neighborhoods, Brad Roos, its founder and Executive Director, is dedicated to renovating buildings using super-insulation techniques, using energy efficient heating, cooling, appliances and lighting, and most significantly, solar and geothermal energy sources.  Zion is completing their latest project, the “Lantow Lofts” this spring. This was a delightful chance to work with an organization and community leader who is actively applying these technologies today. The time for renewable energy to enter the mainstream has come.

In recent months, I’ve also had the privilege of getting get to know the people at University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB) who have founded the Institute for Energy Efficiency (IEE). Dr. John E. Bowers, Director, and Daniel T. Colbert, Ph.D, Executive Director, are establishing an excellent organization that is working with industry to speed development and deployment of energy efficiency technologies. Here’s their mission in their own words: “The Institute for Energy Efficiency is an interdisciplinary research institute focused on delivering significant energy efficiencies in less than 10 years. The Institute’s cutting-edge research activities leverage the considerable expertise of U.C. Santa Barbara’s highly acclaimed faculty, scientists, engineers and researchers, including five Nobel Laureates.” Check out and consider attending their upcoming, and inaugural Santa Barbara Summit on Energy Efficiency.

There are many exciting things happening today. Some that I have noticed:

  • Wind generator construction is at an all-time high in the US and is the fastest-growing segment of renewable energy according to NREL’s Wind Research web page. Manufacturers I know who are involved in that segment tell me that there is a > 1 year order backlog in the US. As I made a road trip this summer from Illinois to California, I witnessed first-hand, small and large wind-farms in Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, as well as California, that I had not seen 5 years earlier. In Illinois and Iowa, I seemed to encounter trucks carrying wind turbine blades about every 50 to 100 miles – more than I’ve ever seen.
  • Solar Photo Voltaic at it’s highest efficiency, there are many manufacturers worldwide, and application is becoming more widespread. 20 years ago, the vast majority of solar installation were hot water systems. Today, although hot water is still dominant, Solar PV is growing at a much faster rate, and is approaching equal annual installation volume (see this report (PDF) on Solar Market Trends from IREC). California State University Channel Islands (CSUCI), for example, is one of 15 CSU campuses that will build year a solar PV array to provide supplementary power, according to a recent CSUCI press release. CSUCI’s installation is expected to provide “about seven percent of its current annual power consumption”. Already, according to the release, “The CSU system already receives 20 percent of system-wide electricity from sustainable sources.”
  • In spite of the struggles the auto industry is facing, the area in which they continue to invest, in fact see as their future lifeline, is in alternative motivation and fuel systems. These include hybrid, plug-in hybrid, all-electric, fuel cell, bio-diesel, and others. Here are a few articles on some of the company’s plans:
  • There is a rapidly growing community of technology developers and manufcaturers that are involved in making these automotive developments possible, and are brining them to market. Just do a search for any energy technology to get a list. Example: “fuel cell manufacturer“.

The future is now.

In spite of economic conditions, perhaps even because of it, this is a time to work toward a better, more energy-efficient and environmentally responsible future. Our focus as a nation is shifting, out of necessity, from self-indulgent accumulation, to conservation and responsibility. And our lives and those of our children have the potential of being better for it. So, let’s work together, and build the future now. Let’s save energy, be resourceful and creative in using energy, make wise choices when buying energy-using technology, and act environmentally responsibly. Join a local “green” community or network to get connected with what’s going on in your community.

As for me, we are continuing to think “green” at home and office, which has really been a life-long effort for us.  I work at my residence, so I don’t have to drive to an office. As many knowledge workers do today, I conduct the vast majority of my business online and via telecommunications. Plus, I am increasingly focusing my business on helping companies developing these emerging technologies bring their products to market.

Posted by: watsontcbc | February 24, 2009

Thought for the Times

Growing Business in Today’s Economy

Growing a business can be difficult in any economic economic climate.  You understand the importance of defining and mapping out the viability of your product or service in your particular market. You understand that having a strategy, plus an accurate, achievable goal is a must. You realize that successfully marketing your products and services will require solid resources – either from within your company or with professional support from outside. In a weak economy,  you know that strong, viable marketing is not an option – it is essential to remaining in business.

Here’s a few tips on things that can help grow your business in a weak economy, and includes a few options for the new media environment:

  • Identify and use high-credibility, low-cost channels, then maximize them
  • Accurately measure channels that bring inquiries and business
    • Reduce non-productive channels and expand to productive ones
    • Improve marketing ROI & grow leads
  • Improve your marketing processes to eliminate those unrecognized resource wasters. Pinpoint what is most effective, then refine it
  • Ensure customer loyalty – not just their satisfaction:
    • Maintains existing business base, keeping aggressive competitors at bay
    • Increases word-of-mouth recommendations which brings new customers
  • Grow your GREEN quotient: showing the environmentally-friendly intent and actions of your business communicates care and trustworthiness to your customers.
  • Optimize your web site to boost your search engine “natural” listing results
  • Be careful entering the “Wild west “ of the internet by using solid strategies and metrics to guide your activities
  • Take advantage of new opportunities to dialog with and listen to your audience via the Internet:
    • Monitor your standing in online dialogs and forums
    • Respond to provide support and answers to issues you discover
    • Start a blog on a topic that will enhance your credibility
    • Start a value-added section to your website – one that’s not explicitly sales-oriented

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