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Social Media

In the old days, people relied mostly on products and services. Advertising didn’t exist back then, it was just as simple as putting a plank with your name and your occupation on your door or outside your gate. Nobody would see the plank unless they passed by your house or store. The business rule was very simple, if you have good products or services, then your happy customers will tell their friends, and if they were satisfied, then they will tell their friends and so on and so forth. Until now, we still found Word Of Mouth (WOM) marketing to be the most powerful tool every marketer should utilize. However, maintaining positive WOM is extremely difficult, since the expectation is always getting higher and higher so there has to be continuous improvement on the products’ or services’ side.

Then radio was invented and soon after, the television. Advertising as one dominant type of marketing communication became too strong. Small companies suddenly had national brands because they started selling their products in a massive way all over the country or even the world. Brand image suddenly become THE MOST important thing in marketing. Companies would do anything to defend their brands, they lied, cheated, even said negative thing about their competitors. As I have said before, they’d do anything to make their brands look good.

Then there’s the era of consumer power, where suddenly the market became so saturated with advertising, that customers became confused and started to come to their senses. They just want products that work and fit within their budget.  Marketers started panicking and scream that Advertising is Dead, Sales is Dead, etc. Of course they’re dead, advertising and sales are mostly one way communication, it’s how companies are pushing their products to the customers. Customers eventually have to make their choice based on their limited budget. The competitions then reached its peak and escalated into a price war. Who wins the war? Customers for sure, a lot of big bulk retailers that sells high volume at small margins and a few niche players.

Within the last 3 years, the social media has stolen the spotlight. Companies are flocking to use the new media to reach millions of (potential) customers. Social media specialists suddenly are in high demand. Despite all the hype, these companies keep forgetting that social media is not another type of advertising they thought they knew and will never be one.  Most companies use social media (i.e. Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.) and blogs as a form of one-way communication. Although they have done a great job of making it looks interactive, they hardly read their customers’ comment, and deleted the negative comments as if there is nothing worth improving. They are creating a narcissistic “faux-brand-image” where they always look perfect and everybody’s always so happy.  Those companies do not realize that those unsatisfied customers will never go away, because they have been using their personal blogs or any other media (facebook, twitter, etc) to express their disappointment and frustration.

As for me, I am a traditional marketer who believes that everything is about innovation and continuous improvement of products and services. Advertising, updates, tweets, blogs and everything else is secondary. The best example that I can use probably is to compare Apple and RIM. Apple always come up with disruptive technologies that upset the competition, while RIM (who used to be very innovative) prefers to use its current proprietary Blackberry Messaging technology. iPad is definitely not the first tablet computer in the world, but in people’s mind, iPad is ultimate tablet computer because of its intuitive touch technology. On the other hand, despite how much money RIM had invested in product development, PlayBook will never be regarded as an innovative product, since people will always see it as just another iPad clone.

It really doesn’t matter how much budget  your company has allocated to hire the best social media specialists to exploit the potential of social media and other internet-based technology, I still believe in the power of Word of Mouth Marketing (WOM) because in the end, everything will come down to this: IF YOUR CUSTOMERS WON’T RECOMMEND YOU TO THEIR FRIENDS, THAT MEANS YOUR PRODUCTS OR SERVICES STINK! (PW)

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A New Cartridge or a New Printer?

When I was a marketing student at Ohio State University 14 years ago, I always thought that selling printer at a very low price and cartridge at a high price was a brilliant idea. This marketing strategy has proven to be the answer that the company has been looking for. The printer was simply a gimmick, enough to turn customers into a captive market, while the cartridge business is simply the cashcow. Everything was simple, and to be honest, those were the good old days.

But then, customers got smarter, they have found a way to ‘refill’ the cartridges with their own ink. Genius? Not really, because their ink was inferior, and in some cases it leaks and in the ends produce an unsatisfactory results. The big manufacturers heavily promote this, and how buying original cartridge will lengthen the printer’s life. As time goes by, the ‘inferior’ ink gets better and better, and becoming more and more popular.

Well, the multi-billion dollar printer companies are still making a lot of money because they still dominate the market, so practically the pie is big enough for everybody. So the story should end here if you’re expecting a happy ending. Wrong!

Knowing that the ‘substitutes’ are closer to their ‘par’, the companies try different tactics to maximize their profits by ‘killing’ the substitutes and create greater demand for original cartridges. They invented a smart chip. These chips are so smart, they can send information to the printer that the customers should buy a new one, for one or more reason, either it is empty or expired. Third party refillers cannot reset the smart chip, so even though it is already refilled, the cartridge will not work. Worse than that, the cartridge will stop working when it passes its expiry date even though it is not empty.

The Smart Chip has Spoken

These companies might be brilliant in coming up with such strategies, but they have to realize that such strategy also have its moral hazards:

1. Customer’s Rights to choose suppliers

Customers do not have the options to choose their own suppliers. They become absolute captive market. In the old days, they can decide to buy the premium from the main source or take the risk and spend less money to buy from other source.

2. Customer’s Right to decide when to buy

Customers  do not have the option to decide when they should buy a new cartridge. Now, it really doesn’t matter whether you print 100 pages per week or 1 page per week, when the time comes, you should buy a new printer because in every cartridge, there is an expiry date.

3. Environmental Issue

Buying one printer (complete with a complete initial cartridges) has become far more cheaper than to buy the original cartridges. This ‘illogical’ phenomenon has really forced people to throw away their printer, and buy a new one. This is a disaster from the environment standpoint. In my opinion, the manufacturers should be “green” and provide the refills.

As marketers, we have to be aware that we should create a better world and competition in the long run will improve everyone (and  also, it makes life more interesting) (PW).

If you want to know  more about Smart Chips, check out these links:

  1. Smart Chip in Printer Cartridges
  2. Printers: Printer, Smart Chip, Cartridge Expiration

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There are a lot of articles both offline and online about corporate blogging these last 3 years. Yes, social media has been a very hot issue lately. Pingdom has all the crazy statistics that there are 350 million users on Facebook,126 million blogs and almost 4 billion pictures are being hosted on flickr. Companies have to be aware that the true core of social media is still individual connecting to other individuals. Facebook does not regulate how their users interact, or what to say and not to say. In the social media law, the users generate the content, and they too, control the content.

Looking at the graph below, it seems that companies have to be extra careful on how to lure their online customer so they can increase their sales. So it is clear that for companies this rule apply: DAMNED IF YOU DO, AND DAMNED IF YOU DON’T. The main reason for this is that they know that everyone is connected, but the fact shows that only 16% believes in corporate blogs (if you’re doing a great job, that is). If you don’t do a good job on your corporate blog, then you will get less than that. So the question remains, is it worthwhile for companies to blog? HELL YES! For reasons like SEO which is a major one. But here are some tips that might help companies to get followers.

Graphics created by Forrester Research Inc, taken from http://www.sitepoint.com/blogs/2008/12/12/corporate-blogging-youre-doing-it-wrong/

First of all, companies have to understand how the whole system works. In the Blog-o-sphere, Bloggers throw their ideas through the internet, with the hopes that other bloggers or readers will comment on it. So blogging is not supposed to be a one-way street but interactive. The comments are unfiltered, which means that people can agree or totally disagree with the blogger. If your company is serious about blogging then you will have to accept that there are people who hate your products, and if you are a true marketer, your challenge is to convert them by responding to each their comments through your blog. Here are some tips that might help your corporate blog fly:

Personal

It is best to relate the blog to a person that represents the company. Ideally, the owner should blog about the company, because s(he) is the soul of the company and what the company’s all about. Linking your company’s website is allowed for SEO reason, as long as you don’t do it too much.  Having an employee blog in favor of the company just doesn’t make sense, because he/she might move to another company. Basically when you blog, your personal brand becomes one with your company’s brand. Or quoting from Mitch Joel’s Six Pixels of Separation: “Your personal brand is screaming so loudly I can hardly hear a word you are saying.”

Find Your Niche

Your blog should be about something specific. If your company makes 100 unrelated products, then it might be necessary to create 100 blogs. Don’t put too much unrelated information in one blog, otherwise you will attract many people with different interests, and in the end it will not generate effective interaction.

Honest

Honesty is the main ingredient of successful blogs. When you are not being honest, people can feel it, and they will start moving away from your blog. Explain who you are so people can relate to your way of thinking. Your posts and comments should be non-discriminatory, even to the point of admitting that your products are not perfect. One thing for sure, you will gain loyal followers just because of the fact that you are still willing to listen to them. Companies like Apple and Microsoft are notorious when it comes to limiting what their employees can say in their blogs and the public are very aware of it. These limitations affect the sincerity and believability of the blogs.

Unconditional

DO NOT (I repeat: DO NOT) sell your products through your blog or expect a direct reward in the form of revenue, but you can use if to share information about new releases, upcoming events and new technology and trends. Leash yourself. When you do too much selling, people will start to move away from it.

Fresh

Your blog should always be fresh. Starting a blog is easy, but maintaining one is hard, especially when you have to post fresh contents regularly, not to mention responding to gazillion comments despites your busy offline routines.

So You’re Saying that My Company should not Blog?

Ideally, blogs should be personal. However, if your company does decide to create a corporate blog because it does support its SEO program big time, please make sure that your management are ready to accept what your customers will say about your company. Be careful when you are implementing some kind of filter on comments, because readers can smell if from miles away, and when they do, they will move away from it. There are a couple of functions that could use blog to get customer’s insights, and those are product/service development and customer service (aka customer complaints). Like my previous blogs, these inputs are very valuable and will give a lot of information on where the company should start when it comes to improvements.

Other sources that you can read:

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Have you ever wonder why very expensive and popular software can be very user-unfriendly and might have a lot of bugs? What about a big and profitable company that has very bad customer service? Yes, they are very common. We see and experience them almost on a daily basis. In an ideal world, very expensive software should be user friendly and bug-free, and a big and profitable company should have good customer service.

So what’s the main issue here? When a company was still small, it usually imitates bigger companies, and when it gets bigger, it tends to compete directly competitors with comparable size. The only different between them are the budget limit. Small companies might just have enough budgets to follow the bigger companies, while big companies can afford to hire people to spy on their competitors and analyze them. So what’s missing?

Most of companies are missing the big picture. Products and services are meant to solve problems for customers. Customers are the ones with the final decision to buy or not to buy. No purchase means no profit, it’s that simple. The only thing that every company should focus on is to make them satisfied and coming back for more. With all these in mind, naturally customers should be the centre of innovation. The intimate relationship with customers will result in profits, loyalty, and innovation.

Customers as the source of ideas

First of all, we should realize that it is impossible to create a perfect product or service. If there’s one, then there is no need for substitutes because people would never buy them. IPhone, the best cell phone in the market, still has to compete with Nokia, Sony Ericsson and others alike for the same reason: it is just not perfect.

Secondly, customers are not perfectly rational human being; they are somehow erratic and illogical. People are also easy to confuse and forgetful. The level of irrationality between people also varies. I could buy a product purely because it has an emotional value, even though for some people it could be considered as worthless.

Thirdly, customers are not born equal. Some customers are easier to deal with than the others. The level of information that customers have and their capability to process that information also vary.

With these three main variables, it is very clear that every product in the market will have a chance to survive, as long as it is communicated in the right way and it meets the specific requirements determined by the right segment of customers. The best way to deal with this problem is to involve customers by getting their ideas and use them in the development process. Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon.com (July 2009) in a Business Week article titled “ The World’s Masters of Innovation” talked about his innovation philosophy: there’s no bad time to innovate. You should be doing it when times are good and when times are tough—and you want to be doing it around things that your customers care about.

How can we get ideas from our customers? The best place to look for ideas is from the customer complaints. As a product developer, this is the first place I would go, because there are tons of suggestions to think about and they should be prioritized because they will directly affect customer satisfaction, which eventually will lead to customer loyalty. If you can find out what your customers like or hate about your products or services, you will have something to improve upon.

In order to be more positive when listening to grouchy customers is the fact that they spent an amount of time and effort to file the complaints which means that they care about the products or services you are offering; therefore we should appreciate them accordingly.

There is no limit to what a company can innovate when it starts to listen to its customers. Remember, those customers might also use other products, so when they file their complaints, subconsciously they have compared your product to other available products in the market. Using their suggestion, a company can improve an existing product, expand a single product into a product line or create a totally new product line for a specific market segment. Of course, the strategy will be more comprehensive and effective if combined with other market and competitive analysis methods.

To conclude this article, I suggest every company should give more attention to customers in every stage or marketing cycle from pre-sales to post-sales. With superior customer service, a company will be able to enjoy sustainable profits driven by its customers’ loyalty, and get tons of ideas for innovation. If you implement this, you might be surprised to find out that your disgruntled customers might turn out to be your most valuable ones. PW

This article is published on Canadian Institute of Marketing newsletter Winter 2010 edition, volume 6, issue 1.

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I have read several websites that discusses about vectorized photographs.

If you like to see more vector arts, you can go to the following links:

One obvious question kept popping up: If you have the photograph, what is the need of vectorized photograph? Isn’t it just beat the purpose of having a photograph?

Here is an image that I worked on based on a photo of an old phone:

old-phone

old-phone

Do you notice how crisp the image is?  Here is what it looks like without the rendering:

old-phone wireframe

old-phone wireframe

Yes, now you see how painful it is to trace a photograph and put colors in each of the vertex. For a vectorized picture above, it took me about 10 hours using Gradient Mesh feature of Adobe Illustrator CS3.

Now let’s talk about why people convert a photograph into a vectorized image like the above. There are several reason why vectoring photographs is the best solution, such as:

  1. If the photograph is not superior in terms of contrast, sharpness and resolution, a vectorized traced image will eliminate all these problems.
  2. Even if the photograph is very clear and has a high resolution,  sometimes you will still be able to see ‘dusts’ that were captured by the camera, a vectorized traced image will also eliminate this problem (Photoshop editing might also do the trick).
  3. Even if the photograph is flawless and has a high resolution, there will still be limitation on how big you can reprint it. If you’re printing a photograph to a size of a billboard, then of course, you will see the image breaking or the noises will become visible. Vectorized Image will not break up, no matter how big you want to print it and since it is not bitmap-base, it will remain crisp and sharp.

The process, like I have mentioned before,  is quite painful, since you have to trace every detail in a very precise manner. The more details you included in the effort, the more realistic the result will be, but on the downside, much more time will be needed to finish it.

For me, vectorizing images of photographs are not 100% art, but more an exercise in patience, It is though,  a printing solution, which in some cases are necessary to produce high quality images for printed media. I have a feeling, in the future, it would be done by a software, with a just few click of a button. (PW)

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Marketing v. Sales


What I am about to talk about is a very classic case of marketing v. sales. Even until now, there are a lot of misconceptions about marketing. Most people I talked with still think that marketing is the same as sales or advertising. There are a lot of marketing positions that I believe are not marketing at all, such as marketing managers (which sometimes means sales manager), and marketing coordinator (which usually means graphic designer or ad & promo manager). I guess somebody has to start ‘correcting’ these terms soon; otherwise the virtue of ‘marketing’ will soon diminish.

When asked, which evolved first, marketing or sales, then obviously sales comes before marketing. Marketing comes into the pictures when companies realize that they need sales support to study the competition and the market in order to help design the products (or services) and packaging, give the appropriate branding and pricing, decide ways to communicate the products and services, positions the product among its competitors in the market and to maintain the customer service. Marketing then become more popular when studies showed that maintaining existing customers is more profitable than acquiring new ones, which also means that losing existing customers is very costly.

In the old days, the market was very product(or service)- oriented (or what we used to call push system). Manufacturers were creating products and services and they tried very hard to ‘sell’ them to the market. In those days, those companies were the king, the one who made all the decisions. The consumer did not have a choice, if they need it then they would have to buy it. However, there were some problems with this mechanism; what the companies offered was not exactly what the market needed.

At some point in time, the products being offered have become so saturated, and then comes the superstores era. The superstores had intelligent information on what the market really needed. They were the ones who decided what products to order because of high demand. They were too smart for the manufacturers, so instead of buying the products, they offered the ‘shelf space’. Manufacturers had to fight for shelf space, and had to take back anything unsold. These superstores the ones who shifted the fulcrum. The manufacturers are not the king anymore, but the power moved to the consumers through the superstores (we call this the pull system). To make things worse, now the stores negotiates with their suppliers to help them produce their low priced domestic brands, especially for fast moving items.

Now with the internet, consumers can gather a lot of information about any product or service, therefore they are intelligent enough to make their own purchase. So the power now moves further toward the end customer. However, despite the increase in ‘utilitarian’ consumer intelligence, the ‘old’ way of marketing, such as using persuasion in the form of advertising and promotion can still be very effective because people still make irrational decisions. I truly believe that people buy iPod mostly because of the image the product can give them (and probably because of loyalty to the Apple brand). If they only want just an mp3 player, they could buy some other brands which are much cheaper and serve the same purpose. Images are built with integrated communication and commitment that could take years in development and are very expensive. Prestige and loyalty are some forms of irrationality.

Going back to the main issue, in short, sales is short-term and marketing is long-term, more like an investment. Both are essential to every company because both affect revenue (or potential revenue) generation. The important thing is that both should work in sync. Marketing cannot be treated as a part-time or commission-based job, while sales can. (PW)

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