It’s been a little over a year since Amazon used this video to announce its store of the future, the Amazon Go store. It’s the retail equivalent of a concept car.

As you enter the store you identify yourself by using your phone to show the Amazon app to scanner on a gate and then you’re done consciously interacting with the technology or people. You pick up what you want, put it in your bag and go. Amazon automatically charges you for what you’ve taken.

scanning smartphone

There are no chips on the food. Visual sensors track what a person takes.

During the year-plus of development, with a prototype store open only for employees, Amazon has worked through many issues. What if two people come in together, one scans, they both take items and leave? What about taking three items from the shelf and putting two back? What if a bunch of people enter dressed as Pikachus – as Amazon employees did in an attempt to fool they system. (They failed; the system worked.)

Today the first store in Seattle is opening to the general public.

Amazon hasn’t said what it plans to do with the technology. The first store is small, only 1,800 square feet, and they could open many mini-marts around the country. They could scale it up to supermarket size and start using it in Whole foods. It could be sold to other retailers, as Amazon sells its Amazon Web Services (AWS).

shopping in Amazon Go store

Would it work in a bookstore? Other types of stores?

Amazon knows that faster ecommerce websites attract more customers, and are betting that’s the case with online newspaper sites, too. No doubt a quick shopping experience will attract many people to retail stores, too. It’s all about a superior customer experience.

Once again Amazon is miles ahead of the competition, even though they gave them a 14 month warning.

Photos from New York Times article.

For forever LinkedIn has had really poor search. Here’s an example I ran across today.

I was searching for CEOs in Boston area companies with 50-1000 employees, etc. And I noticed that one company had 3 CEOs (actually more than one company had multiple CEOs).

Here were the results:

LinkedIn search result

One person was the real CEO.

One person was in the office of the CEO. (Okay, CEO was in their title at the company, so that’s understandable.)

And one person works at the company and is the CEO at another company that doesn’t have 50-1000 employees.

It’s this third case which is especially annoying because it happens all the time. It makes searches less useful, and it means that some of your ad spend on LinkedIn that is targeted by title is wasted – maybe a lot of it. (The modern version of “I know that half of my advertising dollars are wasted, I just don’t know which half.”)

poor LinkedIn search result

LinkedIn is owned by Microsoft, which has some of the most sophisticated search technology in the world. It can’t do better than that?

In October, 2013, Jeff Bezos bought the Washington Post. I could have written “struggling Washington Post”, but that’s kind of redundant for most newspapers these days.

Now WaPo has reported a profit for the past two years.

When most companies acquire newspapers these days they cut, cut, cut. Bezos did just the opposite. Initially he invested tens of millions of dollars into the newspaper, hiring and using data to improve their digital experience. That was just the beginning.

Within a few years its Web traffic had doubled, subscriptions were way up and their smaller staff was posting far more online content than the New York Times and even BuzzFeed. Licensing their new, speedy content management system to other newspapers may be an auxiliary line of revenue, like Amazon Web Services (AWS) is for Amazon.

A strong conversion experience for non-subscribers on the website is also important in increasing paid subscriptions, as I recommend for Phase 1 of my Bullseye Marketing Framework.

A Columbia Journalism Review interview with CIO Shailesh Prakash and Director of Product Joey Marburger offers many more insights into how the company changed.

Technology:  It’s been proven over and over again that speed matters. In some industries, the correlation is more direct, like in retail. You have a site and you change nothing except it becomes much faster, you see the sales change.

If you’re used to a lot of other slow mobile sites out there, specifically news, and you come to us and it’s significantly faster, you may be more likely to come to us on a regular basis. And you’re more likely—which we see already in the data—to consume more content, hit the subscription meter faster, consume more ads, you name it.

User Experience: It was Bezos who brought this up. He said that when Amazon made the Kindle, they didn’t think, ‘Let’s get rid of the book and come up with a new way to read books.’ Their whole approach was, ‘How can we keep everything that’s fantastic about a book and also add in the gifts of digital?’

Culture: It’s been three years since Jeff bought us. I’d say we’d probably be where we are maybe five to seven years from now. And who knows if we would’ve done half of what we’ve gotten done. But Jeff didn’t just reach down to the newsroom and say here’s a brand-new culture, here’s a bunch of things you should do, here’s what Amazon does, so you should copy it. The sheer thought of him spread throughout the company. Over night, we thought there wasn’t much we couldn’t do

Compensation: The number one criteria that grows our compensation used to be operating income. Did you or did you not hit the operating income target that was agreed upon at the beginning of the year? It was crystal clear whether you got your bonus or not. We were all in it together. When revenue was slowing and operating income is the target, then what do you do? You cut costs. There’s no other way out.

When Jeff bought us, within about six months, he threw that out. Now there are three other criteria. It’s basically: How fast do you move? It’s very subjective. The second one is that there are no sacred cows, to push experimentation. The third thing is debate, but commit. So you can argue all you want, but once we agree, then there’s no undermining. Those are the three things that now very subjectively drive the compensation.

Market focus: We had for a very long time a tag line that said ‘For and About Washington.’ One of the big changes and explicit changes in strategy has been to go after a national and international audience. One of the things we’ve tried to do is to look at platforms we might be able to over-index on to get there faster. Take Facebook. One in seven humans visits Facebook every day. It’s not possible to grow nationally and internationally if you say, ‘I will send them 10 articles.’ If we want to grow nationally and internationally it is really not an option to just ignore that platform.

Very interesting. Check it out.

And if you’re interested in this topic, The New York Times’ “Innovation” study is available to download from our website.

Google released its Arts & Culture app in 2016, and it was nice. It catalogued art all over the world, and was a nice way to learn about and keep up with art and culture topics, including 3D tours of the Taj Mahal and other sites. But it wasn’t a must-have app.

 

Google Arts and Culture app showing Taj Mahal

That changed in December when they added a new feature. You now can take a selfie with the app and it will look through its database of art works and, using AI, find the image it thinks most resembles you.

Google app comparing Louis Gudema image with artwork

 

Kind of baroque, but I can accept it.

It took a few weeks for the feature to be discovered, but now that it has Facebook and Twitter are full of postings from people showing what they were matched with. And the app has been downloaded over 1 million times and has a 4.3 out of 5 rating.

Supposedly the feature that drove the early popularity of Facebook was its “relationship status” with options such as single, in a relationship, and it’s complicated. That was understandably popular with its early college-only crowd and differentiated it from the college’s print-only version.

Uber was inherently viral because a person could say to a group of friends, “I can get us a ride real fast with this new app. Watch this.” And then they could talk it up and show them that they could see the rating of the driver in advance, no cash payment was necessary (their credit card was already connected), the tip was included, and so on.

These are examples for consumer apps and the drivers for business adoption of tools like Slack or Trello were very different. But whatever your target market, it’s critical to figure out what will make your product or service must-have.

There’s an old saying about services, “People don’t want a drill. They want a hole.”

Unless someone needs a lot of holes, buying the drill may not make sense.

Xerox is taking a similar attitude towards printers with its new managed print services (MPS).

With MPS, Xerox is moving partners from being primarily printer salespeople to service professionals. The goal is to make printing operations within the customer’s company more productive, reduce their total printing costs, and increase partner revenue – even if fewer printers are actually sold.

Managed print services can include:

  • Conduct a thorough, up-front assessment to analyze customer’s current printing infrastructure.
  • Monitor, manage and optimize customer’s total print output environment, end to end, regardless of printer brand.
  • Provide a roadmap to reduce the number and types of printing devices and supplies while meeting the needs of customer business.
  • Proactively identify and solve potential printing problems and replenish supplies before employees are affected.
  • Reduce environmental footprint through printing less paper, consuming less energy, generating fewer greenhouse gases and keeping waste out of landfills.
  • Training employees for a smooth transition so they are more productive and satisfied

And much more.

When people say that the U.S. is moving toward being a service economy, they often are thinking of industries like hospitality, fast food, fitness, transportation, and healthcare. Many of these industries have low paying jobs.

But with B2B services and some personal professional services the pay can be very good. There are hugely successful services firms in IT, consulting, custom manufacturing, financial services, marketing and advertising, and many other industries. For years IBM’s consulting services has been its fastest growing division. These services often turn into recurring revenue relations with companies.

Custom and professional services can be very good businesses, even for traditional equipment and manufacturing companies, if they’re solving the customer’s real problem.

Last week Mark Zuckerberg announced with considerable fanfare that Facebook was changing how it would prioritize the content that it shows in people’s News Feed. People have so many connections, and follow so many brands and interest groups, that Facebook can’t show you everything. From now on posts from publishers and brands will be given a lower priority, with the highest priority going to content from people’s friends and family, as well as groups people belong to – and especially those people and groups that we most engage with (Facebook weights comments much higher than likes or shares).

Tell me something new.

This is what Facebook has been doing increasingly for several years. So the question is: Is this just a continuation in the same direction or, as Larry Kim, founder of Wordstream and MobileMonkey says, essentially the end of Facebook as we know it?

Whichever is the case, you will probably barely notice the change. Facebook doesn’t tend to throw we lobsters into pots of boiling water; it slowly turns up the heat on the pot that we’re already in.

Starting five or six years ago Facebook started to de-prioritize the posts from brands to the point that now a post is typically only seen by 2-3 percent of a brand’s followers. (In 2013 it might have been 10 times higher.) Posts from big, national brands are shown at a lower rate than smaller, local companies.

What’s the message to brands? No more free ride. If companies want to reach people on Facebook, they need to pay for ads or promoted posts.

Will Facebook ads get more expensive? Almost certainly. They have a limited inventory and they provide advertisers with unmatched personal data to target ads with. Facebook can live with fewer, more expensive ads. They did announce that they would essentially rate ads and prioritize ones with higher engagement; this is similar to how Google gives a higher score to search ads with higher click and conversion rates. It’s a win-win; what’s good for the customer is good for the platform.

Similarly, Facebook has been steadily reducing the number of posts it shows from publishers for some time.

chart of Facebook declining publisher referrals

So is this more of the same, or a radical departure?

Even Facebook VP Adam Mosseri seems unclear on that. He said,

“So one of the key things is understanding what types of interactions people find meaningful, what inspires them to interact more or share more in the future. Some of the specific things would be like we’re going to be (weighing) long comments more than short comments… Comments in general, this was true before (the change). But it’s more true after. Comments are more valuable than Likes. If you bother to actually take the time to respond to something that I posted, a picture of maybe my two kids. It’s a pain actually to type on a mobile phone. Liking is pretty easy; that’s the whole point of Liking.

“Some news content that is shared and talked about a lot will receive some sort of tailwind from this. And news content that is more directly consumed by users—that they don’t actually talk about or share—will actually receive less distribution as a result.”

So will our News Feeds will be filled with posts from people who use Facebook more like LinkedIn, who have 1,000 to 5,000 (the maximum allowed) “friends” rather than the median ~200, because they will get the most comments?

The most surprising part of Zuckerberg’s announcement was when he described (around the 4th and 5th paragraphs) the potentially negative effects of social media on people’s wellbeing. He also wrote of the anticipated business impact on Facebook (whose stock promptly dropped about 4%), “Now, I want to be clear: by making these changes, I expect the time people spend on Facebook and some measures of engagement will go down. But I also expect the time you do spend on Facebook will be more valuable. And if we do the right thing, I believe that will be good for our community and our business over the long term too.”

He was being kind to social media, as many studies have shown that it can produce anxiety and FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). Just search on “social media increases anxiety” and you will find a ton of articles.

Facebook is constantly evolving. In 2009 it changed its UI to respond to the rise of Twitter. Lately it’s been pushing its Group feature more, partially in response to Nextdoor, I assume. And it introduced Marketplace where members can “buy and sell used stuff”, which responded to the rise of groups with tens of thousands of members that were informally doing this. Zuck wanted a piece of the action.

Zuckerberg said that these latest changes will roll out over several months. You’ll hardly notice. It’s just part of the evolution of Facebook that’s been happening since it was founded.

 

Evan KirstelThis is an excerpt from an interview with Evan Kirstel that I did for the book that I’m writing on my Bullseye Marketing Framework.

Evan: I’m essentially a one-man — although I do have collaborators – a one man social media marketing agency for B2B tech companies. My clients are vendors and service providers in the enterprise telecomm, cloud, mobile world. From big companies like CenturyLink and Qualcomm to quite a few startups and early stage companies. It’s extending their reach and coverage and capacity to engage on social media, which increasingly is where their customers are spending time, where their partners are, where the events are, where analysts and journalists are.

Louis: So what are the biggest challenges?

Evan: There are still questions about the ROI of social, the measurability of social. There were a lot of skeptics and question marks. And there still is, to a degree, on the value of social in real lead generation, and how do you measure and monetize those activities. But when you look at where people are spending their time, in terms of where customers are, where your analysts and influencers and thought leaders are, increasingly there’s no doubt that they’re just spending more time on social media. And you need to go where they are in this new attention economy. So that’s less of an issue now than in the early days. I think now with analytics you can measure things like click-throughs and website visits. The marketing analytics tools that are available can easily track opportunities and deal flow even, leadgen and top of funnel activities.

Louis: And you’re talking about organic social, not paid social?

Evan: Most of my clients do both. The organic social is critical. They’re mutually supportive. And then paid campaigns can help, too. But in terms of engaging those CIOs [chief information officers], engaging analysts, that really has to happen, in my opinion, organically. People are kind of numb to ads and to paid promotion these days, whereas nothing beats real interaction.

Louis: Have you found those people? Are CIOs on Twitter?

Evan: Yes, increasingly they are. And some of them do it as a sort of career advancing self-promotional thing as well. They have a point of view. And not just social, also blogging, content creation, videos and interviews. And the ones that are in the forefront of this are becoming pretty social creatures and are getting out front of the industry and they’re seen as a thought leader.

Louis: I’ve told you some of my reservations about social media marketing. Thoughts?

Evan: I think the earlier comment of paid versus earned social, I think that requires context. I’m focused on very specific niches, very specific industries, I’m using very targeted hashtags and keywords. If I do occasionally have a strategy of following certain people it’s based on very specific keywords, combinations of keywords. I’m using very complex hashtags; if someone is tweeting around Cisco DevNet Congress, that’s a pretty targeted event. So I’m not worried about stray cats and dogs that I may pick up, who may follow me back. So I think that if I were in B2C marketing like Nike I might agree with that. But if you’re in a very niche market, a very targeted market, an industrial market, you’re hunting with a rifle not a shotgun.

Louis: Good point.

Evan: Secondly, you go for relationships. For me, the value of Twitter and LinkedIn is in that initial awareness, visibility and engagement and turning it into something else: turning it into a face-to-face meeting, a call, a sign-up, a webinar, getting a content view, going to an event. This is all very top of funnel stuff, not some independent thing unlinked to everything else that you’re doing in marketing. So that’s the second thing.

And I think the goal of social is to create and build relationships. There’s this entire watercooler out there and you’re participating in conversation around the watercooler in a very targeted way. And when I get into a conversation around the Internet of Things, there’s a very targeted community of vendors, of consultants, of analysts, of suppliers talking about that. I’m not interested in the macro; I’m very focused on the micro of those conversations.

Chuck Kent does a lot of writing on branding. He recently interviewed Phil Gomes of Edelman, a global PR firm, about their research on the value of thought leadership.

A real “cut to the chase” moment is the survey’s finding that while 17% of the producers of thought leadership thought that it had produced new business opportunities, 45-48% of executives said flat out that they had included companies in RFPs because of their thought leadership.

chart showing 45-48 percent of executives saying thought leadership made them more likely to do business with a company

What is thought leadership? Gomes described a pretty low threshold, “We define thought leadership as the marketing instruments that a company puts out that satisfy two criteria: Number one, that they are sufficiently divorced from product marketing, so they’re not shilling product. And number two, that they are freely delivered – not paid-for work product.”

That sounds more like just content marketing to me. Real thought leadership is similar to what the writers of The Challenger Sale laid out a few years ago in that very popular sales book – unique industry insights that provide true value to the customer; the 10,412th blog post on search engine optimization isn’t going to move the needle. . I wonder if the senior execs who rated thought leadership so highly were thinking of it in more of this sense.

I have no doubt that unique, even contrarian industry approaches can provide this kind of increase in leads and sales. I’ve experienced it from my Bullseye Marketing Framework and seen it many times for others.

Computers have been crunching massive amounts of data and answering complex questions for years. They now can also read our emotions.

Affectiva, in Waltham, is one company that provides software that tracks a couple dozen points on a person’s face and uses that data to describe their emotional state. They can detect changes in mood in a few milliseconds.

Affectiva face scan

Affectiva has applied this to several million people worldwide to build an emotional database.

Hundreds of companies now are using Affectiva’s Emotion as a Service online software to run virtual focus groups and test their advertising and marketing.

Note that this is not facial recognition. The identities of the faces in the database are anonymous.

Nonetheless, it’s easy to imagine uses outside of marketing in the future such as systems in cars to detect if a driver is drowsy, or drunk. Or maybe even systems in airports and subways that would detect the emotional states of would-be terrorists.

I was doing video work with IBM one time (many times, actually, but this particular incident only happened once) and my client asked me, “Do you know an agency that can produce an interactive software demo for us?”

Yes, I said, we can. My agency had produced many demos for IBM. But she thought of us as that video company.

Recently I was doing customer interviews for a client and their customer said that while he understood all of the current technologies my client provided, many others thought of them as being kind of old fashioned because they also provided support for a very old technology. (It would kind of be like a company that did print but also – mostly — web development and mobile app development, but people thinking of them as just a print company.)

This is a branding problem. And it’s common. Often companies occupy a particular place in the customer’s mind, or more broadly the market’s collective mind, and aren’t recognized for other things they do as well or better. It’s been remarkable, actually, so see how a few brands like Amazon and Virgin have been able to avoid this while expanding into many fields.

My client needs to update their appearance and messaging. Stop highlighting that old technology on their website and emphasize the new. They may need to do a branding campaign targeted to their industry. It could have a big impact on their business.

What are you known for? Is it what you want to be known for?