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.

Government Income Taxes in History

income tax brackets rates through history united states usa

income tax brackets rates through history united states USA

(click graph to see full size version) I was just looking at this really interesting infographic of the income tax rates for the United States over the last century or so. It is an interesting graph because it makes it very clear that the wealthiest people are paying the lowest taxes by percentage of any time in our country’s history. By contrast the low and middle class are paying the most they’re paid or close to the most. 

I’m not sure how the government got away with a 90% tax rate in any time period, but it sure looks like they did. As much as I think the wealthiest people need to pay more again, nobody deserves that.  It makes the 5-10% increase in taxes we need on the wealthy people making over 1 million a year now seem paltry and insignificant. 

According to the graph the yellow areas say that in the 50’s and 60’s if you made more than $10 million you gave 90% of it to the Government. Wow. (9 million?) That doesn’t really seem plausible although they tell a story about boxing matches being held only yearly for this reason. There has to be something between 90% and 35% though because these people are the cash cows of our country/economy and are the only ones that can actually pay for the fancy jet security and government health care. 

Also I found it interesting that in the early 90’s people making less than 10K had to go from 0% tax to 15%? That is a big loss for the part-time workers of the country and it happened just in time for me to start working at my first job. Someone making 9K would lose $1350 to taxes, a huge sum for someone who may be just scraping by. Previously in history this tax bracket was taxes between 10-20%, so it has been higher, but the logic seems difficult that the people who make the least are losing the least also. Maybe if more government programs like healthcare actually give back to this income bracket this will be a more justified expense.  

I am also surprised looking at the top income bracket at 50% through the 1980’s and it re-frames how to think about Ronald Regan’s presidency (known for cutting taxes), but seeing that he got a larger percentage of paychecks to finance things with during a time of de-regulation and government cuts, no-wonder he was able to make things work. I doubt he would have believed that the tax rates should go as low as they are today though seeing how much government is expected to provide. 

Seeing over time how high these income tax rates have been in order for the country to survive and knowing what people expect from government right now (more services), I think we will have to return to the previous income tax rates and raise business tax rates at the same time to make up the difference even in a good economy. We have a huge budget deficit, increasing costs and government loans that are ballooning (bonds that are declining in value). Things aren’t looking good. It’s all our civic duty to pay taxes and the country can’t survive without it.

How do you lower your cholesterol? With what foods?

I heard from my doctor on Monday that I have high cholesterol, it is 243 at the moment. The good cholesterol is at 71 and the bad is 146. Yikes! I am only 33 so this is a bit surprising. We really took the test on a whim, not expecting it to be that bad yet. Yes I have a family history of heart problems (my maternal grandmother died at 50 with a heart attack and my paternal grandmother died at 55 from a stroke) but I never knew it started this early.

I do feel like I have time to work on this, at my current age I can make changes now and hopefully reverse some of the issues. There are some suprises though that lead me to believe my genetics aren’t that great. Not only am I a lot younger than most people with this cholesterol score, I also don’t eat the things they say are causing it. I am not someone who eats red meat every night, cheese, whole milk, butter or eggs. I think there are some sneaky causes to high cholesterol though that may not be as straightforward as the advice they have given me.

The causes I think are:

1. I am completely sedentary. I get less than 1K steps a day because of my job and where I live. This isn’t really changeable which sucks.

2. I eat out a lot, because we work a lot and I am a pretty bad cook. I really don’t know how to make anything besides grilling it, boiling it or the nuke it in the microwave method. I also grossed myself out on healthy choice and lean cuisine frozen meals in the 1990s so I can’t really eat them anymore. So I need another option besides skim milk and fat free cereal for dinner.

3. Healthy food is expensive! And Complicated! Yuck, or it’s raw which isn’t that great. I really can’t afford salmon or a fancy salad every night. I have to look into some low fat/cholesterol options.

4. Carbs may play a role in this. Both because many carb-licious items have butter/iol/fat in them and because carbs get eventually turned into and stored as fat. I am a carb addict. I would much rather come home and eat a pile of pancakes or muffins than meat any day. But then again I’m polish and we do carbs like nobody else. (and I like the serotonin from them too)

5. I have to get reading labels again. Both with packaged groceries and in restaurants. Hmmm an iPhone would help with looking up nutritionals at restaurants. I really have been lax in looking into that and keeping track of what the heck I put in my mouth.

6. I am consistently surprised that I gain so much weight from just a few calories extra and how little I work off. I think part of the equation is also loosing weight, but I’m not morbidly obese either. I am bout 20 lbs heavier than I should be, which definitely needs to go since its a cholesterol making machine, but it’s not like I have done anything drastically bad yet and I’m already in trouble.

The man-foods we usually have at home that I am no longer allowed are:

1. Brats (duh, we’re mid-westerners and they are really cheap)

2. Pizza (again a cheap fast food with a huge amount of cheese and most of the time Steve also likes meat)

3. Bakery (sob!) I love any kind of baked goods and I just got a kitchen aid mix master for a wedding gift. Sigh… I have to do things like angel food cake (egg whites, no fat) and light bread and limit carbs generally.

4. Hamburgers (again cheap food that is freezer friendly and fast to make)

5. Ice Cream – I usually eat light ice cream and not all the time, but this is probably best left off limits.

6. Snacks – Granola bars are really formulated to taste like cookies and bakery these days, and they have the bad stuff to match. Candy of all kinds can’t be good either.

Why the Microsoft & Yahoo Search Deal Sucks

I blogged about why I thought that the Microsoft and Yahootalks were not going to yield anything useful last year and was satisfied that they stopped wasting time trying to buy each other out of financial trouble. Now it has been widely reported that Microsoft has gained access to Yahoo in a search partnership deal. This is somewhat better but again, the executives have not listened to the public.

1. This Yahoo-Microsoft deal still sucks for several reasons. One being that Microsoft Ad Center is the ad display engine being used in the partnership and not Yahoo’s Panama. Neither have the depth or ease of use of AdWords. Anyone who has ever placed any pay per click search ads in their life would choose Panama over Microsoft Ad Center as the system to use. Maybe MAC makes more money but there are too many limits on bids, keyword availability and restrictions on running your ads to make it widely accepted.

2. The recent Netflix prize showed how much collaboration benefits organizations rather than competition. The revenue share partnership deal usually shares no information about technology or business strategy at all between companies. Its a you win, I loose, I’ll just pay you for handling this for me-approach to solving a problem, that doesn’t work in the long term.

The Netflix prize was recently awarded when a group of individual competitors and small teams banded together to use all their ideas in combination to finally get above the 10% improvement mark in matching/suggestion technology and submit their top result. In the last day before the time was up, another group of researchers banded together and topped the previous best submission also by combining all their ideas together at once.

Then in the last 12 hours the first team did come back with another submission just slightly better,  to win,  but the overall idea/lesson is still the same. If you really want to improve on consumer products and experience with really complex technical problems like search and suggestions, you have to collaborate rather than compete.

Yahoo and Microsoft would do a whole lot better against Google if they got the Bing folks together with the Yahoo search folks and started collaborating on this daily via videocam rather than doing an affiliate marketing type deal. This deal is evidence that Microsoft is being run by the lowest common denominator these days (and loosing a lot of money that way) and Yahoo’s CEO won’t be around long. She has made a decision that helps her contain and cut costs of running her company in the short term and that decision has sacrificed the long term marketability of her product.

In fact Yahoo was a search company primarily. People only used email, Yahoo news and other functions like Yahoo Answers because of the search engine they knew. If you take that away you don’t have an identity as a company. And they will lose a lot more search market share and preference by outsourcing to Bing even if they get paid a little bit more profitably in the next 2 quarters. This is pretty much the death of Yahoo. It is really sad.

How GM should restructure for a Government Bailout and streamline Brands and Cars

How can GM save itself from Implosion? Which GM brands and cars should bekept and which should be cut?How many jobs can be saved in Detroit? Should GM, Ford and Chrysler be saved at all? Will the consumer demand for vehicles (cars) ever pick back up again? These are all good questions.

Everyone is all a buzz about the American Car companies and their pitch to the Government saying that “bankruptcy isn’t and option” so give us billions in free money that has no strings attached and we can spend on anything we want. Ouch! I think congress was right to send them packing the last time they showed up in private jets and asked for money, and we have learned that in the other bailouts, the banks aren’t spending their money on what it was “proposed” for so more oversight is needed for any government bailouts of companies.

Back to my thoughts on GM specifically, since I am not an expert on Ford or Chrysler.

GM has some opportunities to be successful in the future but much of that opportunity comes at the cost of getting rid of the past, completely and starting over from scratch.

Almost every GM car or truck sold in the last 10 years has been either: inferior in quality, reputation or design. They also tend to make cars for segments that people don’t need and then wonder why people won’t buy them even when pushed. (Hello: SUVs) I read yesterday that the 4 brands that GM intends to keep are Buick (yay!), Cadillac (ok), Chevy (a necessity) and GMC (WTF?). 

I think they should throw all the brands out and come out with 5 new ones with distinctive market segments and niche products. Here are the segments in automobiles that I think will be big in 10 years that GM or any car company needs to invest in, and cut everything else:

1. The new shiny reliable car below $8,999. Developing countries and low income people in developed nations will need this kind of transportation as the cost of transportation increases consistently. (think college kids and retail hourly wage workers) It isn’t sexy or cool or updated every year. It is a 5 year design of an extremely reliable and simple car and only available in 1 color and maybe with 2 seats. If people want variety they can customize on their own. These cars are cheap super basic transportation and low cost is what sells them and fuel efficiency is also important. They have to be more reliable than a used car or this won’t work. Think old VW Beetle, Geo Metro, India’s Tata, China’s Cherry Motors or simpler version of a Honda Civic/fit.

2. Super eco friendly green cars. This segment has a product range from cheap eco friendly basic cars to luxury eco friendly status comfort cars. Performance isn’t really a priority but style and design is. Comfort comes at a price but miles per gallon is always in the 50-75 mpg range for all vehicles. Leather heated seats is an option on the lux ones. Think Toyota Prius and GM Volt. A 5-door option is nice here too. Eco people are practical people. Plug in charging in your garage and solar panels in roof are also great pluses if the cost can still be comparable to a non-eco car. People need to have one of the eco cars start at $15,000.00. Then fancier ones can be higher priced. Pricing people out of the market is bad for business, you loose sales and customers to people who do have the affordable eco cars.

3. Business/Industrial/Delivery Trucks & Vans. No consumer needs a truck unless they live in the mountains of Colorado or live on a ranch, but telling people they needed huge over-sized utility vehicles for their family use has been a strategy used in the past 15 years to re-purpose existing designs to new markets. This era is over and the SUV needs to die except for people who have 5 kids. (relatively few) There is a continued opportunity to sell trucks to businesses that deliver, transport and create large products in the US but it is a far smaller division of the company and of sales. And living in the US and seeing firsthand how people use these vehicles for business should give GM an insight that the Japanese, Chinese and German car companies don’t have and lead to building and innovating better vehicles.

4. And most importantly: The everybody car. I think GM has no way of recapturing a significant part of the 4 door family sedan but there is an opportunity to innovate it. There have been a few cars that are appealing to everybody because they contain multiple category characteristics. (um, crossovers without the truck part plus luxury) The everybody car I am talking about is the 5 door hatchback sedan. Don’t think 1970’s! Think of the Prius and Saab 9-3 when it was a 5 door, think Subaru WRX. More needs to be done in developing practical sexy cars like this because they take over where SUVs left off. You can haul things in them and get good fuel economy at the same time. You can even structure them for performance and luxury and fuel economy at the same time. So, the 5-door sport/luxury/green/family sedan is the everybody car of the future. Will GM make it and market it properly? (it could be the volt if they lux it up a bit)

5. The Luxury Performance car. Lastly, GM needs a super-car or luxury flagship vehicle that basically walks on water and inspires a generation. (more than the Pontiac solstice) These cars aren’t always profitable themselves, but they make the other brands you own more profitable and can make your brand one that people believe in. How Toyota and Honda don’t have one I don’t know, but maybe that is why they do so much racing now?  The Corvette makes Chevy feel cool, the R8 made Audi sought after. Vipers dying off made Chrysler seem even less cool and less reliable. Plus so few people will be able to afford a luxury performance car in the future that this will need to be a niche business with limited production.

And for fun here is what I think of the brands GM currently has:

Keeping Buick: Buick makes an extremely reliable car (yes like Honda/Toyota reliable) so this is a good place to start and they get 25-30 MPG. What Buick needs is a few smaller car options and even better fuel economy without sacrificing the comfort, luxury and quality that people need and love. They do need a new logo though, that doesn’t look like the 3 old 80’s shields.

Keeping Cadillac: Caddy is all about Flagship dream cars and it may share a few parts with Buick so there are manufacturing cost efficiencies there.  Caddy needs to keep innovating on performance, style and (surprise) eco materials and fuel economy.

Keeping Chevrolet: Chevy has been the all American fleet of everything (soup-to-nuts) vehicles for a long time. Many of the other brands aren’t needed because Chevy offers most everything. They cover work trucks, family sedans, performance cars with the Vette and with the Volt an eco car of the future. They should make them less fugly though, because they aren’t selling against other lux GM brands anymore, they are selling against Toyota and Honda’s flagship cars. 

Keeping GMC: Wouldn’t it have better to just sell trucks under one brand as Chevrolet since we need so few trucks? I am at a loss on this one. GMC offers nothing new, interesting or innovative at all. (yuck)

Cutting Saturn: Apparently this is just Opel cars from Europe now.  The Saturn brand name needs to die since it means cheap, flimsy, crappy, cars that break down a lot and are ugly. Re-release Opels under the Opel name? How about Vauxhall in the US? We like them.

Cutting Pontiac: Well Pontiac has been loosing it’s battle to streamline its designs and be a sleeker performance division of GM because of it’s cheap finishes and lack of quality. Plus the dealers don’t really help here either when they don’t look like a performance dealership. I think the concept of performance only exists at the same time with luxury because who will pay all that money and not want to be comfortable in their car? And quality in finishes and reliability is ultra important. As Pontiac is now, it should be cut and their logo scrapped.

Cutting Hummer; Duh! Sell it to the Norwegians or Russians or UAE or something. Wherever it is cold and has mountains or endless oil. The military division of Hummer should be retained and put into Chevy for developing military/industrial products.

Cutting: SAAB Well we saw this coming. They made an over engineered car un-reliable so GM deserves this one. From personal experience I will never buy another Saab again because of the reliability problems and obviously no one else is either. This is typical GM strategy, cut quality, save money, increase profits in the short term, piss off customers, loose customers, wonder why they can’t win customers back after costing them 5K in repair bills. Basically if you screw someone over financially once, they never forget it. This should not have happened because Saab had a lot of potential, but it’s pretty impossible to fix now.

 

2009 Super Bowl Ads Commercials Selling Fast on NBC

super bowl 2009 tampa bay florida game logo XLIII

super bowl 2009 tampa bay florida game logo XLIII

It’s that time of year again when the first rumblings of the next year’s super bowl advertisers come out. (for super bowl 43) I think the companies just ask that their info be released this early to start the buzz cycle and get more mileage out of the media buy. There really isn’t any other reason to release the advertiser names now in September when the ads aren’t even finished yet.

They say the 30 second ad spots are selling for $3 Million dollars each. That is the going rate for a direct sales pitch into 88 million homes and TV sets all at the same time. (when are they going to start webcasting the game and the ads all together like a second delivery system of the same signal? why wouldn’t that work?) Advertisers that actually get a positive ROI from that kind of heavy hitting creative investment are wide appeal mass market companies that have products that are either seasonal at that time of year or products that relate to sports watchers or families watching at home.  Products like snacks, drinks, beer and cars have long been popular categories for Super Bowl Ads.

This year some of the confirmed advertisers are Pepsi and CocaCola, Anheuser-Bush, and a bunch of un-named Automotive, Movie and snack companies. Doritos have done really well the past few years and I wonder if they will plunge in again. I think the trend may be finally waning in the internet sites do ads category since few of them have that kind of money laying around anymore and/or need the visibility.

The timing of your ad during the Super Bowl Game is also crucial. The good spots are probably taken already in Q1 and Q3. Q2 gets boring because people have been sitting a while and just want halftime to start so they can use the bathroom and Q4 may be less well watched if the game isn’t almost tied the whole time. Many people just turn it off when the game is a blowout. The ends of pods are also bad because it just leads back into the game and consumers forget the ad pretty quickly. Being first in a pod is best since people have been proven to remember things in chunks and the beginning and end are usually the chunks they remember most.

Sometimes companies get their ads in at the last moment when 1 or 2 ads are left a week or two before the Super Bowl Game but this may not be available this year if companies are paying 300K more per ad willingly and forking over the money (or deposit) this early in the year. I think that marketers are realizing that in a fragmented market you have to be as prominent on every screen as possible to stay top of mind and above the chatter that gets tuned out. But ad placement is only 1/2 of the strategy. The other half is really the most important. It is really about relevance and humor. If you can make your product funny in a way that real people identify with personally, you have a winner and get all the chatter at the watercooler the next day.