Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Don't be evil unless it is for greater good

Let me ask you a trivia question. Name the company that recently changed its motto from "Don't be evil" to "Don't be evil unless it is for greater good" ?

Don't know the answer - let me help you with another hint. This company holds the largest market share in the online advertising. How about taking a guess now ?

You guessed it right - Google. As if their overwhelming stake in the interactive marketing was not big enough, they recently decided that they are going to enter print marketing as well. Infact, as the rumors have it, they have already started a pilot run of print advertising and will soon start becoming very aggressive about it.

When I heard this news, my first reaction was "Are these guys out of their minds ?". I mean, its good that these guys are leaders in online advertising, but that is because they provide some value to advertisement by targeting it to the right context. What value could they possibly provide in print advertising where the market is already saturated with killer whales ? If there is no additional value out there, is it just a ploy to diversify into a media company and hatch your eggs the way others do ? Nah, I don't believe google would do something that simple.

So I rattled my brains and tried to tune in to the frequency at which the google management was thinking and immediately one part of the puzzle was crystal clear. In order to gain market share at a rate that would be acceptable to google ( which apparently is much higher than what lesser mortals dream of ), they would have to come up with something unique, something differentiated, something that would provide more value to either the publisher or the advertiser.

Analyzing it from the perspective of the value to the publisher, all a publisher cares about is selling off their advertising space as quickly as possible at an acceptable price point. But that happens today as well - where could google possibly innovate ? For starters, google could use its leadership position in online advertising and become one stop shop to get a publisher access to thousands of advertisers. Alternatively, google could buy advertising space in bulk from the publisher and auction it to the advertisers in a manner similar to what it does with online advertising today. To take it a step further, google could purchase a centerfold from the publisher and offer to deliver pre-printed advertisements on the centerfolds that the publisher would simply append to their magazines - that would dramatically reduce the hassle of the publisher and would increase the power of google's offering considerably.

From the perspective of the advertiser, google could do a lot more. For starters, it could offer the advertiser an integrated ad campaign that would offer the convenience of both online and offline advertising in a single package. To top it up, google could offer to target a specific subset of audience based upon the product being advertised. For example, an advertiser for a makeup kit may want to target girls between 18 - 24. Google would tell them that in addition to their expertise in locating this target set online, they also have tie-ups with the right set of publishers to improve the impact of their print campaign. To make things better, based upon the track record of online advertisements, google could also make recommendations to the advertisers on the audience they should be targeting. For example, google could analyze the online advertising data and recommend to our advertiser in the previous example that he should be targeting girls between 18 - 24. Normally, companies spend a lot of money with consultants just running tests to identify their target set, and if google could provide them this information, they would have tremendous cost savings.

Hmm, now things are looking bright, but wait, there is more to come. To give its offering a final killer blow, google might want to make its offering unbelievably easy for small advertisers to use. Afterall, it is the volumes of the advertisements online that makes google the king - why shouldn't it do the same thing with print media. We already talked about the centerfold idea, so lets build upon it. Lets assume that it costs $200,000 ( i'm just making up the numbers here ) to buy a centerfold ( 4 full pages of ads ) on some publisher that circulates 500,000 copies monthly. Lets also assume that a meaningful ad would be at least a quarter the size of a page. This means that the lowest amount anyone could spend advertising on this magazine is $12,500. Whew, that is a lot of money - what if there are lots of small advertisers that have a monthly budget of say $2000 ? Google could come up with an offering for these guys and say "We charge 2.5 cents for a quarter page ad per person. How about paying for 80,000 impressions ?" They would then mix and match their orders with the space available in their centerfolds and deliver the printed centerfolds to the publishers. That makes the world fairer - everyone gets a chance to reach a subset of the audience, if not all of them. Wait a minute - publishers have personal information of the subscribers. Why not use that information for better targeting of the ads in the centerfolds. For example, if you sign up for 80,000 impressions of a shaving kit ad your money would not be wasted by sending these centerfolds to blondes.

Thats a lot of stuff to do and I bet I haven't even explored the tip of the iceberg. People say google is evil, I believe it is as exciting as the early days of wall street. Its a fair game for everyone and there is a lot of money to be made. Someday, you might find google claiming "We will show targeted advertisements in your dreams and make them clickable".

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Future of the Nation

Recently, I found an interesting article on the work habits of Indian professionals. I haven't written it, but I thought I must share these words of wisdom with everyone. I can't help but think of the famous Zen koan:

"Two hands clap and there is a sound; what is the sound of one hand?"

Today's generation of high-earning professionals maintain that their personal fulfillment comes from their jobs and the hours they work. They should grow up, says Thomas Barlow.

A friend of mine recently met a young American woman who was studying on a Rhodes Scholarship at Oxford. She already had two degrees from top US universities, had worked as a lawyer and as a social worker in the US, and somewhere along the way had acquired a black belt in kung fu. Now, however, her course at Oxford was coming to an end and she was thoroughly angst-ridden about what to do next.

Her problem was no ordinary one.

She couldn't decide whether she should make a lot of money as a corporate lawyer/management consultant, devote herself to charity work helping battered wives in disadvantaged Communities, or go to Hollywood to work as a stunt double in kung fu films. What most struck my friend was not the disparity of this woman's choices, but the earnestness and bad grace with which she ruminated on them. It was almost as though she begrudged her own talents, Opportunities and freedom - as though the world had treated her unkindly by forcing her to make such a hard choice.

Her case is symptomatic of our times. In recent years, there has grown up a culture of discontent among the highly educated young something that seems to flare up, especially, when people reach their late 20s and early 30s. It arises not from frustration caused by lack of opportunity, as may have been true in the past, but from an excess of possibilities.
Most theories of adult developmental psychology have a special category for those in their late 20s and early 30s.

Whereas the early to mid-20s are seen as a time to establish one's mode of living, the late 20s to early 30s are often considered a period of reappraisal. In a society where people marry and have children young, where financial burdens accumulate early, and where job markets are inflexible, such appraisals may not last long. But when people manage to remain free of financial or family burdens, and where the perceived opportunities for alternative careers are many, the reappraisal is likely to be strong.

Among no social group is this more true than the modern, International, professional elite: that tribe of young bankers, lawyers, consultants and managers for whom financial, familial, personal, corporate and (increasingly) national ties have become irrelevant. Often they grew up in one country, were educated in another, and are now working in a third.

They are independent, well paid, and enriched by experiences that many of their parents could only dream of. Yet, by their late 20s, many carry a sense of disappointment: that for all their opportunities, freedoms and achievements, life has not delivered quite what they had hoped. At the heart of this disillusionment lies a new attitude towards work.

The idea has grown up, in recent years, that work should not be just a means to an end a way to make money, support a family, or gain social prestige but should provide a rich and fulfilling experience in and of itself. Jobs are no longer just jobs; they are lifestyle options. Recruiters at financial companies, consultancies and law firms have promoted this conception of work. Job advertisements promise challenge, wide experiences, opportunities for travel and relentless personal development.

Michael is a 33-year-old management consultant who has bought into this vision of late-20th century work. Intelligent and well-educated - with three degrees, including a doctorate - he works in Munich, and has a "stable, long-distance relationship" with a woman living in California. He takes 140 flights a year and works an average of 80 hours a week. Some weeks he works more than 100 hours.

When asked if he likes his job, he will say: "I enjoy what I'm doing in terms of the intellectual challenges." Although he earns a lot, he doesn't spend much. He rents a small apartment, though he is rarely there, and has accumulated very few possessions. He justifies the long hours not in terms of wealth-acquisition, but solely as part of a "learning experience".

This attitude to work has several interesting implications, mostly to do with the shifting balance between work and non-work, employment and leisure. Because fulfilling and engrossing work - the sort that is thought to provide the most intense learning experience - often requires long hours or captivates the imagination for long periods of time, it is easy to slip into the idea that the converse is also true: that just by working long hours, one is also engaging in fulfilling and engrossing work. This leads to the popular fallacy that you can measure the value of your job (and, therefore, the amount you are learning from it) by the amount of time you spend on it. And, incidentally, when a premium is placed on learning rather than earning, people are particularly susceptible to this form of self-deceit.

Thus, whereas in the past, when people in their 20s or 30s spoke disparagingly about nine-to-five jobs it was invariably because they were seen as too routine, too unimaginative, or too bourgeois. Now, it is simply because they don't contain enough hours.

Young professionals have not suddenly developed a distaste for leisure, but they have solidly bought into the belief that a 45-hour week necessarily signifies an unfulfilling job. Jane, a 29-year-old corporate lawyer who works in the City of London, tells a story about working on a deal with another lawyer, a young man in his early 30s. At about 3am, he leant over the boardroom desk and said: "Isn't this great? This is when I really love my job." What most struck her about the remark was that the work was irrelevant (she says it was actually rather boring); her colleague simply liked the idea of working late. "It's as though he was validated, or making his life important by this," she says.

Unfortunately, when people can convince themselves that all they need do in order to lead fulfilled and happy lives is to work long hours, they can quickly start to lose reasons for their existence. As they start to think of their employment as a lifestyle, fulfilling and rewarding of itself - and in which the reward is proportional to hours worked - people rapidly begin to substitute work for other aspects of their lives.

Michael, the management consultant, is a good example of this phenomenon. He is prepared to trade (his word) not just goods and time for the experience afforded by his work, but also a substantial measure of commitment in his personal relationships. In a few months, he is being transferred to San Francisco, where he will move in with his girlfriend. But he's not sure that living the same house is actually going to change the amount of time he spends on his relationship. "Once I move over, my time involvement on my relationship will not change significantly. My job takes up most of my time and pretty much dominates what I do, when, where and how I do it," he says. Moreover, the reluctance to commit time to a relationship because they are learning so much, and having such an intense and fulfilling time at work is compounded, for some young professionals, by a reluctance to have a long-term relationship at all.

Today, by the time someone reaches 30, they could easily have had three or four jobs in as many different cities - which is not, as it is often portrayed, a function of an insecure global job-market, but of choice. Robert is 30 years old. He has three degrees and has worked on three continents. He is currently working for the United Nations in Geneva. For him, the most significant deterrent when deciding whether to enter into a relationship is the likely transient nature of the rest of his life. "What is the point in investing all this emotional energy and exposing myself in a relationship, if I am leaving in two months, or if I do not know what I am doing next year?" he says.

Such is the character of the modern, international professional, at least throughout his or her 20s. Spare time, goods and relationships, these are all willingly traded for the exigencies of work. Nothing is valued so highly as accumulated experience. Nothing is neglected so much as commitment. With this work ethic - or perhaps one should call it a "professional development ethic" - becoming so powerful, the globally mobile generation now in its late 20s and early 30s has garnered considerable professional success. At what point, though, does the experience-seeking end?

Kathryn is a successful American academic, 29, who bucked the trend of her generation: she recently turned her life round for someone else. She moved to the UK, specifically, to be with a man, a decision that she says few of her contemporaries understood. "We're not meant to say: 'I made this decision for this person. Today, you're meant to do things for yourself. If you're willing to make sacrifices for others - especially if you're a woman - that's seen as a kind of weakness. I wonder, though, is doing things for yourself really empowerment, or is liberty a kind of trap?" she says.

For many, it is a trap that is difficult to break out of, not least because they are so caught up in a culture of professional development. And spoilt for choice, some like the American Rhodes Scholar no doubt become paralysed by their opportunities, unable to do much else in their lives, because they are so determined not to let a single one of their chances slip. If that means minimal personal commitments well into their 30s, so be it. "Loneliness is better than boredom" is Jane's philosophy.

And, although she knows "a lot of professional single women who would give it all up if they met a rich man to marry", she remains far more concerned herself about finding fulfillment at work. "I am constantly questioning whether I am doing the right thing here," she says. "There's an eternal search for a more challenging and satisfying option, a better lifestyle. You always feel you're not doing the right thing always feel as if you should be striving for another goal," she says.

Jane, Michael, Robert and Kathryn grew up as part of a generation with fewer social constraints determining their futures than has been true for probably any other generation in history. They were taught at school that when they grew up they could "do anything", "be anything". It was an idea that was reinforced by popular culture, in films, books and television.
The notion that one can do anything is clearly liberating. But life without constraints has also proved a recipe for endless searching, endless questioning of aspirations. It has made this generation obsessed with self-development and determined, for as long as possible, to minimise personal commitments in order to maximise the options open to them. One might see this as a sign of extended adolescence.

Eventually, they will be forced to realise that living is as much about closing possibilities as it is about creating them.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

BIG Marketers

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of listening to interviews of the best interactive marketers in the industry over podcast, courtesy The Bay Area Interactive Group ( they call themselves BIG ). The list of interviewees comprising of the very best in the industry including Glen Sheehan, Joanne Bradford, Mark Stewart, Matt Freeman PJ Perreira, Toby Gabriner and Joseph Jaffe ( the "Life After the 30 Second Spot" author ).

All these marketing guys belong to different walks of life, but I was amazed at the synergy they had when it came to interactive marketing. There was a common theme across all the problems they talked about, the biggest one being the fragmentation of the media. Now that I think of it, it is very much true and it must be a big headache for any marketing guy. In the good old days, when you just had print media, allocating budget for advertisment would be so easy. Then came the radio, but the conditions were not tougher because economic growth surpassed the growth in media by a huge margin. With the advent of TV, marketing took a different dimension and the proverbial 30 second slot came into vogue. Marketers had to be efficient about communicating their message and be creative as well to grab the attention of the user. Creation of creative advertisments became a big business and huge media houses came up whose sole purpose in life would be to create attractive advertisments.

And, then along came internet and seasoned marketers were not going to discount its important. Infact, they were the first ones to jump the bandwagon and sponsor big businesses on the internet ( the businesses sadly did not have a business story to back them up and most of them failed miserably ) and try a variety of way to grab people's attention. Banners could be seen on all the websites and companies started pumping in millions of dollars to get their ads in front of every possible eyeball on the internet. Well, if you are thinking that was the beginning of the problem - it was not. Infact, marketers were pleased with the fact that they had so much to do, so many avenues to seek and the grass was green all around.

The problem really started kicking in when the user community became fragmented. In the good old days, a marketer could show his commercial at a prime slot and expect all his potential customers to watch it. With the proliferation of media, a marketer has too many options, and worse his target audience has too many options. That means marketing is not as easy as choosing the prime time slot anymore - you gotta have a creative mind to make sure that you get your commercial in front of the eyeballs that deserve it. To top it, you also want to make sure that you are passing consistent messages to your audience through all the media and that there is a common recognition for your brand across these diverse media. To make things worse, you don't have a good way to track how many eyeballs you are reaching. Ofcourse, internet provides you thousands of ways to track your audience, but do you have the technology to track the users between the time they spend on the internet and the time they spend with the other media ?

Does this mean it is the end of traditional marketing ? Are the 30 second slots dead ? No sir, the convergence of marketing messages across various media is the prime concern of all the companies and marketers are sweating to figure out a solution to bring them together. What I can say for sure is that Interactive marketing is the sweet spot today and every company is looking to dominate this medium.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Life is Good

Interactive Marketing is the art of marketing products or services on the internet. Laymen are introduced to this concept as Internet Marketing or Online Marketing.

Now you would certainly like to ask me what are the various channels through which this happens. Well, how many times have you seen a banner blinking its way to your attention on the top of a page that you visit ? Yes sir, that is just one of the ways to advertise online and has been in vogue for many years now. There are other ways to market and to put it simply, anywhere you see an advertisment while you are browsing, there is an interactive marketeer, who has his hands crossed hoping for you to click the advertisment.

Some people think of interactive marketing as evil, but that is just a misconception. Who wouldn't want to relax on a patch of green grass while someone, somewhere on this earth is busting his ass to get him whatever he wants ? Well, that is interactive marketing my friend and so far, you have seen only the tip of the iceberg. Isn't life good ?

Friday, August 12, 2005

Interactive Marketing Blog

I am coolpranni and I thought it would be a good idea to start a blog to educate everyone about interactive marketing. Tune in for more posts in the coming days.

PS: I might choose to deviate from the topic of interactive marketing if I find something more interesting to write - why not, I'm the boss.