Archive: customer

The Future of (web) TV

Reflecting on the current discussions, last at the Delphi Executive conference in Bonn, and at CeBIT which I both attended as a speaker, I recalled the very lively panel at DLD 09 around online video and social media. If you are interested in the topic, the video gives you insights with Brightcove, Endemol, sevenload and Termor Media and a great moderator, David Kirkpatrick from Fortune Magazine.

About the specifics of how we perceive the value of recurring WebTV Content, please check my Interview at ETRE in Stockholm:

ETRE 2008: Axel Schmiegelow describes the sevenload community and “The Future of TV” from curtis newton gmbh on Vimeo.

Labor Costs and Service Prices in the US economy: hidden flexibility?

Travelling through the US once again and hearing comments about the recession every day, I was struck by the elasticity of US business once again. As much as the business climate is intoxicating to the point of being hectic in boom times, as seen in 1999/2000 and once again in 2007, in bear times everything gets very gloomy.

I was riding in a cab in Las Vegas headed to CES and for once in the habit of European cab fares I forgot to tip the cab driver. He commented “You Europeans never tip, do you?”. After paying the due tip, I reflected on how dependent employees in all services industries were on tips for their regular income. I also noticed that tipping behavior on the part of Americans differed strongly from what I had experienced just 6 months ago on my last extended trip to California. People now, out of need or out of fashion, were downright stingy. Given that such large portions of the US economy are service based, I could not help but wonder how that had the same effect as a wage cut in many of these industries. At the very least, it shows that employers, who deflect part of the necessity of paying market wages to the culture of tipping and its encouragement in the policies of their businesses, thereby have an instrument to reduce and flexibilize their labor cost. In boom times employees earn more from tips and in bust times they earn less without the employer having to enforce wage cuts. This benefits the employer because he remains at his (low) wage cost basis, keeps his prices stable and lets the customer reduce tips if he feels he needs to. Since tips are part of the price structure of using a service, this means that lower tipping amounts to a deflation of service prices from the point of the customer. Thus, in a way, the business owner is leaving part of the pricing to the customer who can deflate the price he pays at will if his pockets are tied – as is the case in a recession.

Now while this, from a European perspective, could be perceived as an unfair advantage the business owner has in his relation to employees and customers, it could also be described as an “entrepreneurial risk” of the employee. Employees that commit particularly well to the service they are a part of and endear themselves to customers will invariably in good or bad times reap better tips from the customers. An employee who does well will probably convince a business owner to give him the responsibilities (assigned tables, assigned services) that will have the highest likelihood of earning him tips. One can already observe that some businesses compete on a labor market by installing policies that encourage tips.

A hamburger chain called Fat Burger places a small tip box next to a big tip box at the cash register and each time a larger tip is paid into the so called “fat tip box” the cashier yells out “FAT TIP!” and all other employees chime in yelling “FAT TIP!” as well.

As ludicrous as a discussion of the macroeconomic effect of tipping might seem at first glance, the impact on the US economy must be sizable. Considering the service industry is a 10s of billions of dollars segment of the economy and that average tipping is between 10 and 20 % of a purchase, tipping could well amount to several billion dollars in the economy. Adding or subtracting billions of dollars of volume to the price structure of the service industry could in turn have stronger than imagined effects on inflation and deflation, as well as on purchasing power in low income segments of the population.

As I am not an economist, I will leave the discussion at that, but I sure would find it interesting to know if this has ever been explored academically.

Marketing on a tight budget during a recession

The “Gretchenfrage” most discussed in the advertising industry right now is whether we will have a full-fledged downturn in advertising spending across all media, or whether there are niches and segments of the advertising /media industry that could even benefit from the recession. This being the 2nd downturn that I have experienced in my career, I am firmly convinced that the latter will happen.

I make this assumption based on several factors:

  1. A new generation of marketing decision makers now has control over most large budgets. This generation understands the power of digital communication- even though in the past years it has underestimated the potential impact of Web 2.0 and has continued allocating a disproportionate amount of money to traditional media without measuring that performance.
  2. Cutbacks in marketing and sales budgets are rather absurd when the real problem is crumbling sales, but this happens in every recession and it will happen this time around again. Since at the same time marketing performance will be measured more and more in terms of contribution to sales, marketing decision makers will focus on campaign tools and media that either directly or indirectly increase sales performance. Gone are the expensive TV commercials with bikini clad, young beauties on a tropical island, and in comes unsexy sales-driven below the line marketing. The past 2 ½ years have proven, however, that marketing in a Web 2.0 world need not be dreary at all even while contributing directly to sales lead generation.
  3. Web 2.0 advertising formats and communication models have reached a level of maturity and a critical mass among users that allow them to have a measurable impact on brand communication and sales lead generation.

The coming year will see providers of Web 2.0 campaign solutions and media ad placements achieving disproportionate success considering the downturn and cutbacks of media budgets. This will happen for precisely the reason that in the past 1 ½ years many showcases of Social Marketing have been started that have proven or will prove to have been successful to an unexpected degree. After the Beacon disaster these showcases will turn the tide, much in the way keyword advertising established itself in 2002 – 2004.

Our best reference is, which generated considerable brand awareness for our client BMW. BMW itself doubled that success by creating, at the same time, a national web TV project that was equally successful called BMW TV which greatly enhanced traction to its own site. For confidentiality reasons I cannot give you figures, but trust me the impact was measurable.

Advertisers of the old school often argue that performance marketing or traditional lead generation marketing does not help the brand gain emotional traction and awareness. That dichotomy is of the past. Social relevance, rich media and video formats allow the digital sphere to create a branding experience that is as emotionally compelling as television and as measurably successful as search engine marketing. That has always been the holy grail of advertising, and we seem to have found it.

If you want more information or need help achieving that success, contact me.

Discussion: Monetization or Reach [English]

Frank Huber recently tackled my post about Monetization in his Blog (in German)

and contradicted my views of the subject based on 2 reasons: in his opinion, YouTube has shown that “size does matter” and sevenload hasn’t followed my recommended strategy at all. Here’s my reply to his post:

1) It’s undeniable that the “natural market leader”, who’s the one that goes for reach first, is the one who can win the rat race for size. I did point this out myself in my own post. However, it would be wrong to believe that the YouTube strategy and more specifically the YouTube exit is something that can be replicated. Ex post, Google’s investment in YouTube makes a lot of sense for a company that gave up a fraction of it’s shares. But there is exactly one buyer fitting that profile, and that is Google. There’s always exactly one worldwide or www-wide dominant company per segment that can be successful with a sheer “reach” priorization and with such an Exit strategy – so it’s hardly good advice for startups to emulate that model unless the startup is entirely sure of being the first one in its category.

My argument wasn’t that reach or the number of users/clients won is irrelevant- in fact, it’s the opposite. I just think that it is healthier to achieve this reach or customer base with a working and efficient business model than without one. And XING is a good example of this: From its first day back in 2003, Lars Hinrichs (Founder of XING) was already charging 5- € in monthly membership fees, even though at the time subscription models were still widely perceived as unfeasable in the German internet market.

2) sevenload’s strategy is NOT that of gaining a gross increase in our reach at all costs. We’re following an approach of pure, organic growth (up to now we haven’t spent a single € for advertising) which allows us to best offer a differentiated platform and cover the “Long Tail” of content. This allows us to offer advertisers rates that are up to a factor of 10 greater than those of normal video portals – and of most most conventional internet portals as well. Because of this difference, we are the market leader as measured in:

- Unique Visitors (> 10 Mil real unique visitors per month),
- active registered users (> 300,000),
- average visit duration (> 25 min. per visit and registered users > 45 min),
- content volume and
- revenue (we will be the Web 2.0 company with the highest turnover in Germany this year and most likely the only one that will be profitable). We achieve all this thanks to a revolutionary advertising model that is highly effective for advertisers.

Interestingly, though gross reach was not a primary target, this strategy has led to an sustained increase in precisely our gross reach and has put us in second place in the German market in terms of gross reach, right ahead of Clipfish, despite Clipfish’s massive cross-media subsidisation by the leading German TV Channel, RTL, and a full integration in DSDS, Germany’s “American Idol” Format.

In my opinion this once again proves the wisdom of Al Ries’s main marketing theorem:

Create a new category, then dominate it

My post on monetization does nothing more than offer a methodic approach to defining the category a startup strives to dominate in business model terms rather than in media terms.

Monetization or Reach?

In a recent discussion I had at a meeting of which I am a non-executive member, the eternal discussion of

whether priority should be given to monetization or to reach and internationalization

was brought up. The debate centered around the question of whether or not the exit perspectives of the venture (of which I am also a shareholder) would increase or decrease, depending on whether the business model was first proven, at the detriment of international reach, or whether monetization should be allowed to lag because entry into several international markets at once would be a priority.

To me, this debate simply has the wrong starting point. While it is true that exit markets, such as the stock market or the M&A market, are – just like any other market – subject to buyer preference analysis, and while there is some credit to the claim that understanding the decision making “fashions” of typical M&A acquirers does help you in setting the price of your venture at exit,

timing towards such an exit market is more of a gamble than a company strategy.

In my experience, having now gone through two boom and one bust phases, the best strategy for a company to pursue is to

create a viable business model that creates value for customers that customers are prepared to pay for.

This may not always be the “sexiest” portrayal a startup can give itself (as opposed to: we are the next Facebook), but to paraphrase the old saying about design following function or form following function-

PR and the Elevator Pitch should follow the strategy and not the other way around.

This is why I literally get angry at classic venture capital thinking that sees company strategy solely in the dimension of “How will this fit my exit market? How can I sell this story to an acquirer?”. I would always strongly advise any founder

to have a clear and separate vision of their business model that cannot be influenced or swayed, save by the customer

and to work relentlessly on proving and creating that.

Incidentally, succesful American start-ups have often proven that this is the best strategy since they have always focused on gaining size and growth in their home markets before over-focussing on internationalization. In general, this has given them the size and clout necessary to, if need be, acquire whoever it was in a landscape within a specific market. It is true, that this does not always work and that some local markets have been lost even for giants such as Yahoo! and E-bay because they haven’t gone local on time, but conversely there is no known example of a company that went for reach without a viable business model and survived.

Eventually, you do have to pay the bills.

So if you do have to reach several international markets at once (because you are in a European market with too small a home market or because your board is adamant or because you have that peculiar megalomania that most entrepreneurs – including me – indulge in, I would advise the following order or priorities in formulating your company strategy:

1) Define your Business Model

2) Prove it by acquiring your reference customer base

3) Identify the growth factors in your business model with respect to paying customers

4) Identify the multipliers or incumbents in other international markets

5) Internationalize on a sales / business model driven basis by acquiring reference paying customers in those markets

The perceptions of your target exit markets can change faster than you can change the positioning of your company.

But a functioning business model and a continuous revenue stream are two realities that a) always let your survive independently of your VC backing and b) always find an acquirer.

Where there is a business model, there always eventually is an exit market.

Viral Social Commerce for Companies

In my previous post, I tried to describe what I call viral social commerce as the commercial dimension to Web 2.0. This Blog entry will focus on the opportunities and strategic demands that viral social commerce presents to existing companies- especially such companies that have a dominant position in their market. If viral social commerce describes an increasingly commercial nature to the interaction presented by users on the web, then this has deep implications for a relationship between companies and their customers.

On the communication level, much has already been written about the need for companies to go from a broadcast model to an interactive/interaction model, and many companies have already experimented with blogging, viral marketing and other forms of “Web 2.0 marketing”. So far, these endeavors have been met with mixed success. This has a number of reasons- which I will try to sum up in 3 axioms:

1) A day still has only 24 hrs, and our wallets have not gotten fatter.

What this means, is that for all the novelty and increased value in communication that Web 2.0 methods can create in their relationship between customers and companies, engaging in these for more than a fleeting moment of curiosity will require any customer to make a sacrifice of both time and effort to the detriment of something else they’d rather be doing. What this means is that you need axiom number 2.

2) Real people seek real value.

Axiom number 2 is probably the central answer to any strategic or implementation question connected to any type of new technology. Technologies do not usually fail because of technical questions, in fact, the success of technologies is often independent of the quality of the technology involved or its implementation- in other words, abject products are sometimes more successful than perfect technologies (the old, if not entirely true, Microsoft – Apple adage).

Technologies do fail however, when they do not meet a market in a way that creates significant value for a significant value for a significant segment of potential customers. This is the Holy Grail of start-up and business success and it has often been described and is easily worded, but hard to execute.

So cutting back on Web 2.0 technology by seeking not a mash-up of all the functionalities that happen to be the talk of the town and instead looking for ways to create real value with Web 2.0 technologies requires, first, an analysis not of Web 2.0, of these technologies or even of the Web 2.0 early adopter crowd. Much rather, it requires a thorough analysis of the existing market, existing distribution communication channels in those markets and existing or potential customer segments. Then and only then, but then with the strongest impact, can the potential, use and value of a specific Web 2.0 technology be found. This is where competitive advantages are born. This leads me to axiom number 3.

3) Innovation begins with a thorough understanding of the existing weaknesses of the existing market.

This attitude best summarized and methodized in the book Blue Ocean Strategy by Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne. This approach is at the core of most technological successes and I am more than certain that in the existing wave of new start-ups, those start-ups will succeed which have best understood this lesson.

For companies in existing markets, this means that hunting for the weaknesses of their own methods of communication, of production and sourcing, and of other interaction (for example, service interaction with their customers) and then hunting for solutions to these weaknesses which were before impossible, but can now be enabled by Web 2.0 technologies, is the key to success.

You may find that direct communication with customers or sourcing in of product or feature feedback from customers was, until now, on a snail mail or even E-mail or call center paradigm, impossible to manage efficiently and to link back to the production and design process for some products. In the environment of a web 2.0 community and / or user to user communication interface, this sourcing process, suddenly becomes manageable because of the combination of ratings, feedback and systematic analysis in a technology-enabled low-cost framework. At the very least, such a platform will bind your most active customers.

The task of sifting through all the feedback and identifying the most valuable feedback from customers now does not have to be preformed by the organization alone, but can be delegated at least in part to the community- and this can apply to almost any market.

In the following model, I’ve tried to sum up the paradigm shift that this entails for companies in existing markets. Until now, you had the classic paradigm of production and product identification followed by (retail) marketing and distribution, and the cherry on the top was communicating to customers through combined PR and advertising.

Viral Social Commerce Model

On all levels of that process, a redefinition can now take place by including interaction with customers. At the very least, the communication/advertising end of the classic model of value creation within the business organization can undergo a paradigm shift from communication to interaction that links back into the organization. This is exemplified in the drawing below- and creates a whole new set of requirements for the company including, for example, new tracking tools, new analysis tools and a new mindset in marketing. Marketing then becomes not just a communication task but becomes much more a framework for the company’s role as the

host of a community of customers.

These are the concepts that we’ve been working on for years now at denkwerk and which we try to reflect in our everyday work for our clients, such as Nokia, Obi and other retail giants. This paradigm shift leads to surprising successes each time the department of the company we are working with and we are mandated to not only think, but also act in a radically different way.

“Quo diata Diferenta”??- as Guy Kawasaki puts it.

It pays to read

Hi, I’m back @ reading the basics, which i can only recommend:

1. The Cluetrain Manifesto – the bible for “power to the customer” revolutionaries

2. The Tipping Point – winning the multiplyers is the real model for building a community / social network

3. The Long Tail Parts I and II – that’s where it’s going, folks – you can’t think enough about the implications

4. Blue Ocean Strategy – THE method for innovation

Read it. Apply it.



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