Constant Contact Colocates with Small Business Customers

Great companies go beyond just providing a product or service. They think of themselves as partners in the success of their customers. Three companies that do an outstanding job of advocating for the small business customer are American Express (with its Open Forum small business community and annual Small Business Saturday promotion, among other things), Intuit and Constant Contact, the Massachusetts-based e-mail marketing company.

I often use Constant Contact’s Twitter and Facebook profiles as models for other B2B companies to follow. About 90% of the content the company posts in social networks is intended to help customers succeed in small business marketing. Less than 10% promotes Constant Contact products. It’s like that in the company’s remarkable Pinterest account as well.

Constant Contact’s Small Business Innovation LoftNow the company is taking customer advocacy to the next level with the launch of the Small Business Innovation Loft. That’s a physical space within the company’s Waltham, Mass. offices were startups can set up shop for four months at no cost and get $10,000 to spend on marketing activities. They also get free meeting space and priority support from Constant Contact’s support team. This press release has more.

Innovation labs aren’t new, but they are usually sponsored by venture capital firms or real estate companies that hope to cash in on them. In contrast, won’t take equity in the startups it nurtures. The value to the company comes from the promotional benefit and the word-of-mouth awareness that will develop as some of these companies invariably succeed and set off on their own. What better way to put your money where your mouth is?

Constant Contact makes it a point to get inside the minds of its customers and understand their ambitions, fears and motivations. That’s the secret of content marketing, however you define it. Check out this clever year-end video the company put together to celebrate its customers.

The Smart Device Revolution Is Just Beginning

I spotted a promotion this morning for a smart tag you can now attach to items that you never want to lose. It emits a Bluetooth signal that a smart phone app can pick up so you can always track them down. It’s a terrific idea and another example of how the Internet of things is going to transform so many markets.

Smart Revolution E-Book CoverCoincidentally, Christina Kerley just sent a copy of her new e-book, “The SMART Revolution.” It’s a 17-page compendium of products that are rewriting the rules of entire businesses by embedding intelligence into everyday things.

For example, hospital workers can now wear a wristband that reminds them to wash their hands and monitors their diligence in doing so (if this sounds Big Brother-ish to you, ask yourself if you wouldn’t prefer to be a patient in a hospital that used it). There’s a device you can attach to a golf glove that gives you feedback on your swing and several examples of devices that monitor your health to help you or your doctor make more informed decisions.

There are several other wonderful examples in the 17-page e-book, which is free on Christina’s site.

I think we’re only in the first innings of understanding the revolutionary potential of smart mobile devices and how they will enable us to crack big problems that are too expensive to solve by other means.

Waze screen shotI’m using the popular Waze app on my phone to make me a smarter driver. Waze tracks data coming from nearby users and alerts me to problems ahead. It has become an essential utility for me when driving more than a few miles, particularly at rush hour. On several occasions, Waze has redirected me to routes I never knew existed to get me around traffic jams. It taps into the experience of each driver on the road to the mutual benefit of all.

While most of us use our smart phones primarily to read, text and perhaps play games, their potential is so much greater. When tied to a network, they become utilities that tap into information all around us to make us healthier, more informed and more efficient.

Back in the 1980s several states experimented with traffic monitoring systems that involved embedding sensors in roads. The systems proved to be too expensive and fragile to be practical. Today we’re solving these kinds problems not by changing our infrastructure but by tapping into the devices that people carry with them. This is a vastly cheaper, more reliable and more flexible approach than the ones envisioned just a couple of decades ago.

I think you’ll find Christina’s e-book fun and thought-provoking. Get it here.

Gordon Gekko is So Last Century

More evidence that the values of the modern workforce are changing not just in the U.S. but worldwide comes from a new Thomson Reuters survey of  more than 1,000 professionals in Brazil, China, India, the U.K. and the U.S. The key finding is that a majority of workers today say they are more motivated by what they do than how much they make. The majority of Americans would rather have a job they enjoy (72%) than one that pays well (28%). Further evidence that Gordon Gekko is a historical relic.

Those who still cling to racial stereotypes should read Daily Beast’s take on the survey: “Workers are now united by global connectivity and curiosity rather than race, class, or gender.” The Beast also notes that the gender gap is rapidly closing, particularly in developing markets. “Ultimately, 52% of professionals in emerging markets see an equal number of male and female corporate executives within the next 25 years,” compared to  36% of professionals in developed markets. In other words, emerging countries are leveraging all their workforce resources to beat us.

Naturally, there’s data on collaboration and social media. Some highlights:

Ninety-percent of professionals who telecommute on a daily basis use at least one social media platform. Comment: Facebook is replacing the socializing power of the office water cooler and powering the distributed workforce revolution. I can’t remember the last time I talked to someone who comes in to the office five days a week. Social networks are transforming the way we work (whether the IT organization blocks them or not).

Fifty-nine percent of satisfied professionals say that their organizations allow them to participate in online groups and/or chat rooms as part of their work compared to 40% of dissatisfied professionals. Comment: Note the “satisfied” qualifier. I wish the IT organizations that still block Facebook and YouTube would get the message: Socializing has always been part of the workplace and is essential to worker satisfaction. Let people use these platforms. They will figure out how to apply them to the business. Just like they did with e-mail and the Internet,

Eighty-two percent of emerging market professionals and 41% of developed market professionals agree that blogs, information from social media or crowd-sourced information on the Internet are highly useful in helping to understanding an issue or news item. Comment: In other words, the developed world still has an old-media mindset whereas people in emerging markets have never had old media. It’ll be interesting to see if their more expansive perspective helps them actually understand the world around them better than we do, and perhaps understand that there is a world beyond their own borders.

Eighty-three percent of emerging market professionals and 49% of developed market professionals agree that carefully filtered information from blogs, social media or crowd-sourcing can be as accurate and useful as traditional media information. Comment: Sort of a restatement of the results above, but it’s further evidence that companies in emerging markets are more adept at internalizing information from many sources. If they continue to build better products at lower cost than we do, we should pay attention to that.

More from Thomson Reuters:

Thomson Reuters data on news consumption

 

Enhanced by Zemanta

TheCUBE is Traveling Tech TV

The folks at Wikibon and SiliconANGLE have been traversing the country for the last two years with a cleverly packaged portable streaming video platform they call TheCUBE. They touch down at the site of a technology conference, stake out a couple of hundred square feet of floor space and start pulling in speakers and attendees for interviews. The interviews are streamed live online and archived on the SiliconANGLE Network channel on YouTube. At the recent EMC World Conference they blew through 72 video interviews.

Wikibon founder Dave Vellante is clearly having the time of his life, and they’re making money, too. Conference organizers and sponsors pay for the coverage. Here they are at this week’s IBM Edge conference in Las Vegas, where TheCUBE is at the center of the action and the interviews are playing continually on screens around the conference floor. Congratulations to Dave and John Furrier for a great and well-packaged idea.

TheCUBE at the IBM Edge Conference

 

Interesting Threads in Dell’s 2013 Social Media Predictions

I happen to be one of the 14 people quoted in this Dell e-book, Social Media Predictions for 2013, but that’s not why I’m pointing out to you. I have great respect for every one quoted in this book, but what’s interesting is the common themes that emerge. For example:

  • Several of these experts see a strong year for Google+, while most believe Facebook is in for slow growth or even decline. I agree completely. The more I use G+, the more I like it. In contrast, I think Facebook is increasingly a place for backslapping and trash talking without the means to sustain meaningful conversations. In other words, I think the novelty of Facebook is wearing off. BTW, Pinterest and Tumblr also draw a lot of praise.
  • There’s a strong subtext of the need to make interactions more meaningful and personal and for brands to unleash their people to speak as themselves. Stop using social media as another kind of fire hose and start using it for listening, which is its most basic value.
  • There are some good quotes on context and sourcing. Basically, stop throwing content against the wall and start making it more meaningful. Geoff Livingston’s comments on creating trusted content are particularly good.
  • A couple of the interviewees call for more civility online, which is something I think we can all support. I like the way Shel Israel phrased it: “It seems to me that that people on social networks were adversely influenced by the…recent presidential campaign. They feel the best way to be right is to demean people who disagree with them.”
  • Lee Odden’s passage on hash tags is a riot: “#lets #just #stop #with #the #hashtagging #of #every #word #in #a #tweet #OK? #You #keyword #spammer #you.” Completely agree.

Here’s the embed, which links to the document on SlideShare.

Enhanced by Zemanta

An Intelligent Approach to Influence Measurement

Anyone who follows my blog knows that I’m not a big fan of Klout, or any service that oversimplifies the complex process of assessing online influence by boiling it down to a single number. However, I do think it’s important that organizations be able to understand the online influence of people they want to build relationships with.

Awareness Networks just announced a tool that takes an intelligent and customized approach to influence assessment. The Social Marketing Automation suite enables customers to identify patterns in public online conversations, extract profile information and create what amounts to custom Klout scores.

Here’s how it might work: A user could search Twitter for people who have engaged directly with a brand more than twice over the last month, have mentioned the brand more than five times and have more than a specified number of followers. The suite can also dig into publicly available profile information to add filters by location, profession or any other data that is publicly available on Facebook or Twitter. So if you’re looking for health care professionals in the Milwaukee area who frequently recommend Motrin over Advil, you can find them for prospecting or a targeted marketing campaign.

Awareness goes a step further by combining public profile data with conversation topics to create prospect databases. This information can be imported into CRM and marketing automation packages, easing what is usually a laborious manual process. Integration with Salesforce.com is built into the first product and most of the leading platforms will be added over time, according to Mike Lewis, VP of marketing at Awareness. This addresses the problem of lead quality, which is the biggest cause of sales waste.

Awareness doesn’t extract data from social networks directly but rather works with Gnip, a company that has license agreements with most of the top social networks to distribute their content. About the only major source Gnip doesn’t have is LinkedIn, which keeps its profile information close to the vest. But YouTube, Tumblr, WordPress and many other sources are pumped through its firehose.

Awareness Social Authority Dashboard

Competitive advantage is fleeting in this business, and I expect that others will quickly add this kind of functionality. Awareness’ strategy is smart: It will focus on providing the core data mining and filtering technology and work with partners to deliver results to whatever marketing or sales automation tool they prefer. Victory will go to the swiftest.

Pricing hasn’t been announced yet, but there’s a webinar set for Tuesday, Aug. 14 at 2 EDT at which more details will be discussed. Maybe you can pry some dollar figures out of the speakers then.

Full disclosure: I have been a paid consultant to Awareness on spot projects in the past, although I’ve done no work for the company in at least two years.

My First Prezi

I’ve probably spent at least a couple of thousand hours with PowerPoint over the last 15 years and believe me, familiarity breeds contempt. I find conference organizers’ obsession with “getting the slides in advance” to be a bit annoying at times, as if the slides are more important than the message, but I suppose that’s the world in which we live.

Tomorrow I’m keynoting a local conference of educators, and my message is that they need to make some pretty fundamental changes in the way they do their work in order to meet the needs of today’s young people and tomorrow’s markets. So I thought the least I could do is to change the way I create my message. I tried Prezi, the online presentation service that comes at presentations from a completely different angle. Instead of a slide deck, Prezi uses a “canvas” onto which you can drop elements. The presentation zooms and pans around in an order you specify. It’s amazingly easy to use once you get the hang of it, and there are some very cool things you can do that you’d never consider with PowerPoint.

On the other hand, motion sickness is a real risk with Prezi. My wife, Dana, who is prone to migraines, took a look at the first version of this presentation and said it gave her a headache. I toned it down, but the experience still takes some getting used do.

Prezi isn’t right for every scenario, but it’s a nice new addition to my presentation toolkit. And it’s so NOT PowerPoint!

 

A City Yard Transformed

When we moved into an old urban home nearly six years ago, we knew one of the disadvantages was a postage-stamp-sized front yard. The previous owners had done some very basic landscaping – and for some reason had installed a full irrigation system – but what can you do with less than 600 ft.² of space?

It turns out a lot. We engaged Nancy Warren and Janice Welenc of Green Velvet Gardens of Holliston, MA to apply their imagination and experience to the problem. We’ve seen what Janice did to landscape her own home and we had no doubt they would come through with something exceptional.

Which they did. We don’t have a good “before” photo, but you can get a sense from the picture below what they had to work with.

Our front yard before

Janice and Nancy re-imagined the space built around a stone patio that’s just large enough to accommodate a table and a couple of chairs. The centerpiece is lawn space big enough for the twins to play in (at least for the next couple of years). The center oval is surrounded by evergreens and whatever plants they could reuse from what was already there. A rhododendron that has never bloomed in five years was moved into the sun and flowered for the first time. We’re just delighted with the transformation.

Our Front Yard after

Front Yard After Green Velvet Gardens of Holliston, MAIf you’re looking for landscaping services in Metro West Boston, you can’t do better than Green Velvet Gardens. Have a look at their landscaping portfolio and see for yourself. As they say on eBay, “A+++++++”.


Finding Balance in the Always-On World

Digital LeaderI picked up Erik Qualman’s Digital Leader expecting a very different experience from the one I got. Qualman is a thought leader on the transformative potential of social media whose 2010 bestseller, Socialnomics, is considered a textbook in its field. I expected Digital Leader would instruct me on how to further immerse myself in these tools of change.

But quite the opposite is true. While Digital Leader is unabashedly enthusiastic about technology, it is more about about restoring balance to your life, getting your priorities straight, learning to relax and even disconnecting from the grid on occasion. I’ve already made three or four changes to my daily routine as a result of insights I gained from this book, and that’s good enough to merit an enthusiastic endorsement.

Eric QualmanQualman (left) lays out his thesis in the book’s very first words: “Life is complex; those that simplify it win.” What follows is an engagingly uplifting read that focuses on making the most of your productive time so that you can maximize the value of your downtime.

The phenomenon Digital Leader addresses is familiar to many of us. Our world increasingly demands that we be constantly connected and always available. Our greatest challenge is no longer how to connect with others but to keep our digital lifelines from entangling us.

Qualman cites numerous examples of people who have found this balance. They range from Monster.com founder Jeff Taylor, who refuses to check e-mail after he leaves the office every day, to football star Rosie Grier, who found relief from a pressurized career in needlepoint. Chapter 5, entitled “Simple = Success,” has many practical examples of how we can simplify daily tasks, and I’ve already put some of them into practice. For example:

Don’t be a prisoner to your inbox. The fact that someone sends you an unsolicited e-mail does not mean you are obliged to respond. Most e-mail messages that demand a reply can be dispatched with a delete key or a one-sentence response. Someone else’s needs are not necessarily your problem. This advice is already saving me time.

Focus on completing the tasks that matter. Multitasking actually makes us less productive. Set out two goals to accomplish each day and make them your first priority. Everything else can wait.

Follow your passion. Qualman is particularly taken with the examples of legendary innovators like Thomas Edison and Henry Ford, who refused to accept the conventional wisdom that what they were doing was futile and who treated failure as a necessary step on the path to success. Innovators have big dreams.

Unplug occasionally. Qualman recommends completely shutting off e-mail, Twitter and the like once a week. I’m not there yet, but it’s a laudable goal.

Rest. Sleep deprivation and 17-hour workdays ultimately impair judgment and lead to bad decisions. Let your body, not your alarm clock, determine how much sleep you need. I heeded that advice and got an extra hour of sleep just this morning.

Failure is a persistent theme in Digital Leader, but always in a positive sense. “I failed my way to success,” says Edison in a quotation leading a chapter that highlights the virtues of what Qualman calls “failing forward.” Veterans of the tech world will recognize this willingness to learn from one’s mistakes as a core ingredient in the success of Silicon Valley. Other parts of the world have tried to attract technology entrepreneurs with tax breaks and subsidies, but none has duplicated this essential trait.

Don’t interpret these examples to mean that Digital Leader is some kind of self-help tutorial. Substantial sections of the book are devoted to the stories of successful leaders, although not all of them are digital. The overarching message of this book, however, is that balance, passion and a willingness not to take oneself too seriously are qualities that many leaders share. Digital tools are a means to an end, but they shouldn’t be a lifestyle.

IDC Sees Massive Disruption From Industry’s Platform Shift

The global IT industry is in the middle of an epic platform shift and the rules for survival in a market built on mobility, big data analytics, social business and cloud computing will be very different than those that applied to the previous client/server generation.

Download Frank Gens’ slides here

That was the message from IDC Senior Vice President & Chief Analyst Frank Gens as he kicked off the research firm’s Directions 2012 conference in Boston this morning. Gens, who has tracked the computer industry since the days when mainframes ruled the earth, outlined a dramatically new economic structure that will emerge as economies of scale take hold.

Frank Gens, IDG
Frank Gens (photo by Jeff Ballard via Twitter @jballard)

“Volume is going way, way up and price is going way, way down,” he said of the new software market. “If [technology companies are] going to drive large-enough volumes to support the revenue levels they’re used to, they’re going to have to drive the number of customers way up. You’ll need millions of customers in order to compete.”

Gens outlined some striking changes in the platforms and architectures that underlie what he called the “third platform” of computing after mainframe and client/server. Among them:

  • Spending on mobile data services will surpass spending on fixed data services this year for the first time. “That’s a crossover that will never cross back,” he said.
  • The 700 million mobile devices shipped in 2012 will roughly double the number of fixed devices shipped during the same period. Spending on mobility will exceed spending on PCs and servers for the first time.
  • The volume of unstructured data in corporate data centers will exceed the volume of structured data for the first time.
  • China will surpass Japan to become the world’s second largest IT market at about $170 billion.

But the most startling changes Gens outlined concerned the software applications market, where downloadable free and low-cost apps are redefining the economics of the business. IDC forecasts a five-fold increase in annual apps downloads to 137 billion by 2016. Only about 18% of those apps will be paid for, and average prices will fall from $1.59 today to 82 cents. “That’s spooky stuff when you consider that PC apps average about $25” and that that market isn’t growing, Gens said.

Technology companies will need to overhaul their business models to accommodate these shifts. In order to attract the thousands of new customers they’dd need to recruit each day, vendors will have to become experts at cultivating communities and working with partners and even competitors. In other words, word of mouth marketing is the only viable promotional model.


Will Microsoft be a player in mobile platforms? It may be, but Redmond has a lot of work today, Gens said. A recent IDC survey asked developers which platforms they were “very interested” in targeting. Apple IOS for the iPhone came in first at 90%, followed closely by Google’s Android for smart phones. HTML 5 was a strong third. Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 was a weak fourth at under 40%. Can Microsoft compete? “We should know in the next 12 to 18 months,” Gens said.


Tech firms will also need to serve a wider variety of vertical markets because price deflation won’t permit the luxury of focusing. Fortunately, IDC has identified more than 40 new specialty industries made possible by platform shift, including medical supply chain management, social mobile commerce and smart buildings.

And if these pressures weren’t intense enough, don’t forget overseas competition. Gens said the business models that support high-volume, small-transaction markets are being honed right now by Indian, Chinese and Russian companies that have worked in that environment for years. US firms, with their high costs and margins, are going to struggle to adapt to a leaner and more competitive way of doing business.


This is one in a series of posts sponsored by IBM Midsize Business that explore people and technologies that enable midsize companies to innovate. In some cases, the topics are requested by IBM; however, the words and opinions are entirely my own.