Feb 28

Yesterday I had a low tire. It needed to be plugged (not patched, as I had requested and was corrected). I pulled into a Goodyear store. It was 5 pm, and I didn’t want to sit there for an hour for them to fix my tire, so I asked if they could do it quickly. “Nope, it would take us about 45 minutes.” I couldn’t wait that long (or rather, I wasn’t willing to wait that long) so I asked if they knew of any one else who could fix it. Their reply, “Probably not anyone this late in the day.”

I thanked him and turned around to leave the store. From the lobby of their store, I could see three other tire shops. I didn’t know they were there until I was looking for them (that’s a whole different blog altogether). I ignored his advice and drove to Bridgestone. Guess what? They fixed my tire in about 3 minutes, looked up pricing to replace my tires so I knew the price when I needed new wheels and they were extremely friendly and hoped that I could come back to visit them soon.

One company won a customer that day and an other lost a customer. Goodyear failed to notice that I had choices. They failed to notice that there were 3 other competitors within site of their lobby that would offer the same service, only 15 times faster.

It’s no different-actually it’s worse-on the web. If your web site doesn’t provide a solution to your potential customer NOW, they are one search or one back button away from being your competitor’s customer.

Don’t pull a Goodyear. Make sure your site is offering everything it should be offering and don’t assume your customer’s going to wait for you to get your act together. They have choices. Plenty of choices.

Feb 26

Can you name the biggest thing you’re planning on changing this year?

What’s your BHAG (big hairy audacious goal)? What have you decided to go after, to stake claim, to make yours?

What is that big thing?

Why haven’t you done it yet?

Feb 25

Evan Williams, the founder of Blogger and the ever popular Twitter (which, if I’m honest, don’t get), has a “classic” post on the ten rules for a web startup.

My top 3 from his top 10:

1. Be Narrow. Focus. Period. Don’t try to be all things to all people. Merge probably is still too broad in our scope of services. But where we are narrow is that “we do all things web.” We could do I.T., print, photography and video if we wanted to (our clients would pay us to do such.) But we can only do so much and do it well. As such, we’re sticking to just web.

2. Be Different. If you’re not different, then you haven’t differentiated. From our roots, Merge has focused on business strategy and results. Today, that’s cliché and it’s not so different, but it’s truly what we focus on. We’ve seen most firms focus on design or technology, but we focus on results. If we can’t get results, then we need to get out of the business. Like #1 above, we could probably differentiate even more along these lines, and will plan to do so as we hone our services.

3. Be Picky. I like this one. We don’t take any client that comes along and we don’t hire just anybody. My philosophy is that life is too short, and when you’re at work about 2/3 of your waking life, then don’t you want to work with people you like? At Merge, we’re picky. We really like our clients and we really like our employees. If an employee or a client becomes unbearably unfriendly, well, we get picky.

Read the other 7 reasons and even if you don’t have a web startup, I think you’ll see that it still applies to what you’re doing.

Feb 22

Thanks to YouTube…how’s your web marketing working for you?

Brought to you by, http://www.willitblend.com/.

Feb 20

The web, or New Media, has been mainstream for a solid ten years now. We’re still calling it new. Probably because “new” is sexy and it makes it easier for marketers to peddle. You know, Web 2.0 = new. Web 3.0 is now being thrown around. Sigh.

There’s no doubt, the web is changing quickly and its changing the business landscape even faster. At Merge, we’ve been seeing a paradigm shift over the last 18 months. Business owners used to think of their web site as “just a web site.” A mere novelty; a necessary evil at best.

Now, companies are getting serious. It’s passe to say the web is here to stay. We all know that, and we know it’s also more than that. It’s not only here to stay, but it is now and it is the future. “New Media Novelty” has now become the key marketing strategy. And it’s not only figuring out how to market using this medium, but it’s also about how companies must change internally to coincide with the medium. (Read Meatball Sundae by Seth Godin).

Sure, throw up a web site. But the tail will no longer wag the dog.

Feb 19

Yesterday my eldest boy turned six. He is the “star of the week” at his school, and I was helping fill out his “bio” poster to be displayed at school. The obligatory question was on the sheet: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

I read the question to him. He thought. A smile suddenly came to his face and he turned to me and said, “A dad.”

Man, can there be a better compliment than that?

Feb 18

On numerous New Year resolutions lists published by the business magazines this year was “Backup Data.” This is something I’ve been doing for awhile, but I’ve been backing up data to an external hard drive. Although I’m ahead of 98% of the crowd when it comes to backing up, I still have some risk:

What happens if I go to lunch and somebody comes in and swipes not only my laptop but also my external drive? Sounds far fetched? It happened to a business just down the road from me, here in quaint ol’ little Greenville, South Carolina.

The solution (and the solution for several other scenarios): Online Backup via JungleDisk.

My concerns regarding online backup were the following:

1. Cost (because I’d be backing up several Gigs)
2. CPU Utilization (e.g. did it bog my computer down while operating)
3. Did it work (as you know, a backup solution that doesn’t work is not a backup solution)

So far, JungleDisk has delivered on all three. They only charge $.15 per GB/month for storage. It should cost me less than $5 per month for online backup. The automatic backup feature runs seemlessly and quietly in the background. And the coolest feature, is for $1 more per month, JD will backup only parts of large files, like my Outlook PST file, that have changed. So it’s not going to upload all 1.5 GB of my Outlook file every time (because the file itself changes daily).

Make your New Year resolution come true today. Go download and run a trial version of JungleDisk. You might not be as thrilled as I am now, but when you’re hard drive crashes, you’ll thank me then.

Feb 14

Yesterday, I met a friend for lunch, among several other diners. The subject of their meetings were unknown, but I speculate there were old friends catching up, business deals big and small being conducted or perhaps a solo diner wanting simply to eat.

My purpose was to catch up with a friend, however, his purpose was something else entirely. As we dined and chatted, our waiter came up and warmly greeted my friend with a generous handshake and smile. Moments later, a waitress came over to say hello to my friend. Then, a cook from the back came out and presented a pizza for us to try. “Free of charge. Please let me know what you think.” Soon after, another waitress came up to say hello to my friend.

He then told me about the horrendous life story of the hostess, wrapping that story up as our waiter came back to take away our plates. Before our waiter made his way to the kitchen, he told us his life story of being in and out of prison and addiction, how he was estranged from his grown daughter and about his wife on her death bed. My friend sat there and quietly listened. He gave no advice. He simply listened and mentioned a small empathetic response.

The other diners were wrapping up and I can’t help but think what they accomplished during their lunch. Maybe the deal was done. Maybe a new friendship was started. Maybe someone was now full. I won’t belittle their purpose, but I can’t help but think what my friend accomplished during his lunch. He touched the lives of no less than five different waiters, waitresses and a hostess. He simply treated them like human beings and asked them about their lives. Simple questions like, “Do you have kids? Are you married? Where are you from?”. It’s something any of us could do. He just chooses to do it.

Of anyone that day, he had the lunch that mattered.

Feb 12

Yeah. The gizmo. Call it a CMS, integrated video, a blog, or a talking person that comes out (have you seen that one? God-awful annoying).

Whatever it is, it’s the latest gizmo. The media pushes it. The cheesy salesman pushes it. Why? Because we love it. We’re still enthralled with the get rich scheme, the magic bullet or as some would call it, the internet.

Get real. Seth Godin, author of Meatball Sundae, says:

“Gotta get me some of that New Marketing. Bring me blogs, e-mail, YouTube videos, MySpace pages, Google AdWords . . . I don’t care, as long as it’s shiny and new.”

But wait:

“All these tactics are like the toppings at an ice cream parlor. If you start with ice cream, adding cherries and hot fudge and whipped cream will make it taste great. But if you start with a bowl of meatballs . . . yuck!

As traditional marketing fades away, the new tools seem irresistible. But they don’t work as well for boring brands (“meatballs”) that might still be profitable but don’t attract word of mouth, such as Cheerios, Ford trucks, Barbie dolls, or Budweiser. When Anheuser-Busch spends $40 million on an online network called BudTV, that’s a meatball sundae. It leads to no new Bud drinkers, just a bad case of indigestion.”

Well said, Seth. The new gizmo isn’t going to revolutionize your marketing. Slapping a new gizmo on top of a poorly branded and poorly constructed web site may provide short term results. Just be warned, you’ll be looking for the next new gizmo in about three months.

Instead, may I suggest you build a foundation: your brand and your digital strategy? I don’t care if you use Merge or you use another web firm or an advertising agency. Just don’t fall for the “We have the new shiny tool” approach. You’ll be much, much happier in the long run.

Feb 11

Most web sites are created to have a nice, high-impacting home page. The home page gets the user to the next section. But the site usually stops directing traffic at this point.

Don’t do that. Keep the momentum going.

Web sites are not linear. They aren’t a book or a brochure that the user will take an A-B-C-D-E path. It’s more like, A-E-C-B (yep, they never even see ‘d’). So the remedy?


Keep offering the user the choice to go to another section of the site. Always include the ultimate call-to-action (i.e. the famous “contact us”) with the momentum creating calls-to-action. The user is going to click, click, click as long as you keep them interested and offer them the opportunity. You never know when they’re going to be ready for the “ultimate click.” Keep them going throughout your site, and you will greatly increase the probability that A) they’ll get the information they were looking for and B) they’ll become a converted visitor instead of just another visitor.