Stuck on Google Maps!

I am not a big fan of technology just for the sake of technology. I am a firm believer that technology must have a purpose. Its primary purpose is to make our life easier and funner (okay, I made that word up). In addition, it should help us live longer, make us look good, make us richer, et cetra…you get the gist.

I love Google Maps and here’s a cool feature that the geeks (you gotta love ‘em) at Google have added to the Map to make our commute a little bit easier. For over 30 major cities (thankfully, I live in one of them), you can click on the traffic button to see up-to-date traffic conditions. Red is for stop-n-go traffic while green is for smooth sailing. Very cool!

Google_traffic_1 

GPS systems are great, except you have no real-time traffic information. When you’re stuck in traffic, everytime you think you are 10mins away from your destination, you find that even after an hour, according to your nifty GPS you are STILL 10mins away. But with this new feature, Google helps you avoid traffic or at least have a realistic expectation of when you will arrive at your destination.

Now only if they could strike a deal with the automakers, then maybe my next Subaru will have Google Positioning system with up-to-date traffic + gmail and other cool g-tools information. Now that’s progress!

Who's afraid of Quigo?

According to a recent New York Times article, both Yahoo! and Google should be worried about this New York-based ad services upstart that’s positioning itself as an alternative to the online giants. The article says,

Here is how this contextual advertising has traditionally worked: Google and Yahoo post ads on hundreds of thousands of Web sites, but both operate as blind networks they do not tell advertisers which sites their contextual ads run on. Instead, the advertisers buy keywords for ads across Google and Yahoo’s vast networks of Web sites, including the home pages of big media companies and the smallest of bloggers.

Quigo, on the other hand, gives advertisers a list of sites where their ads appear and plus they also get to choose where their ads appear.

Seth Godin says,

Remember, the point of the ad is to get someone to click (that’s what you’re charged for…  the click) and then the goal of the site is to convert that click into permission and eventually a customer.

So, does it matter where the ad runs if it works?

That’s a very good question. My answer to Seth’s question is Yes. Where the ad runs does matter, because quality of clicks matters and so does my (advertiser) brand.

As an advertiser, I am concerned about the conversion rates (clicks to sales ratio)and if the conversion rate is higher from clicks on premier sites, why am I wasting my dollars on clicks generated through some unknown blogger site, which has a low likelihood of conversion?

Jason Clement, associate director of search engine management at Carat Fusion, an agency in the Aegis Group that buys online ads for large advertisers, says the lack of transparency has kept some large advertisers from spending heavily on contextual ads.

In a contextual advertising test on Yahoo and Google, some clients report bad experiences with their ads showing up in odd places. For example, Mr. Clement said a large client of his saw an ad run late last year alongside an article that said soy milk might be linked to homosexuality.

Contextual ads are far from perfect and algorithms will never be a substitute for good old-fashioned marketing intuition ie. which brands are synergistic with our brand/product offerings and where should our brand be displayed. Do I want my premier brand diluted through association with some third-grade site? D’oh.

For the big media companies, Quigo offers another advantage: it allows them to sell their own contextual ads and run the ads under their own brands rather than Quigo’s. In many cases, ads placed by Google run under a header that says Ads By Google.

As far as the media companies go, it’s all about control. It’s a given, that they would gravitate towards any alternate solution that would give them control both over their brand assets and their relationship with the advertiser, plus a bigger slice of the revenue pie. But you have to admit, the Google folks are clever. The media companies (in essence) were paying Google to promote it’s own brand via "Ads by Google".

Here’s part of a response from Quigo founder/exec

Now, while Quigo caters to both marketers and publishers, we view our platform primarily as a publisher solution. We offer it as a private label to publishers, and let them acquire and manage their advertisers through it. It’s the publishers who we see benefiting most from the AdSonar solution, with marketers benefiting as a result of our insistence on catering only to the highest quality publishers in the country.

In the end, whomever or whatever (be it an upstart from New York) forces more transparency in online advertising, it will create a win-win for everyone. This will only encourage more of the skeptical advertisers to come on board. Google rode the wave of online democratization to phenomenal success, it’s only fair that others follow. Control is evil.

Mashups – The next big thing?

Mashups originated in popular culture as mix-up of various songs. In the digital age, it refers to media joined together to create something different and interesting. Overlaying maps with interactive media has been one of the most popular versions of mashups. Others have been more creative. Hotcaptcha has used mashups to create a spam-proof level of security, using Hot or Not API. Here’s another interesting example on Steve Rubel’s Micropersuasion blog, where you can see your blog visitors on a Google map.

According to Forbes, over 30,000 people have downloaded the code to build mashups using Google maps. All three search giants as well Amazon and eBay are giving away code to encourage independent developers around the world create mashups based on their platform. Thanks to the alliance between Google and Salesforce.com, mashups are also showing up in the business arena.

Here’s a cool mashup created by a student that visualizes similar products bought by customers on Amazon. Just imagine the possibilities…

Google Apps vs. MS – Hype or real?

There is a lot of hype surrounding the recent launch of Google Apps Premier edition launch. We love a good story and what’s more compelling than the classic David vs. Goliath tale. Unfortunately, this is going to turn out be a non-story for those really paying attention.

MS Office and Google Apps compete in two highly distinct market segments. MS realm is the large corporations with highly standardized systems, Google’s niche has been the individual consumers, who until recently didn’t have a viable alternative to the MS Office. On the flip side, Google doesn’t have the relationship-building savvy that the Goliaths like MS and IBM have earned over the years.

Corporations aka big businesses are highly risk-averse, there is still reluctance to adopt Google products. However, Google will succeed in the small biz/individual segment, this is the market that has always been the sore spot for MS but sweet spot for Google.

Google has ridden the wave of democratization of the Internet, and this will lead it to success in other related web businesses. Should MS be worried? Oh yeah. Google has started chipping away at its domain, and some day Google may turn its sights on a bigger slice of the pie.

But in the short-term, there’s nothing to see here folks, moving on…

If no one wants to pay for your product…

…is it still a great product?

Seth Godin’s post "If no one reads your post, does it exist?" got me thinking along the same lines about all the ‘cool’ products out there. Everyone loves to use them, but they don’t have to pay for them. For example: Myspace, Gmail, YouTube (Google) zillions of social networking sites and the list goes on…

Hence the question, if no one wants to buy (or pay to use) your product, is it still a great product? I think success or ‘greatness’ (from revenue-generation pov) of any product, comes down to 2 things – 1) purpose of the site and 2) the revenue model behind it. Gmail is more of a platform more than a product, which can be used to drive business to other synergistic web products. In other words, it is a means to an end, not the end itself. On the other hand, for all their popularity, it would be interesting to get a closer peek at how Myspace and other social media sites plan to make money.

Personally, I am leery about advertising-only revenue models. I am not sure this model is sustainable (Online ad spending rates are leveling off, according to this eMarketer article). I would love to see concrete data on the click-through-rates or conversion (to sales) rates that highlight the return on investment in this media.

I am all for democratization of the Internet and I think it’s a very powerful thing, but will people of the free world be willing to pay for something that they have come to expect as free?

Fad or Trend?

The recent launch of Vista and now the Google Enterprise apps has created all sorts of buzz.

Here’s a not-so-meaningful analysis on how Microsoft Vista might be impacting google on readwriteweb.com Too much ado about less than 2mths data. There’s no explanation given for similar dips in the Google numbers over the last year.

I would like to see more data on 1) Is search really convenience-based? If that’s the case, shouldn’t MSN be the top-dog instead of Google? I believe that search results matter and branding matters even more ie. how many folks are Googling vs. Yahooing vs. Living
2) How much of the search is done by businesses vs. consumer
3) Who’s buying Vista? Biz or consumer?

That would make for a much more interesting discussion.

Definition of Insanity

Benjamin Franklin said, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

Hmm..doesn’t that definition hold true for many marketing initiatives today?! Why is it that even when certain vehicles don’t pay off, marketers continue to use them rather than change their strategy and try something different?

Is it management pressure? Is it inertia? Is it lack of creativity? Is it risk-aversion?

Is it all of the above? Probably.

Seth Godin says in his post:

…if you want the word to spread, if you expect me to take action I’ve never
taken before, it seems to me that you need to do something that hasn’t been done
before. It might not feel safe, but if you do the safe thing, I guarantee you
won’t surprise anyone. And if you don’t surprise anyone, the word isn’t going to
spread.

That’s a great point, predictability may feel safe, but it will lead to zero increase in interest/awareness.

Marketing = Long-term Survival

I have seen too many ‘marketing’ job opportunities out there, which are just thinly veiled sales jobs. Marketing is NOT sales and for companies keen on surviving and even prospering over the next decade and beyond will do well to remember that.

Marketing is about future survival of the company, while Sales is about the present. Your sales team is focused on making the sale right now, as they should be, but marketing on the other hand is and should be concerned with the present and the future. A marketer’s primary goal should be to ensure future sustainability of the company’s products and she (or he) does that by constantly monitoring the customers, competitors, and the business environment. It matters if your product is selling well today but it’s even better if you can make sure it sells well tomorrow and day after.

Companies who make the mistake of focusing only on the present (sales) and don’t pay enough attention to the future (marketing) do so at their own peril.