The surprised entrepreneur – I’m having the time of my life.

I am not sure what I expected to be doing at this point in my career. I have been blessed to have been at the center of the changing, blossoming technology landscape of the last 20+ years.  My earliest days were at an advertising agency called NW Ayer which gave me a broad perspective on Corporate America’s practices, problems and possibilities for triumph. I then gracefully made my way into the tech stars of Corporate America itself with stints at AT&T, Bell Labs, Lucent Technologies and Computer Associates. I also had the great good fortune of working at small innovative technology companies led by visionary innovative leaders. Two prime examples include Melih Abdulhayoglu, CEO of Comodo and Jason Katz, CEO of Paltalk.

This unusual combination of corporate marketing experience coupled with the feet on the streets training born of working at tech startups, gave me a balanced perspective of how the marketing business is evolving in this technology driven world.

So here we are.

The marketing business is going through a fundamental shift that throws into question almost every tactical practice built over the last 20 years. And, amazingly, it seems that just as marketing becomes this new discipline that weaves creativity into an interactive user experience that is tech heavy – it’s a perfect fit for my peculiar type of networking meets technology marketer experience.  

This seems nothing short of extraordinary. Which is why I am all the more stunned at the work I am doing today. I had not planned on any such seismic move in marketing, so I certainly did not plan on launching a marketing tech venture.

But here I am.

My journey has been one of surprising excitement at the possibilities in marketing excellence that was simply not possible before. The vision of this venture, therefore, is to take advantage of these new trends to deliver a sustainable and productive “marketing machine” (a phrase I attribute to Melih) that can turn the tables on how marketing gets done.

In our vision, we don’t approach monetization like Google or Facebook’s who are about pushing more accurate marketing messages to consumers. We are looking to deliver a marketing platform that lets consumers decide what content they see, what ads they see, how their social networks are managed, how they conduct commerce, even how they communicate within the social networks. The organizing principle for this platform is not ad-driven monetization but oriented around Judy Consumer. Our vision is to create the kind of system that we want to live with for the next 10 years . In effect, we want to give Judy Consumer the tech power to create her own personal “Trust Web.”

To the few friends we have shared our vision with – all have come to a similar conclusion – it is an ambitious (maybe too ambitious) vision. They are correct. But as I entered marketing in the 1980s most of marketing at first was human powered with marketing systems emerging later on.  

And here we are – again.

This next generation collection of marketing technologies is rich in creativity but is not organized for sustainable marketing programs for brands. This is work that I, among others, are focused on – creating v1.0 systems to operationalize the business of social marketing.  

We are all at just at the beginning of this journey and it’s a journey I didn’t expect to be taking at this point.

But here I am – and much to my surprise – I am having the time of my life.

Judy Shapiro

“Judy Consumer” gets a new digital life partner

I was reading about Google TV which comes on the heels of all the iPad buzz which comes on the heels of the new Verizon Incredible launch and so on ….

All these efforts seem to transcend the desire to sell a device. It seems that these devices are designed to fight for the  digital fidelity of “Judy Consumer”. In essence, these companies want her to commit to a monogamous, long term relationship with them as the sole provider of all of her communications, commerce and content consumption.

These are pretty high stakes for “Judy Consumer” since it is not just about buying a product – it is about making a long term commitment.

My advice to “Judy Consumer” – proposals for a long term relationship may sound seductive but choose wisely – breaking up is not so easy to do.

Judy Shapiro

Google-lanche

It would be impossible to read all reviews and POVs on Google Buzz. I have not read any of them. This post is about something entirely different.

This post is about what Google Buzz symbolizes for me. Google Buzz is the ultimate evidence for the deepest fears I expressed about Google last July as I wrote in Ad Age (Why Google Voice reminds me of AT&T and Google, AT&T and the DOJ: How to avoid History’s mistakes)  In these two different articles I argued that AT&T’s downfall started the moment it made the decision to dominate the information highway. Google’s march towards digital dominance seemed to be echoing that history for me and in the AT&T case it ended in divestiture. I wondered out loud whether Google headed toward the same unhappy end.

In the articles I challenged people to look at the big picture and see how similar their positions are. Many people disagreed with me. I understand why. The companies are quite different – literally speaking. But I am looking beyond the technology details to the heart and soul of the matter. The two companies are far more similar than one may expect. Their cultural context was similar and each held their company’s performance as a public trust, as a noble mission.

And this noble mission justified decisions made that were  necessary  to maintain brand position including creating products that served corporate needs first and customer needs second.  Google Buzz is an example of this line of thinking. It so clearly serves Google’s needs first and that of end users second that only a strategy borne of dominance could have stumbled so badly.

This is why the announcement of Google Buzz is so sad for me. It marks the precise moment when Google succumbed to the mistake of creating products designed first to maintain their market dominance over creating stuff people would really need. Some future business book will peg this as the moment when the tide turned and Google lost its grove.

Nor do I think this just another corporate misstep — but this causes me to imagine (and I shudderto think of it) that in 36 months Google will begin the process of being “dismantling” either by their design or by some other mechanism. I shudder because I know the personal pain that will be caused in the “reductive” process.

The launch of Google Buzz – whether it turns out to be a good or bad product is beside the point. IMHO, it represents the end of an era for Google and beginning of a much less certain future.

“Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat them.”

George Santayana; B: December 16, 1863 Madrid:  D: September 26, 1952, Rome; Philosopher

Judy Shapiro

Postscript – I wrote this post last at night and the next morning I wake to see this article from CNET:  Google gets go-ahead to buy, sell energy. ‘Nuf said.

http://news.cnet.com/8301-11128_3-10456435-54.html?part=rss&subj=news&tag=2547-1_3-0-20

Congratulations CES for becoming the hottest, consumer advertising buy on the planet

CES has descended upon the psyche of the tech world so that it dominates most reports and tweets and attention.

We all wait with bated breath for the declared best new product, most innovative game, most outrageous consumer electronic gadget. We are, in effect, like kids with our noses up against the window pane of the biggest toy store in the world.

I should say that the hyper cool nature of CES is a fairly recent phenomenon. Back when I worked at AT&T, CES was an annual ritual that, frankly, rather inconveniently put a crimp on holiday festivities since many of us had to go the Las Vegas a week before to setup. There went New Year’s plans *sigh*. Sure it was fun to see what ingenious gadget was coming into the market, but make no mistake about it; CES was a serious B2C trade show where manufacturers worked hard to woo retailers into carrying their stuff. While there was some consumer coverage, mostly it was confined to the B2B press.

Then, somewhere in the last 4 years, I think driven by the gaming industry, Google, Apple and social media, it took on the glamour of the Oscars for tech set. If a product was even mentioned in a “from CES” report, that was cause for celebration (“I am so honored even to be nominated” kind of thing). CES went from being a B2B event to the event that plays itself out directly to consumers. That shift, in effect, caused CES to become the biggest consumer trade event of all time – even if every consumer is attending by proxy via social media.

But there’s more to it than that because at the current level of consumer exposure to the show, CES has transcended the trade show segment and was elevated to become a premier consumer media buy, kinda like SuperBowl. Think about with me. A media buy in SuperBowl was a strategy companies used to catapult themselves – think GoDaddy. This media buy cost a few million bucks, but if played right – you were made. I think CES has taken on that same level of media potential if you account for all the primary, secondary and tertiary coverage that live streaming and social media provide. And instead of a few thirty second spots, you get three days to strut your stuff. Make no mistake about – doing CES right is a multi-million affair. But the pay-off could be huge. In fact, it would not shock me if I learned that CES exceeded SuperBowl in the number of impressions delivered.

That’s awe inspiring. Never before has a trade show had that kind of reach and coverage. It seems cosmically fitting that new technology, e.g. social media, would elevate the very essence of CES itself.

Welcome to the year of living intelligently with technology.

Judy Shapiro

“Privacy schmivacy”.

The history of privacy is full of public disclosure.

My Grandmother’s notion of privacy was quite different than my own. And my teenage daughter’s notion of privacy is, correspondingly, different than my version. So while the concept of privacy changes over time, within the public imagination, we all seem to cling to some gauzy, vague notion of privacy to mean we have control over what information should be kept private and how our information is distributed over the web.

This universally romantic notion gets universal support from government agencies, the media, websites, trade organizations – just about everyone.  Corporations world over struggle mightily with new, complex questions about how to assure privacy. And privacy advocacy groups vigorously defend this principle because they see privacy as the thin line in the sand that protects us against autocratic [fill in “evil” corporate or government name here] control.

So while you see a lot of lip service paid to privacy, there seems to be little concrete progress on how to execute privacy in today’s fluid information flow environment. Worse, I think all the privacy rhetoric has perhaps, imprudently, raised consumers’ privacy expectation to a level that is possibly not even achievable today.

It seems, therefore, that a recalibration of the notion of privacy is in order that strips away dogmatic devotion in favor of a real world, practical approach that can get the job done.

To gain insight about what a practical approach might look like, let’s go back a few thousands years and see how privacy has evolved. The first thing we notice when we look at this subject is that today’s concept of privacy as a universal right was simply not operative for most of civilized history (if you didn’t guess already, my early training was in history). One’s identity was assumed to be “public” and fully transparent because “people” were considered the “public assets” of the prevailing rulers. In virtually every society since ancient times, there was a rigid code for conduct and dress that clearly identified everyone by class and depending on variations of this code, by village or clan or family. Nor was privacy operative in “private spaces” since communal living was the norm.

Our modern idea of privacy really did not fully emerge until the middle of the 20th century. The massive expansion of the middle class post World War II “democratized“ lots of things like dress codes so identity became more cloaked (pun intended). The middle class could “pass off” as anyone and with that, the first modern sensibility of “privacy” was born. This budding notion of privacy was then buoyed by the new affluence of the middle class who started living in bigger homes which increased our appetite for privacy because it became a mark of success. Finally, during the paranoia of the Cold War when the government had aggressive wiretapping programs and the McCarthy black lists, our current notion of privacy hardened into the near sacred status enjoyed in our popular imagination.

This brings us back to today. Our understanding of privacy seems misaligned to the realities of today’s Internetworked world. This is why we have a confusing, ambiguous and inconsistent set of processes across the digital landscape. There are, for instance, verification companies selling web site seals to reassure visitors that the site has a privacy policy. Unfortunately for the site visitor, this privacy “trust” seal makes no judgment about whether the site has a “good” privacy policy since there are no real standards for a “good” policy. Then you have a confusing set of privacy practices and standards driven by trade organizations like the IAB, governments and even digital marketing vendors who all have different “best practices”.

Looking at it from an end user’s perspective, the view gets even more confused, (unless of course you have an advanced degree in electrical engineering plus about 10 years of hard core programming). Cookies are handy for end users but they are quite “invasive”, despite assurances from cookie crumb collectors that they only collect information, not individual user data. Or would end users consider a remarketing campaign as crossing the “privacy” line? And don’t get me started on how email privacy standards are violated shamelessly.

Now to add to the confusion, the rise of social networks raises new issues; should we assume the profiles we post in our social networks are private or public? Who should control where my profile is displayed? It’s not hard to understand why Sun Microsystems CEO Scott McNealy is famous for having said; “You Have Zero Privacy Anyway. Get Over It”.

I do see where he is coming from, but that is rather a draconian approach that undermines the value privacy does have in all societies – digital or otherwise. I would rather advocate we need to update our notion of privacy and build standards and processes with an updated vision of the concept. What I am proposing here are a few starter “how to’s” that can begin to pull us out of the quagmire we seemed to be stuck in.

First, for those of us who operate social networks, communities or websites, let’s start to apply a consistent “default public” set of business rules to reflect the general consensus that social network participation is acceptance of a public digital life. Similar to your phone listing in the phone book – you are “defaulted in” unless you opted out. That begins to shift the basic model that allows people to take full advantage of their digital social lives by helping them manage efficiently their public information. Be sure to recognize that the inevitable demographic differences in privacy requirements between groups means you will need to provide all users granular controls to keep everyone happy.

Second, it would be useful to create an industry-wide, standardized hierarchy of information sets which would have specific privacy practices appropriate to the risk factor. For instance, typical “low risk” information gathered by social networks can be handled one way whereas “high risk” information could be driven by a different set of processes. This data architecture and practices can be standardized across networks.

Third, the industry, I mean here social networks, corporations and media, need to better support the W3C’s noble work in this area. I was at a conference on Semantic technologies recently and I heard a fairly desperate appeal to help support continuing the work in this vital area.

Fourth, we need to create clear remediation processes should someone’s privacy be digitally violated. This is a place for the government to step in with clear remediation mandates similar to guidelines it mandated to companies in the case of data breaches.

Fifth, let’s accelerate development of new, Internet powered ad platforms that are consumer driven. A “pull” ad model solves many of the privacy problems that behavioral marketing programs fall prey to because it resolves the irreconcilable tension between marketers wanting to learn everything about prospects and consumers’ resistance to be so overtly “manipulated”. The Internet is incredibly well suited to this model. (A word to the IAB folks – this is a great initiative for you guys.)

Now a word of encouragement to those of us who have a fond, unabashed attachment to our privacy. First, it may be comforting to know that the fact that we ever had privacy as we know it (dare I say knew it), may have been a brief blip in history that we were lucky enough to experience. Second, I won’t tell you to get over it – but I will tell you to reverse your thinking about privacy. Shift your thinking from privacy concerns and onto how to manage what is public about you anyway.

Everything old is new again.

PS – I think the new Google Dashboard is a very positive step forward. See my YouTube video explaining why. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MXEiOlD7Y0I

 

Judy Shapiro

http://twiitter.com/judyshapiro

“He BING’d it!”

If any of you track how “Judy Consumer” is faring with the new BING, you will know that “Judy Consumer” has been pretty hard on BING. “Judy Consumer” recently dinged BING for its lack of delivery on its “decision engine” promise. “Judy Consumer” could not figure out how to get the decision engine price chart promised so beautifully in the spots by JWT.

I, Judy Marketing Geek, was also down on BING but for entirely different reasons. IMO, the BING campaign took two clumsy missteps.

First, they made the mistake of using the rational thinking of research and strategy to drive a creative strategy (what’s more rational than a “decision engine” position I ask you). That’s not so bad except the resulting campaign is all corporate bore that hangs loosely on a form but it still lacked the ability to really connect to “Judy Consumer”. It lacks “techno-soul”, it lacks creative sparks.

If one compares these spots to say, Apple, the contrast is clear. Apple spots are well grounded in rational thinking but give primacy to the creative spark that animates it all. Every Apple spot has that techno-soul. The BING spots don’t and so they can not really reach “Judy Consumer’s” heart. No spark and no campaign can go from “ok” to great (again think Apple spots).

The second misstep the campaign took and is the one I personally find the most difficult to bear, largely because Microsoft is held as a role model for technology advertising. The BING campaign failed to deliver something as basic as an honest, clear and simple understanding of what BING does actually do. Instead, JWT created a simplistic (note I did not say simple) campaign lacking in any real meaning? How does BING help anyone decide anything? Is the price chart just a gimmick?

“Judy Consumer” does not need to know the algorithmic nature of how results are generated, but she needs to understand how to connect BING’s abilities to what she does everyday. She deserves to understand the basics behind the big promises.

These two missteps represent mistakes made on the part of both the client and agency. Microsoft made the mistake many tech advertisers make – they confused simplistic messaging (that’s a bad thing) with simple messaging (that’s a good thing). Simplistic marketing tends to appeal to lowest common denominator and this often limits its ability to connect meaningfully, emotionally because it vaguely assumes “Judy Consumer” won’t understand anything too complex. On the other hand, simple marketing boils down your value proposition to a comprehensible and honest articulation of what you deliver. BING’s advertising is simplistic and assumes the “Judy Consumers” won’t understand much. That’s an underestimation and its flaw. Its simplistic promise is all big rational promise without its techno-soul.

But what mistake did a great agency make? They failed to drive the campaign to achieve a key magic ingredient – the techno-soul of the campaign. It lacks creative spark. I can’t say what happened for sure, but 12 years on the agency side gives me a pretty good idea. The agency strategy folks (left brainers I’ll call them) probably did some research (quantitative and/ or qualitative) to learn that people are dissatisfied with their current search experiences because they often yield lots of irrelevant results. With that key insight in mind, then multiple ideas were spun off and then another round of testing was done to refine the concept.

Next, the “rational” campaign was smoothed out and polished so that it played well in presentations and board meetings. It probably tested well too. Yet, in all this left brain, rational massaging to get the campaign sold-in, the techno-soul was lost.

In fact, the decision engine position sucks the soul out of BING. Why? Because that type of position goes against the concept of the Internet as a free information resource for all. Not all information seekers are seeking a decision.  In fact, this whole decision engine positioning vaguely suggests a new class system within the Internet that favors those who can make decisions, techno-code for people who can buy stuff. Maybe it’s just me – but this approach seems to be limiting the Internet’s natural capacity for unfettered expansiveness. A creative mind would have understood that.

Now as any good client understands, after you’ve told the agency what you don’t want, you must give clear direction on what you do want. So now let me have some fun for a moment and I’ll pretend I am “Judy Client” thinking about how BING might be marketed. My brilliant agency has shown me reams of research to tell me that consumers often get frustrated with search results that are off the mark.

As “Judy Client”, I would want to hear how real people describe their BING experiences. I would ask anyone I knew about their experiences (much to my kids’ chagrin as I interrogate their friends on this type of stuff). Then invariably the inspiration moment would come with my husband being the messenger this time. He described how his friend “BING’d” for an obscure piece of information and was greatly surprised and delighted when he found it.

And then in a breath, I knew he had expressed the perfect position.  BING can become synonymous with a new type of search … one that is great at finding the informational needle in the digital haystack. He even said the word BING with a “ring”, suggesting that the word BING is so auditory and should be more overly integrated in the campaign. Or maybe there’s an effort to create “He BING’d it” as a techno-colloquial phrase. I can even imagine how BING becomes the sound you hear when you get a great result.

I get that positioning and I think “Judy Consumer” would get that.  I would excitedly call my brilliant agency kindred spirit to share with him/ her the insight. And I would trust they will know how to create life and a soul around that idea. In the end, no research can take the place of gut creative judgment. No amount of rational strategy will help an ad campaign rise above the mundane to greatness. It takes a rare combination of brilliant agency and client talent along with a healthy dose of intuition to create brilliance.

So remember Microsoft, if some clever agency person comes to you with a recommendation to establish “He BING’d it” as colloquial term, remember – you heard it here first.

Judy Shapiro

http://twitter.com/judyshapiro

Why Google Reminds me of AT&T – Take 2. Can you spell DOJ?

Many of you will remember the July 7 article in AdAge on Why Google Voice Reminds Me of AT&T, where I broadly outlined how Google, like AT&T before it, can be undone by its ambition to dominate a key “infrastructure” sector, like the web. I contended in the article that, much like AT&T’s quest to dominate information systems, Google’s quest to dominate web services can divert precious resources from core businesses leaving it weaker not stronger.

The article generated, uh, considerable conversation; some polite, some not – but most were incredulous that I could even dare to make such a comparison.

Now, a mere 3 weeks later, Fred Vogelstein of Wired Magazine chivalrously comes to my defense (however unwittingly on his part) with his article; “Keyword: Monopoly …Why is Obama’s top antitrust cop gunning for Google.” where he explores the Department of Justice’s newly launched anti-trust investigation of Google (see where this is going?).

The article explains why the DOJ is going after Google now:

“Recently, Google’s size and ambitions have begun to obscure its halo. Advertisers watch nervously as the company’s share of the search-advertising market have jumped to 75% from 50% …Google’s largest problem isn’t what the company is today; its what is plans to become. Google aims to create a world in which web services replace desktop software.”

Does this not sound familiar?  The government gets nervous whenever one, very large, commercial enterprise wants to dominate any key infrastructure, whether it is software, information or the web. It was why AT&T and Microsoft were targeted in their day and it explains the DOJ timing now.

This investigation is yet another element demonstrating the parallel between the two companies. Sadly, the DOJ investigation changed everything for AT&T and it is likely to fundamentally change how Google does business, even if the case is not brought for years.  You see, once the government had a “virtual” seat at the AT&T table, the lawyers started running the show. It slowed us down, blunted much of our competitive bite and even restricted which technologies we considered. It simply took the life out of AT&T. Google seems prone to face similar constraints.

At this point, I hope most of you can at least understand why I saw and continue to see a pattern repeating itself. The real question becomes what’s in store for Google? What can Google do better/ differently than either Microsoft or AT&T when they were at this critical crossroads? Maybe nothing – I don’t know. Yet, that does not seem to sit well given Google’s well earned reputation for its Google genius. So for a moment, using history as our guide, let’s consider “out loud” some of their choices – together.

In the face of a potential anti-trust suit, Google can follow the path of Microsoft to fight to keep Google whole. It can use the legal argument of “anyone can go to any number of competitors with a better mousetrap” strategy. But that approach is not without peril if the lesson of Bill Gates’ now infamous court testimony with the resulting loss of Microsoft public good will is any indication. Poof – in a virtual moment, a decade of good will was gone. And the irony of following in Microsoft’s legal footsteps is rich given Google’s corporate culture of being as much anti-Microsoft (e.g. their “Don’t be evil” mantra) as it is “for” anything.

Google has another option; one that celebrates what Google what it does most brilliantly; innovate with new business models to create sustainable, profitable and ethically oriented corporate growth. It is an option that follows the contours of AT&T’s footsteps (read on before you all descend into an epileptic shouting fit), but avoids its failures.

Here’s what I mean.

AT&T ended breaking itself up into seven companies (the 7 Baby Bells of which three are still around) after a lengthy and costly battle which left AT&T very much weakened in the process. Maybe, just maybe, Google takes the first, brave step to focus on getting smaller and better – not necessarily around becoming bigger. Google can consider innovative ways to spin off smaller, more sustainable businesses via a consortium or community of like-minded companies. This community of companies model was first tried successfully by the Bell Labs New Venture Group in the late 1990’s. It operated with a structure that let connected businesses share basic, scalable overhead services like HR or marketing, but they remained relatively small to allow for innovation and ideas to flow freely. I was there that time and I can attest to the fact that with this model, we were able to more quickly assess and launch new technologies with successful outcomes.

While getting “smaller” may echo back to the AT&T “breakup”, that’s where the similarities can end. AT&T never really embraced the notion that smaller companies could be stronger and more profitable. Perhaps Google, by staying true to its very DNA to “be a force for good on the Internet” can free us from outmoded business models where bigger is automatically assumed to be better. Google can keep its cool by being a role model for a well balanced company that’s big enough to stay strong and innovative but not too big that it drowns in its own grandeur and bureaucracy.

It has not been done yet. In this respect Google reminds me of no one. And maybe this is what saves them.

Judy Shapiro

This is a reprint from Ad Age DigitalNext column.

How to achieve social media overload – in 6 hours or less.

I was unprepared TBH. All I did was post in AdAge http://adage.com/digitalnext/post?article_id=137752, what I thought was a fairly sedate article about how the aggressive growth goals of Google reminded me of AT&T. And I wondered out loud if Google wasn’t possibly headed for the same sad fate as AT&T.

Now I guess going after Google should be done with care. I thought I had. Clearly I was wrong.

Within first 60 minutes after the article posted in Ad Age a few random reactions. Nothing much.

But within the next 60 minutes (or 120 minutes after the article first appeared), the deluge started in earnest. Over the following few hours, I was called oblivious, clueless, utterly ignorant of Silicon Valley sensibilities and my favorite just plain “dumb”. Ok I say to myself, I guess I should expect it. In fun, I posted the following Twitter posts (http://twitter.com/judyshapiro):

By 10:00, I had gotten dozens of private contacts – not to mention a flood of comments on my blog. I had to edit many of them.11:58 PM Jul 7th 

Comments range- outrage from Google lovers, praise from Google haters and nostalgia from ex-AT&T folks.11:58 PM Jul 7th 

So for efficiency which is what Twitter is primed for my responses to all herewith …11:58 PM Jul 7th 

GOOGLE LOVERS: My admiration for Google knows no bounds. But arrogance or miscalculations because of arrogance has real cost in human terms.11:59 PM Jul 7th 

GOOGLE HATERS: I am NOT your new high priestess. I simply notice that when big companies fail it is often the little guy who pays the price.11:59 PM Jul 7th 

FOR EX-AT&T EMPLOYEES: My time there nourishes me to this day. I hope you were able to say the same for each of you.12:00 AM Jul 8th 

The cascade continued. Then, the article was picked up by Silicon Alley with a link back from Fortune and CNN. And the comments continued unabated.

 I try and take the comments with a sense of equanimity, but it does get hard. And the real lesson learned? When you take a controversial stance, it seems 6 hours is the amount of boil time needed for the social media pot to start to whistle. It may not be a statistically projectable test case, but this experience has been an eye opener. And BTW – the kettle keeps simmering for at least 4 days after the initial blowing of its top.

I may have to try this again just to test my hypothesis. Then again, maybe not. 

Judy Shapiro (http://twitter.com/judyshapiro)

BING versus Google: Will “Judy Consumer” get the difference?

We consumers seem to becoming just pawns in the power struggle between the two Internet born behemoths of Google and Microsoft. To Google, we are “products” to be sold to highest bidding advertiser and to Microsoft we have been reduced largely to a software license.  When I see the battle of these two corporate super powers play itself out on the grand stage, I am left feeling awed and also feeling rather puny too. 

 So when I read the plethora of opinions being spun by experts about whether BING is better than Google, I wonder what “Judy Consumer” thinks. I do suspect that no matter what the experts think, both views introduce largely technology benefits whose subtleties are probably largely lost on the vast majority of “Judy Consumers” in the real world who use this stuff.

 What the “Judy Consumers” of the world do know is the new BING advertising campaign which promises that BING is not a just search engine but a decision engine. I can imagine the agency/ client meetings assessing this positioning versus that. I can hear the focus group comments that came from the testing that no doubt went into the creation of this campaign. And I can certainly feel the excitement (maybe even a little tension) as the agency reported on the research results in support of the recommended campaign. Been there, done that.

 Clearly the BING campaign is meant to communicate that people will get to the relevant information they want faster than Google. But this almost a technical benefit (aka better filtering of search results) is lost in the grandiose nature of the BIG BING promise as a decision engine. Maybe I am just too independent minded (and not the primary target), but I can’t help resisting the notion that Microsoft technology will decide anything for me.  What I really want is technology to give me the information I need to make the decision I want. So the premise of a decision engine falls flat to my ears. But hey everyone’s a critic.

 So then I went to look at how does BING delivers in its decision making promise. I did the first search that came to mind – I searched my name. Ya’ know what? Google did much better and was more accurate than BING by far. In fact, I could compare results very efficiently via a site called bing-vs-google.com that David Pogue of the New York Times was kind enough to introduce me to in his recent article.  http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/09/technology/personaltech/09pogue.html?ref=technology   

 I tried again thinking that I am not nearly important enough to have a depth of results to get an adequate idea of how BING works. So I decided to search the term “online trust”. The results were no more satisfying this time. True – BING does have a few nifty features like the related searches and the excerpt from the site without having to click around, but beyond that, TBH, I could see no perceptible difference.

 Maybe I am not looking hard enough and I certainly did not put it through its paces as David Pogue did for his NY Times article. Or just maybe the differences are too subtle for “Judy Consumer” to notice or for anyone to even care enough about to look for these extras.  And this is where BING is at a distinct disadvantage because inertia is one of the most powerful marketing forces on the planet. While that’s good news for Google, it’s bad news for BING because I suspect people will try BING for kicks, but drift back to their inertia induced Google search patterns.

 So what will “Judy Consumer” really think? I don’t proclaim to know but I hope “Judy Consumer” makes up her own mind and not rely on either Microsoft or Google. Or the pundits either for that matter. They know too much.

Judy Shapiro (http://twitter.com/judyshapiro )

Google Voice: What’s up with that?

As an ex-AT&T “Bell head” anything telecom always gets my special attention. So when I saw the “Google Voice” re-announcement recently I couldn’t help wondering, “Huh, what’s up with that? How does this fit into Google’s core business?” Mostly though, I was interested in understanding why this and why now?

First, let’s put Google Voice in perspective. I’m gonna put it out there and say Google Voice is, IMHO, a refined GUI within a fairly standard VoIP version of unified messaging with number portability thrown in (sorry all for the techno-jargon, but a factual articulation of the technology seemed in order). Nice, but hardly deserving of the media gush that quickly followed this re-announcement, especially since Google Voice is a rebranded version of their Grand Central “one number for life” initiative launched in 2006. So this notion of having the same phone number for life has been done and redone dozens of times over the past dozen or so years. 

Now we all know that anything Google launches tends to bask in the Google glow, defying critical analysis.  So I seemed to be the only one interesting in knowing – why now?

In a recent Computerworld article by Mike Elgan, “Why Google Voice is free,” (6/27/09), Mike began to get at an answer of “why now” when he correctly contended that Google intends to monetize this free service via new advertising vehicles within their voice network.  While that answer makes total sense, it still didn’t get at the “why now” part of my question.

And then I was struck with a déjà vu moment – I realized with a jolt that Google is doing now what AT&T did in the 1980s and 1990s – I know since I worked at AT&T at that time. In fact, Mike Elgan made a similar connection when he observed that, “Google Voice means Google is technically, literally and actually a telephone company.”

Once I put that together, I realized that Google seems to be following in AT&T’s footsteps more closely than the media, or even they may realize. But more interestingly, that connection best explained the “why now” part of my question.    

First a quick AT&T history lesson. From the 1980s to the mid-1990s AT&T was in its full power as a global innovation brand fueled by its dominance in the communications business. While the diversity of the AT&T business was amazing, it was generally focused on communications, and they stayed “close to their knitting” (AT&T had many such quaint terms).

But competitive communications pricing pressures being what they were, AT&T expanded into business well beyond its core competency starting in the late 80s. It dabbled in home security, launched PCs, sold electronics games and even explored Pay-Per-View (PPV). They did this so they could grow by controlling digital information delivery channels from its source to its final consumption points to leverage the vast AT&T infrastructure. This explains lots of these diverse AT&T businesses, including their short-lived attempt to build their own internet via a project called “HomeCenter” (circa 1994).

These ambitious (dare I say arrogant) goals were necessary to fund its “big” company overhead. So it played in lots of industries because it could and because the cache of the AT&T brand blinded the leadership into believing that such an AT&T Information Network goal was achievable. So tons of resources were thrown at these diverse business plays in the hopes of reaching the business promised land that a lock on controlling information to users would have provided.

We all know how it turned out. In the briefest of years, AT&T went from a powerhouse to literally being almost a shell of its former self, regulatory issues notwithstanding. Only now, nearly 25 years later, is it beginning to make a brand comeback.  But it will probably never relive its former glory days.

So flash-forward to Google today and why Google Voice now?

Right now, Google is in its prime and has become the arbiter of technological coolness, much the way AT&T was in its day. And like AT&T in communications, Google has a very strong hold on the online ad market, but it’s facing new types of pressures from technology, as well as new business models. Furthermore, the Google PPC money machine is losing its grip and has, by many accounts, already plateaued.  This is similar to what happened with AT&T when MCI entered the field.

So much like AT&T did 20 years ago to maintain its growth, Google is trying to do the same – control the data distribution channels. In the case of AT&T, it was all about information delivery to business and residential users. In the case of Google, it’s all about advertising delivery to its “product” – to its users of its services.  

The trouble with wanting to dominate all delivery channels (whether it be information or advertising) is that you are forced to go further and further afield from your core competency. And while “playing” in disparate businesses is something a leader brand can afford to do, over time the core business tends to suffer – slowly, but inextricably. And then at some point, you are willing to throw out the knitting needles. AT&T did, and that did not end well. Google looks like to be headed in the same direction.

So the launch of Google Voice lets me see these parallels more clearly. As wonderful as Google Voice may be, I am tempted to say to Google, “Stick to your knitting.”

Judy Shapiro

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