Jan 14

My wife and I have 3.75 young children (at the time of this posting), so we seldom make it to the movie theaters. We occasionally have the opportunity to go about once per year. Since we go so infrequently, we’ve noticed “all of the sudden” that the theaters are now playing about 20-25 minutes of COMMERCIALS and then another 15 minutes of trailers. So, we not only paid the theater to sit and watch their commercials, but we’re also paying our babysitter for us to view their commercials as well!

With Tivo, 55″ Plasmas, Netflix and “Real” downloadable movies coming down the pike soon, I don’t think taking on 40 minutes of nonsense before a movie enhances the experience. It may enhance the bottom line-short term, but long term results will suffer.

Starbucks is dealing with declining traffic. They’ve banked on experience and built a brand that can charge a premium. It just so happens customers are saying they aren’t so sure about the experience any more and are interested in saving an extra $.50 per latte. It’s time for Starbucks to change it up (as I sip Starbucks coffee out of my Starbucks to-go mug).

The headline this morning is for Apple:

Apple May Need to Play Better With Others
To continue to thrive in both music and video downloads, Apple must improve how it deals with content makers—or risk being left behind.

Apple’s monopolistic behavior with the iTunes/iPod ecosystem isn’t so grand of an idea in today’s open source economy. The ultimate vote will be made by consumers (or content producers) fleeting feet.

What’s changing in your industry?

Jan 11

In the past, I’ve blogged about the importance of benchmarking in your Google Pay-per-click campaign, and how we increased the effectiveness of a campaign by 318% by doing so.

We’ve done the same with our web sites. Here’s an example of what Merge did with a home page of a web site: We measured the ‘bounce’ rate (a bounce is when a user comes to a page and exits the site without visiting another page) of the home page and noted a 60% bounce rate. Wow. We analyzed the page, made some key changes (moved the navigation in a more user-friendly spot and changed the home page content) and waited.

A month later we went back and measured again. The result? The bounce rate decreased by 50% to only a 30% bounce rate. We’ll be making some more changes to the home page to decrease the bounce rate of the home page even more-but the key point is that we increased the effectiveness of the home page by 50% because we measured, benchmarked, changed and then remeasured.

Start measuring your metrics and begin the process of progress. If you do, you may discover a couple months from now how much business your current web site is leaving on the table.

Jan 09

PULSE had John Ludwig, founder of SDI Networks (among other companies), speak to a packed room on Tuesday, January 8th, 2008.

The topic: “Becoming a Goal Achiever.”

Quick background: John was raised on a chicken farm in rural Georgia, is one of only two members of his family to earn more than a high school degree, and graduated from Furman in 3 1/2 years while lettering all four years in football. He sold BSA Sales, a 170 employee technology sales firm and then started SDI Networks, which has grown to 9 offices and has been named to the Inc. 500 fastest growing companies three years in a row.

Now that’s a mouthful. And oh, he did all of this before reaching the ripe age of 34. He’s qualified to speak on becoming a goal achiever.

Now, back to the talk. John gave great examples of setting goals, how he encourages his employees to set goals and how he goes about achieving them. Surprisingly-or not so surprisingly-it was straight blocking and tackling. He presented the SMART goal setting acronym and used classic examples such as Sir Roger Banister and Pat Tillman.

But what I took away from the talk was John’s observation of setting goals in areas of your life that are important to you. He used an example of a professional football player who had a mentor that had him setup goals based on God, Job and Family. The football player soon found that all of his goals didn’t fit so neatly under those three categories. So he later added ‘Personal’ to the other three categories.

I’m familiar with similar models that have Personal, Finance, Spiritual and Physical categories. It could be anything. But the key is not to get stuck on a category. If travel is really important to you, have a travel category. If the arts is important, have an arts category.

It was a simple suggestion, but profound. John has proved with his achievements that the sky is the limit. The last thing we need to do is to limit ourselves in what categories we should set goals. Whatever is personally important to you, that’s a valid category.

Jan 08

Today I looked at the blog canvas, and it was blank. For awhile. So I decided to write about that.

Sometimes I look at my business plan-and for all intents and purposes, it’s blank. I try to set goals for the year-blank. Heck, I try to figure out what to do for the weekend-blank.

What do I do when I’m facing a blank? I take off and come back later. But before I do, I “give” my brain the problem so it can continue to work it out while I’m doing something else. I’ve used this technique most successfully when programming. Many-a-time I’ve spent several hours trying to solve a programming problem to walk away and come back the next day and solve that impossible problem in two minutes. It has happened time and time again.

CNN has the story.

The next time you have a blank canvas in your life, walk away. Give the problem to your brain (ok, that sounds hokey, but try it) and go get some good sleep. Then try coming back to it. You might be surprised to find the problem has been solved, and your canvas is no longer blank.

Jan 04

Yesterday, Merge was visiting with a prospect, who had their senior salesperson at the table.

We asked, “If your web site had to establish trust-highlight your company’s expertise and credibility-what would it communicate?”

The veteran salesperson looked at us with a blank stare. He slowly replied, “I don’t know. When I sell, I’m selling myself. People work with people. If they don’t trust me, then they don’t trust the company. So I don’t know how a web site would establish trust.”

It was an interesting outlook, and one that was not lost on us, because he made a good-but not totally accurate-point. To Merge, we believe a web site is quite capable of establishing an adequate level of trust. For 9 out of 10 companies, a sale is still going to involve human interaction. But the relationship with your company will begin on your web site.

The question is, does your web site extend the personality (your brand) of your company, or is it just a web site? Depending on who you believe, 70% of prospects will check your company out on the web before they ever contact you. Your web site is the first “person” from your company that they will meet. Don’t let your web site be the last person they visit. Do what it takes to communicate your brand, expertise and credibility and you will build the trust necessary for them to take the next step to speak with someone who counts-you.

Jan 03

Forever, advertising has been disruptive. Commercials break-in on your favorite TV show, movie theaters now make you wait 30+ minutes to watch 7 commercials before the feature starts and radio personalities actually try to convince you that they lost weight with some silly diet pill in between radio songs.

The web isn’t much different. Banner ads are stuck in your face where key content should be, video sites (like CNN or ESPN) require you to sit through 8 - 20 second commercials before “consuming” content and some magazine sites require you to click on the ad before continuing to the content.

The user is getting really sick of this (introduce YouTube, XM Radio, Tivo and the like).

A web site I blogged about yesterday, Pandora.com, handles advertisements in a totally different way-a way that I not only don’t mind (yeah, that was a double negative), but in such a way that actually enhances the experience. Pandora integrates their advertisers right into their design. You’ll have to go there to check it out. (I promise, I get paid nothing for this.)

The web moral of the story: Your users want control, and they don’t want disruptions. Just let them do what they came to do. You’ll have happier (and more) users. That I promise as well.

Jan 03

We’ve seen them before: Music services that play music you like for free. But Pandora.com is different. Their purpose is to “map” the music genome. In my layman’s terms, they theorize that individuals have a mapped out music DNA. Right now, my blues stations plays music because:

“We’re playing this track because it features blue roots, r &b influences, major key tonality, electric rhythm guitars and prominent organ.”

Wow, I didn’t realized I had a preference toward all of that. But I’ve got to tell you, 90% of the Blues they play, I love. And I’ve discovered artists I never new existed.

Try Pandora.com today.

Isn’t the Web Great?

Jan 02

The current Harvard Business Review magazine issue has a a great article on Strategic Leadership. The main point of the article is that Strategy is more than a plan or an idea. It’s a way of operating a business.

The article concludes that at the heart of Strategy is purpose. The author asked a compelling question: If your company disappeared tonight, how would the world be different? What would happen to your customers? Would it really matter?

How you answer that question tells you alot about your business. Obviously, if your answer is that no one would notice or not much would change, then your purpose isn’t all that compelling.

Imagine if Google shut its doors tomorrow…or Starbucks…how about Wal-Mart? The world would go on, but each of these companies would be sorely missed.

Now apply this same line of thought to your web site: What’s your web site’s purpose? What is its main job? What if it disappeared and your company had no web site tomorrow? Would any one care? Would your business miss a beat?

Like the purpose Q&A for your business, the same is true for your web site. If you don’t have a compelling purpose, then why have a web site? If it’s not purposefully contributing to the business, then isn’t it just a waste of money?

Review-and possibly renew-your purpose. Do so for both your business and your web site. A compelling purpose will change everything.

Jan 01

In 2008, you can have life happen to you or you can happen to life. Or something like that.

If you set goals (by setting, I mean writing them down and reviewing them), then you happen to life. And congratulations-you’re in the top 3% of the population that actually writes their goals down.

If you don’t set goals, then life happens to you. I call this reactionary living, which is okay, just not how I prefer to live out my life. I want to know where I am going, and mostly, how I am going to get there. Sure, life throws a couple of curve balls here and there, but the goals remain more or less the same. Just the path to them are altered from time to time.

Goals can be set for income, sales, personal interests, family, spiritual-you name it. If it’s important in my life, then there’s most likely a goal attached.

Goals drive expectation. They help define success. They set a bar for measurement. They make you accountable to yourself (this reason alone is most likely why people don’t set goals-they don’t WANT to be accountable).

Here’s my web plug: Set your goals for your web site this year. Perhaps your expectations have been so low-or you know your web site is in no shape to do anything-that setting a goal isn’t realistic. If this is the case, I would suggest this: set a goal for what you would want your web site to do for your business, and then go and get a web site that can accomplish that goal. Making your web site a performer can have a huge affect on your business-and it is possible.

The same can be said for our own lives. If you’ve lived a non-goal oriented life-setting goals and becoming a performer can be life altering. You know the saying: “If you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.” Happy goal setting, and may 2008 be a banner year for you!