Top Gear Season 17

It is almost that time again. June 12 26th the 17th season of Top Gear UK starts. The marketing gurus at the BBC have finally decided to run the same season in the USA on BBC America as in the UK. Last season this meant a 2 week lag time, but considering the editing needed that was pretty good. Now I’m seeing daily posts on my Facebook feed reminding me that it is coming back with some big social media campaign and we’re only a week away.

I am somewhat jaded about this season though, because of a lot of controversy that has surrounded the show and the presenters in the off-season. I have also been watching this show for far longer than most people (since 2004) and think it has been some of the best TV ever created.  One thing should be clear about this list, I love Top Gear and have been telling everyone about it for the last seven years, so these issues may be different than the way you feel about the show not having a long history with it. Some of my concerns to think about before you set your DVR/TIVO to record the season and commit yourself to 10+ hours of TV:

1. Jeremy Clarkson is an arse. We all know this, and he amplifies the rudeness of his character for laughs most of the time even if it isn’t his real personality. There is also a charismatic charm there, but he seems a whole lot less charming lately. There have been reports about evidence linking him to dating a female crew member on the Top Gear MPH Tours (he is married). He even wrote about it in a printed piece in 2010 thinking nobody would get it.  Well this whole issue kinda spoils it for most women fans of Top Gear. Most women find a charming guy that is married kinda interesting but a charming cheat isn’t going to work out for anyone. The mystique is lost. This whole thing was clumsy and a mess for someone that has been grooming his career for decades. The only twist I can think of with this story is to possibly meet Chelsea Handler if he does decide to get a divorce. With his wife having been his long time manager, this whole issue has put Top Gear in a precarious position knowing they still have to work together.

2. Richard & James have had as many TV series going as Jeremy made in the last 25 years. Therefore, I think they’re stretched a bit thin. I also think they’re both losing the newness of the experience that create the genuine reactions on camera that really resonated with the audience. (if you’ve seen one Bugatti, you’ve seen them all) Jeremy entertains but the people relate to James and Richard. But with so many super cars of their own now, is this really exciting anymore? I kinds feel like they need some time off to get back to their roots of why they are not Tim Allen or Jay Leno and why that made them great presenters.

3. They’ve possibly run out of new things to do. The show has even used some of my anonymously posted ideas (Bonneville salt flats)  Possibly because they thought of them too. But if I’m no pro are they scraping the bottom of the barrel? I do think they have created some of the best TV in history, but that is such a high mark to meet again and again. I foresee cross promotion coming with all Top Gear country teams (UK, USA, AUS, RUS, CH) pitted against each other in some kind of epic battle of automotive wonder, with subtitles of course.  I think they need to start looking further from car entertainment ideas and into other types of shows/experiences and bring the cars into them in order to keep the originality high.  The USA Show has a lot of possibility because it is new, and I am almost more excited about their prospects than the UK team right now.

4. There are BBC budget cuts. And it is hard to coordinate script writers, the best cameramen & editors on the planet and all the special effects and projects that go into the show on a smaller budget. Those sweeping helecopter shots aren’t cheap and all the automakers use them in their commercials now too. Heck Jeremy Clarkson may have to start doing his own driving. (check the windows when they show exterior shots of the car, grayed out, it’s not the rainy weather either).

5. And last but not least, They’ve run out of tricks. The comment from Ben Collins about wearing a curly wig to do Jeremy’s power slides hit me hard. I know Jeremy Clarkson is good at managing Top Gear because he has done many different shows on UK TV over the last 25 years. Heck, you’ve looked up the Motorworld show? Far less interesting, and in one he rides a motorcycle (very well btw) around the track at the F1 race in Monaco. Jeremy has had a lot of time to figure things out and evolve into what Top Gear has become. But I think the word is out about  how pre-planned and manipulated things are to get them on camera and ultimately what seems like reality but is not. I’m not sure people are going to be so fiercely loyal to a show that manipulates things so heavily and has abandoned the accidental funny that used to happen. Some people might call this jumping the shark.

The one thing that Top Gear UK has in its favor is that there is rarely if ever any good TV on in the summer in the USA. True, people are outside and not in their living rooms as much in the evenings while it is warm outside, but the DVR saves you while most shows are off season and you don’t have to compete for an audience.

So, will you still be watching? I want to but I’m a bit scared it won’t be like it used to be.

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Japanese Earthquake Tsunami Disaster is Different from Haiti

japanese earthquake nuclear reactor tsunami mapWithin a day after the Haiti Earthquake in January 2010 (7.0)there were celebrities on TV urging people to donate money to help those who were in need. Within a day of the earthquake and tsunami in Indonesia in 2004 we saw the same attention drawn to the even in the name of help for those in need. Both had telethons on television pleading with the public to donate millions of dollars to the relief efforts.

This time there is a very different mood in the USA a week after the 9.0 scale earthquake off the eastern coast of Japan. (2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami) There have been some Facebook/Twitter/Yahoo links to the red cross to donate but overall the donation numbers I have seen shown on U.S. sites were very low. We haven’t seen any celebrities saying that they have donated money to the cause and our own government isn’t really talking about loans or donations right now in our budget crisis (and yet they’re contemplating invading Libya at the same time). 

We’ve seen the news focus their coverage on the nuclear disaster that was the result of the loss of electricity during the earthquake and the loss of the backup generators because of the water/power of the tsunami. This combined with explosions that cracked containment vessels and a lot of hot spent fuel sitting around in 6 reactors has an enormous risk associated with it. Sure, that is the big-blockbuster-disaster-film story here, but it is not the largest problem facing Japan. The newscasters have a captive audience worldwide with this topic because this is the one issue that could affect people outside Japan.

It is a weird difference in opinion that Americans have about Japan compared with the past earthquakes/tsunamis/disasters in Indonesia & Haiti. At this point in time it surprises me greatly that Americans have issues with a country like Japan to the point that they do not want to help. It makes us look un-educated and small minded. I thought Americans would identify directly with the Japanese, like I do but I’m not seeing a lot of evidence that it is the case.

Some celebrities have been cited making rude jokes about the Earthquake/Tsunami within the last week and Gilbert Godfried was fired as the voice of the Aflac Duck (he needs to be retired anyway) because of rude and insensitive tweets he sent. 50 cent also has been criticized for his lack of understanding and even a government spokesperson in Mississippi had to resign over tasteless rude comments (not really surprising for Mississippi).

I was not always a huge fan of Japan. In the 1980’s I viewed them like many people did, as the reason that US car companies and manufacturing companies here were going out of business. There was the assumption that the Japanese were ruthless and as smart as robots and we felt threatened by that. Now we feel that way about China instead. (I do not feel that way about China though, one of my best friends is Chinese and I’ve spent a lot of time with her family for decades and could never think of them that way)

 In the last 30 years things have changed. I think Tokyo and most Japanese people share a lot of commonalities with us. They love their cell phones & gadgets as much as we do. We’ve adopted their Anime and Video gaming interests as mainstream. Toyota/Honda/Mitsubishi/Mazda sell more cars here than American companies do because people really like them and they’re innovating with hybrids and new ideas like Scion. (I don’t have the exact sales numbers for this, it is more my impression from seeing what is on the road in Chicago). Entire movies have been made about the following for Japanese imports (Fast & Furious) And who is going to give up their big screen TV or computer monitor from Samsung, Sony or NEC? Or their Wii?

But the real change in perception happened when people started liking Sushi. About 10 years ago Sushi started getting popular in Chicago. With it U.S. audiences began to discover the california roll, spicy tuna and the joy of Miso Soup. Along with our broadening pallets beyond teryaki we discovered udon noodles, bento boxes, tempura, sake, mochi and red bean ice cream. (red bean ice cream may also be Chinese, and it is better than the green tea flavor)

japanese sakura flowers white pink trees cherry blossomsWe also discovered through Flickr that Japanese people love their cats as much as we do (Junku) and Sakura is the cherry blossom festival each spring.  A blend of Asian styles from China, Japan and other areas is very popular right now in home decorating, emphasizing the strong minimalist lines of furniture pieces and the delicate organic patterned styles. We also share our love of all things digital with Japan. And who can forget Sanrio and the super-popular Hello Kitty and her cast of friends? Can you get any more cute and friendly than that?

So how did I overcome the feeling of competitive anxiety with Japan? By enjoying the exported food. And the rich culture of preparation that surrounds it that makes it unique and special. Exporting your culture really does change views that people have of your country around the world. Through this I have realized that the Japanese are competitive people, but they are also very nice people and respectful of us as a country too. I’ve come to the conclusion that we can learn a lot from them about managing large populations in small places (like Tokyo) and how to continue to innovate in industry, manufacturing and the economy.

So that is why it bothers me that the U.S. population is not really doing anything to help here. Sure, some closed-minded conservatives will always have rude views, but I really think the people in America should do something to help.

Instead of understanding that Japan is a nation of people with a lot more in common with us than most of the world, a large portion of the U.S. public continues to focus on the differences. The bottom line is that Japan is an industrial/manufacturing/technology based economy like ours. The average person in Japan is pretty well-educated on a world scale, like us.

In fact we really do depend on each other a lot, buying/selling from each other and sharing strong bonds of family and friends across borders. We can’t just stand by and watch these nuclear reactors go out of control and not think about the people who don’t have food, water or homes anymore. It is a disaster just like anywhere else in the world. And that world has gotten a whole lot smaller in the last 10 years with the internet, skype,  international business and Sushi. And we’re not doing enough to help.

What Should TopGear do about the Stig? get a new one?

racing helmets colors stig bbcWe all know by now that the TopGear white Stig has written a book and revealed his long kept secret identity. How could he do this? (maybe I will find out when the book arrives)

The Stig was a great character that adds a lot of life to the show, although he doesn’t publicly get acknowledged for his work. (Maybe that is what he needed?) Still, his mysterious identity was the way that fans related to him. Nobody wanted to be like the Stig when he was jokingly shown as Michael Schumacher. That is just way too intimidating. And keeping the role anonymous also kept racing enthusiasts from arguing over the bias/skills that he has because of the driver’s specific experience. It was pure genius for the show and the robotic slightly alien personality they adopted for the Stig over time really brought a comedic element to the show also. (anyone remember the stig’s credit card or how he used it?) 

I’m not sure what the answer is to this question. Mr Ben Collins has lost the best gig he has had yet and now they have to reinvent the Stig in a new form because Jeremy Clarkson has said that Ben was fired for this breach of confidentiality and contract with the BBC.

Does this mean there will be a Blue Stig? Or other colors and shapes and sizes? Or will they bring real race car drivers into the show as regular presenters? I think Tanner Faust is a good example of why not. Race car drivers tend to be emotionless trash talking robots. Look at Tanner and Paul Tracy in that car crash of a show they have on cable. It’s painful because there is no real-person-experiencing-the-car type element that people can identify with and the guys seem a bit wooden on camera. So, I don’t recommend bringing in more race car drivers in as hosts.

Maybe the stig can be reinvented in an interesting way. Maybe there is a recall and they can get another Stig sent from the factory? Maybe borrow the Stig’s Fat American Cousin for a while? Maybe recruit new stigs and make it a competition between the different colored race suited Stigs? Maybe there is a story behind how each stig is born or made that can be amusing to us all. Or a school full of little Stigs running around to recruit from in the coming years? Or can they get a local car rental place to rent a stig with the VW Rabbit for a slight upcharge? This is the joy of writing for characters like this, you can just make it all up as it comes, and that has made it quirky and interesting for the last 10 years or so.

Some people may want them to get someone like Sabine in there (as herself), which could be interesting, but even she isn’t the same element to the show and she likes to trash talk too much. I don’t understand what that adds to a show. They could very well hire a driver to “play a robot/alien guy driver character” with their face shown but acting isn’t really what race car drivers are known for.  They could turn ridiculous and audition a bunch of other people in bear suits, or whatever but thats kind of jumping the shark. Maybe they could recruit one of the guys from Clarkson Island?

Anyway, back to reality. I really liked the impartial comparison of each car by this independent yet authoritative source in the show. I really liked it being anonymous and I also think the story/character adds a lot of fun. I’m not sure what Jeremy Clarkson & team have up their sleeves but I hope its good because he has 350 million people waiting on this decision.  This is the most universally popular show in the world because of how it represents people’s love affair with cars and irreverence about conventions. It’s the biggest thing to come from the UK since Monty Python in the irreverence department and we would like more please.  Whatever they do, they may want to consider a higher salary for the role or just pick a new stig every year. I’m sure that if the show ends they would be able to reveal this info since it wouldn’t be necessary anymore and have  Stig reunion episode or something.

 Update:  Maybe TopGear should hire Daft Punk as the next stigs, have one drive and the other with a digital mixing board making music during the test drives? They’ve already got the right wardrobe.

WebTrends Email Stats Reports How To Setup

I love that WebTrends is a good solid web analytics reporting solution, but I really find the setup process for just about anything with this system to be very confusing and lengthy. I’m sure there is a reason for this (could be data integrity processes or cost savings) but I really just need a step by step list when I need to get something done quickly and someone to tell me where these oddball parts of the process exist. Therefore I’m writing a list to explain this process so I have it written down and other people can find this info too.

(technical note I’m using webtrends software 8.1, not the webtrends hosted solution)

Today the task at hand is setting up automated reports of webtrends data to be sent monthly by email. The duration of the data collected and the frequency of the reporting schedule are both flexible, it can be daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly or yearly.

The first step is to go to the administration menu from your login. There go to Report Designer and Templates. You can select one of their templates, I needed to create a new one.

Then name your template. Go to next, select the content by adding (and naming) a new chapter, then adding content to that chapter from the add report link on the menu above. Select the “built in report” list from the drop down to get the standard metrics available in webtrends. Check the boxes of the metrics you want included, I would say 4-8 per report is enough before you have too much data for someone to really use. You can make changes to the layout, although I was not looking for that level of detail now.

Click next at the bottom of the page. Then you have some configuration settings, like for wrapping text lines on long urls (ok) and how many rows of data in the reports (20-50 max for readability, top 5 is good).

Click next again and give profiles access to this report. I noticed mine are already given universal access and grey-ed out so nothing much to do with this screen. Then click save.

Next you then go back to the profiles list (admin menu and web analysis and reports & profiles) and edit the profile you want to get this report to add the report to the profile. This is one of those steps I think is redundant and should be automated or brought into the setup process before this because its confusing. You wave over the profile in the list (don’t click it) and get a menu with “actions” and edit is one of them.

From there go to reports in the top menu and on the drop down go to report templates. Click the box by your report to select it, ignore the second checkbox that is labeled default because it will change the default reporting style in the profile to this new report, and that isn’t the intention here.

Then go back to the admin menu a third time and to the scheduler menu (bottom) and then schedule jobs and click the button for a new job. This is the email setup part. Under job type select scheduled report and follow through the pieces of menu from left to right as you fill out each section. First select your profile you want reported on, next give the report a name and assign it to a user (yourself). (note this is also how to disable the emails with the check box below, no idea why this is hidden here). Report type: general report. Output type can me a database, pdf, excel/csv or pdf. I chose pdf because it looks professional and we don’t have to install Microsoft office/word on the server in order to export it. Its the only option that does not require that except the database. Number of data rows to report is up to you, I usually do top 20.

Next add the report destinations, this is where you need the email info. Add your email as the from, add theirs as the to address. Also, cc yourself on these reports so you get them too. Add the SMTP server address (if you don’t have the SMTP address it will hold up all of your other scheduled jobs, so don’t set this up without it.) So, the software knows where to connect to send it from. (contact IT about this if you don’t have it) You can also FTP it if you like your data that way, or save to a folder on the server. (not as exec friendly though) 

Under templates, complete view is ok. Under reports, here you select the reports you want to include. These are a duplicate of the ones you selected above, maybe redundant but this is literally the process we took on the phone with the WebTrends helpdesk people. Report type: standard again, date range: its up to you. Scheduling is next on the menu, you can’t run it on the 1st of the month because data may not have compiled yet in all time zones so the 2nd of the month is the first you can run a monthly report with the most recent previous month’s data. Ditto lag time for dailies, weeklies etc. Run once or run weekly/monthly/daily, as you choose.

The host binding section he literally told me to ignore. So I have no idea what that means. Then you get a summary page at the end and click save.

You just wait now and see if everything gets delivered correctly. It is good that the report is only generated once per month on the date you specify as a job that processes, so it can run data in the past (vs only from the point you created the report, forward like custom reports do because they create their own database table) and it won’t clog up your processing queue with a lot of memory/processing because it’s just once.

I wish there were short concise directions for setting up webtrends email reports like this on the web already but I realize that nothing is easy or self explanatory with database systems or webtrends. It’s just part of the territory until next generation tools come around, and no I don’t mean Google Analytics (which is almost as confusing now to beginners). Someday this has to get simpler in process so more people can use it.

The Negatives of Social Networking Media

All the world is a Buzz about Facebook & Twitter these days. It’s almost like MySpace circa 2007, Google circa 2003 or Microsoft circa 1998. I don’t doubt the success, innovation or long-term viability of these social networking sites but I have seen that there are flaws in the system that mean that things won’t be perfect with the business along the way and we’re in for a bumpy road. Basically my point is that for all these sites give us in entertainment, social connections and opportunity they also have some negatives that are almost the equal and opposite pendulum action.

1. Time Suck – all social networking sites are using your time that you used to devote to other things. Maybe in some cases this is actually a better use of your time (instead of TV) but in most cases its time spent that you used to use for researching new information for work projects,  time actually spent talking with people in person (family/friends) or time spent doing things that really need to be done at work or home. Once the brain gets trained that you can go socialize instead of work at those times of day it’s a habit extremely hard to break. For all of us procrastinators looking for instant gratification its a real problem keeping up with work and affects the overall productivity of companies and the country as a whole. Internet access is much more prevalent and has far more users during the business day than it does at night, so there’s the proof. Unless your job is trolling these sites for sales prospects by “connecting” and making “relationships” with your customers, its a waste of time to spend more than 15 min a day.

2. Privacy – Of all the details analyzed about consumer privacy online (on Facebook) in the last few weeks the most suprising thing I’ve seen is that people really don’t care about their information online. Sure, nobody is going to post a ss number or cc number on their profile (duh) but they don’t really seem to realize the power of logging all their social interactions in one database and selling access to retailers and cpg companies who have even larger databases of information to analyze and strategize with. Is it really as fun when most of your friends are companies selling you things all the time? Twitter already has morphed into the largest opt in direct marketing platform I’ve ever seen. If people keep using it at this rate it will surpass email. The other obvious issues come with the work life balance thing and when people friend work makes and think nobody will see them rant about work or post drunk pictures on a sick day, but then again I’ve heard that its just people naturally selecting themselves out of the working pool.

3. Logic – the other issues I’ve seen coming for a while have to do with how everything that is built from large databases online with lots of consumer data seems to not work properly. There is always some algorithm developed by a science tech guy based on some theoretical calculus and it doesn’t provide relevant results. Which brings me to a repeating theme of data right now: we don’t really know what to do with it yet. Nobody knows enough real info about their customers to target them. (who has a budget for that?) And the database people just like to say they improved things a statistically insignificant amount with an algorithm tweak. The marketing strategy/process should always start with offline real life information about people and products and then develop an algorithm to show you information in that way. I don’t know why it’s always done backwards but it will keep our results irrelevant and marketing dollars wasted for a long time to come.

Bounce Rates on Google Analytics

google analytics bounce rate pages exits ratesI was just discussing what Bounce Rates were in Google Analytics and thought this could be a potentially confusing term and would be helpful to blog about. I also work with WebTrends .

We have a client that has a site with us that had a high bounce rate and a high exit rate. (50% for some pages) Anything above 20% would be something worth looking into in my opinion, but the differences change depending on the site, product, sales process and design so everyone has their owne level of normal as a benchmark and you try and improve from there.

They wondered if this Bounce Rate was an issue, as many clients would.

The thing is, it may not be an issue to have a high Bounce Rate because if people land on a product description page and then click to buy (or in our case, apply) is this really bad?

Well the qualifier for a Bounce Rate is that they viewed that one page and left. This does not include someone clicking on a link on the page to buy/apply. That would be an exit. They would not have viewed any other page on the site or interacted (clicked) anything else either. This bounce would be from hitting the back button or clicking the x button on the browser.

Exits from the site are considered people who have viewed more than one page and finished their visit. They may click to apply/buy or they may x-out of the window or they may reload the home page. (just a few of many examples) One tricky thing is when someone gets a site that launches a new window for a page you click on. That is typically an exit and new site visit. 

So, is this good or bad? For this client I think it is ok, because they are very stringent about who they are looking to hire and when people see the extensive requirements I am pretty sure most people would realize whether they had a shot at the job or not very quickly and either click forwards in the path to apply (on an Applicant Tracking System application site, (don’t ask, too many sites linked with too many processes)) or back out. It is very straight forward and very few other options are on the page.

How do you reduce bounce rates?

I never hear people talk about strategies to get more qualified traffic to these pages, I just hear about providing more info on the page to help them convert. That is a great strategy and if you can link exact search terms to the appropriate products/jobs with a page designed for one clear desired action then you are doing well. If you can suggest other related alternatives on the same page, maybe on the right sidebar, you are doing even better. If you have an email sign-up that says, not what you are looking for? Sign up here and we’ll email you when new ones come up. Great. But if you have a lot of traffic bouncing even then, you may want to look at the source. What words are your pages optimized for and why do those keywords not match what you’re providing or asking people to do? Maybe search is also not the right medium to find people based on the Google Insights search volume for that term and you are getting similar searches/clicks but not for what you offer. Maybe reel in the search efforts and go for more qualified means of finding these specific people like email, targeted display ads (by content/interest, behavior or location) or offline communication. (gasp!)

Remember Google Analytics (or any analytics package) is not just about a bunch of numbers and bunk. If you can’t figure out what the human behavior is behind the numbers or what the actual user/customer wants they don’t mean much of anything except that your site is up and running.