Wednesday, January 30, 2008

What Planet Do Realtors Live On?

New Ad Campaign From the National Associaton Of Realtors Suggest It's Not This One

By David Miranda

Let's see. On this planet, in this country, there has been "mass canaries deaths in the mine" signs that a housing bubble was at the point of bursting fueled by a complicit mortgage industry and a highly motivated real estate broker/agent community. As Newton pointed out, "for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction." Bottom line: greed got out of hand, reality bites. Code name? Recession. Outlook? Layoffs, foreclosures, consumer debt, bankruptcies up. Jobs, home values, expectations down.

Yet here is the optimistic view of the National Association of Realtors of the chilly economic waters? "Hey, jump in. The water's great." This is like the Captain of the Titanic, after hitting the iceberg, explaining to passengers "Oh, no worries. We just stopped for ice."

The front page headline from the recent issue of Advertising Age , from reporter Alice Z. Cuneo read "What housing crisis? Realtors' ads defy reality". Bob Garfield, ad critic for AdAge, escalated the dialogue in his column titled, Pay Heed to What Realtors Don't Say in Their Latest Pitch. Both Ms. Cuneo's article and Mr. Garfield's column took critical umbrage to the new $40 million ad campaign by the National Association of Realtors.

The above mentioned articles do a better job of stating the case on the NAR campaign than I can do here, but it is the lessons to be learned here that is critical for all marketers.

Consumers are not stupid and gullible as the campaign would suggest. They are realists and it is an insult to their intelligence to suggest or opine that things are better than they are experiencing. Marketers have always communicated the best attributes of their brands using thesaural hyperbole, i.e. "better", "new and improved", etc. They do not serve their brands (or causes) well, however, when the communicated message defies reality. As someone once said, "you are entitled to your own opinions, but not to your own facts."

The fact of the matter is that the U.S. housing market is suffering and that means homeowners are suffering and that means the economy is suffering. Consumers need wise and considerate counsel, not irrational enthusiasm.

Let them know what they already know, "we've hit an iceberg, we're taking on water, we're sinking, save yourselves." Steer them to a lifeboat, not back to their "cabins" to enjoy the rest of the cruise.

If your customers are important to you, be upfront; be frank; be honest.

My friend and real estate guru, Gerry Davidson, has her own interesting POV on this subject on her blog, Real Concepts. I strongly suggest a read of her recent article on the subject and her always refreshing perspectives on the real estate industry. I nominate Gerry for NAR President.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Cyberspace Is No Place For The Dumb Or Dumber

Guidelines For Protecting Yourself, Your Family, Your Business

By David Miranda

Someone once said "ignorance means you don't know, stupidity means you'll never know". This said, there is a great deal of ignorance and stupidity exercised by people in this digitally connected and viral world we call cyberspace.

Everything you put in an email, a text message, a user-generated video, on a social networking site, on a blog, in a podcast, in a voice mail, etc. can be distributed to anyone else, anywhere else, at any time in the future - any once it's out there, it's out there to stand on its own - unvarnished with no context. We all know this, yet it does not stop us from continuing to be ignorant, stupid - just plain dumb about what we are digitally producing and distributing.

We witness countless examples of "digital dumbness" every day. The "Academy Award of Dumb Moves" in recent memory go to the following:

  • Best Insert Of Foot in Mouth By A Presidential Hopeful - Republican President hopeful George Allen being taped making his infamous "macaca" statement at a rally forcing him out of the race.

  • Best Parent In A Supportive Role - Alec Baldwin for his voice mail rant to his teenage daughter forcing him to make public mea culpas.

  • Best Bigoted Performance By A Seinfeld Character - Michael Richards' phone camera video of his racially-epitheted incident at an LA comedy spot that resulted in him going into a self-induced exile.

  • Best Defamation By A Radio Icon - Don Imus' infamous negative descripitions of the Rutger's women's varsity team resulting in his dismissal. Update: Mr. Imus is back on the air, although much chastened and careful with his comments.

  • Best Unkept Secret Affair By A City Official - The Mayor of Detroit, who after denying any romantic relationship with a married aide (he's married to) now as to explain thousands of lurid text messages between the two now available on the Internet.
There are countless examples of these types of incidents. Smart people doing dumb things is nothing new. The difference is that in today's interconnected viral world, millions of people know about it. Cyberspace is today's Pandora's Box.

Today, we all send (and share) sensitive emails, correspondence, videos, and personal information hour by hour. In the blur of life today, we sometimes do these things without thinking or consideration of present or future consequences of this user-generated communication.

Here are some simple guidelines to protect yourself, your family, and your business in cyberspace:
  • Think before you hit the send, enter, upload, share, blog this buttons. Remember that everything you communicate - emails, voice mails, text messages, blog and social networking entries, podcasts, chat rooms, videos, etc. will and can be distributed without impunity.

  • Be careful who you cc or bcc in communications.

  • Be smart about the personal information you enter on social networking sites including MySpace, Facebook, Linkedin, etc. Your current (and future employer), colleagues, etc. can view and share this information.

  • Exercise discretion, good taste, and good manners in your digital behavior.

  • Remember that today's friends could become tomorrow's adversary.

  • Keep business, business and personal, personal. Don't intermingle the two.

  • Know what your children are doing on the internet. Give them rules.

  • It cannot get distributed in cyberspace, if you don't put it there in the first place.
Bottom Line: Once it's out there, it's out there for millions to see. There is no equivalent of an eraser or "White Out" in cyberspace.

Practice safe Internet.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Recognition Marketing - Beware The Circular Firing Squad

Think About The Consequences Of Your Actions Before You Act

By David Miranda

The Writers Guild of America (WGA) are in the umpteenth week of their strike against the entertainment establishment. FYI, they are striking for understandable and substantive reasons - getting a piece of the pie for their work that is being sold through new distribution channels, i.e. the internet, podcasts, etc.

No one, on either side of this dispute, could have imagined that this would have gone unresolved for so long. The result? Production of affected television shows have been halted and, most recently, the annual Golden Globes awards show was cancelled. The upcoming Oscars are also threatened. Some shows like David Letterman's, Jay Leno's, Jimmy Kimmel's, and Bill Maher's have come back on the air in recent weeks by either making a special deal with the union or deciding not to use union writers.

Here's the issue.

Audiences for television and film are already harder to get. The distribution marketplace has already changed forever with more and more alternatives available to consumers.

The WGA and the establishment are participating in a circular firing squad, i.e. shooting themselves to make a point. The consumer public could care less about this squabble between the haves and the have mores. They just want entertainment - and will find it elswhere if pushed.

Hasn't anyone learned from the costly lessons learned from the past strikes in professional sports such as the NFL, NHL, and MLB? These respective strikes caused audience resentment on a major scale and it took a long time for these sports to recover.

Such will be the case in the world of entertainment.

The leaders on both sides who let this get to this point should be vilified considering the incredible amounts of money that is being lost across the entertainment ecosystem. They are myopic and ego-centric to surmise that this dispute is worth alienating audiences. The writers produce exploitable intellectual property and should be compensated. The entertainment establishment who capitalize the industry deserve a reasonable return. The public deserves not to be caught in the middle of this resolvable matter.

Hard lesson to be learned here by both sides? Fix it quick or the marketplace will find new ways to invest its leisure time and dollars?

Recognize the problem. Discover a solution.

Remember its "ready, aim, fire", not "fire, ready, aim".

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Recognition Marketing - The Rise And (Potential) Fall Of The Holy Google Empire

By David Miranda

Achilles has his heel. Superman has his Kryptonite. The werewolf has his silver bullet. Dracula has his stake through the heart. Google has privacy.

As the search 8000-lb. gorilla enters 2008, it seems indomitable. Search share has increased; it owns YouTube, Blogger, G-Mail, Froogle, AdSense, Feedburner, and it's purchase of DoubleClick just got approved by regulatory authorities. Google fortunes (and stock price) continues on an upward trajectory.

Google's "Achilles Heel" is privacy.

Here is the case. Google (and its wholly-owned subsidiaries) is not really in the search business. It is in the data collection and analysis business. They collect and analyze data from all interactions with many millions of users - all this data is collected without the prior permission of the user. Think about this for a moment. If you search on Google, have a G-Mail account, have a blog on Blogger, visit any site with AdSense, visit any site using DoubleClick, have an RSS feed through Feedburner, or frequent YouTube; the odds are great that Google has been collecting and analyzing your behavior.

Want a scary non-Google example? How about Yahoo!. Yahoo! provided information on a Chinese dissendent to the Chinese government. The dissident was arrested and now sits in prison. Jerry Yang, the founder of Yahoo, was called to testify before Congress and apologized. The Chinese dissident, however, remains in prison.

I use Google in this example because they are the biggest and most powerful, but not the only company on the privacy radar screen.

What happens to Google's fortunes if every person using a Google site or service is asked to opt-in and give their approval before their personal online behavior is shared with third parties for economic benefit to Google and their advertisers, etc.? What happens when privacy advocates take Google to task through litigation? When the government decides to intervene? When Google has to divulge to the public what they collect and how they use the information?

The bottom line is this. Without the prior expressed approval of each use, i.e. opt-in/opt-out, Google's current business model is compromised. It is the elephant in the room in Mountain View.

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Recognition Marketing - Understanding Pandora's "Bots"

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly of Search "Bots"

By David Miranda

As we speak, algorithmic "reconnaisance" entities, affectionately known as search bots, are relentless scouring the Internet for information on behalf of their search engine masters - on any subject, anywhere, all the time. Once they find what there looking for, they immediately communicate what they have found to their creators for distribution to millions.

How they do this is shrouded in mystery for if anyone were to figure this out they may rule the lucrative world of organic (natural) search.

There is a good, bad, and ugly of search bots.

The good is easy to understand. Bots search and find good things about a person or company and distributes this favorable info to the connected world which, in turn, will be positive (leads, pr, etc)

The bad is less discussed, but also easily understood, i.e. the bots finding some unflattering information in the public domain from motivated third parties who seek to benefit from misinformation, i..e. competitors, disgruntled former employees, etc.

The ugly occurs when "bad" gets widely distributed, particularly through a credible source that gives it credibility and substance in the connected world. The "ugly" then becomes like a bad stain, i.e. difficult to remove.

The words to the wise, therefore, is this:

  1. Be relentless vigilant of your brand on search engine results. Search results with negative references should be dealt with swiftly by contacting the source directly. Do not assume they will have no impact or just go away.

  2. Do not try to resolve this issue on your site or blog. It will could aggravate the situation and, perhaps, have the opposite results.

  3. Do not think there is a magic solution for removing unfavorable information. Search engine results do not have an "eraser".
In summary, proactively manage your net presence and remember Pandora's bots are watching.

Recognition Marketing - Good Search Engines Can Do Bad Things

Sponsored Links - Bait And Switch?

I love Google (and Yahoo!, Ask, MSN, Lycos, etc). Each provides a quick and friendly tool to find what I am looking for. Google even shows me that my search for whatever produced several hundred thousand results in .02 seconds. Simply amazing!

Ever notice (or click), however, on what these search engines call "sponsored links"? These are the ones that magically (and always) appear at the top or right hand column of search results. These are the ones "sponsored" or paid for by third parties. These third parties successful bid (and pay for) keywords and phrases that guarantee their links appear next to the free (organic) listings. By the way, the search engines make a considerable sum of money from these "sponsored links" known by their better name "paid search".

I, for one, am not against anyone making an honest buck and the search engines have surely done that in recent years.

But there is something amiss here that needs to be corrected (or disclaimered). In other media, mis-direction or misleading ads of this kind all called "bait and switch" , i.e. "I thought I was getting this, but I got this instead." Translation: "I've been bamboozled".

Let's say you did a search for say a specific brand (Delta Air Lines, AT&T Wireless, Citibank, etc.) and in the sponsored links you noted "Delta Air Lines" etc and clicked on it only to find it was not Delta Air Lines, but another firm's web site who had paid the search engine for the keyword phrase "Delta Air Lines" say a travel agency or another competitive airline. Sounds like bait and switch to me. Wouldn't you also wonder why a respected search engine would be a party to re-directing or misleading you?

I am sad to report that this is indeed the case with many sponsored searches. There is not even a clear disclaimer that informs the consumer that "the following links may not be sponsored by the mentioned brand."

I, for one, thinks its high time that search engines respect the integrity of brands on their respective sites. If the link implies it is sponsored by the brand I recognize and I am searching for, I should be linked to that brand and not some company that has hijacked it or a search engine who is aiding and abetting this behavior.

To all the good search engines, I say, stop this bad behavior. Put consumers and brands first.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Recognition Marketing - 2008 Is The Year Of Emergent Complexity In Marketing

Are You Prepared To Win?

By David Miranda

Does life seem to be more complex than ever before? This is surely the case if you are a marketer. It seems like every day there is a new marketing channel to consider employing or a traditional channel that is less and less effective than before. The result, for most marketers, is cognitive dissonance on some scale. Cognitive dissonance, to refresh your memory, is a psychological term describing the uncomfortable tension that may result from having two conflicting thoughts at the same time, or from engaging in behavior that conflicts with one's beliefs. Sound familiar? Feel familiar.

Marketing is normally spoken of in macro terms, e.g. marketing strategy, brand positioning, etc. This macro approach is still relevant and needed in today's new landscape. The cognitive dissonance occurs in dealing with the complexity of how to best execute the macro strategy in a marketplace of uber-choice and uber-competition that produces desired results.

The answer lies in what researchers call "emergence" also known as "emergent complexity". (The PBS series "Nova" had an interesting program on emergence that ran in July of 2007.)

Scientists describe emergence as a science that studies how complex patterns and behaviors arise from the actions of individual units acting independently. The overall pattern that arises from the behavior of the individual parts is called emergent complexity.

Sounds complex, but consider this example.

We are all familiar with the games checkers or chess. The rules of these games, though few in number, give rise to a huge number of possible moves, most of them irrelevant or outright bad if the ultimate objective is to win, not just play, the game. Among these possibilities are those that greatly influence the possibility of winning (the right moves) assuming they are part of a strategy that includes only moves that positively contribute to winning. The "right moves" are those that exploit a game's basic rules but at a higher level of comprehension for those that play the game well. Winning (or success), therefore, is based on a player's keen understanding of the emergent complexity of the game including the basic rules, the level of competition, analysis of past performance, and the moves and counter-moves of each player in a dynamic environment.

Sound familiar? Feel familiar?

2008 will be a year of emergent complexity requiring new thinking to succeed. Using the chess analogy, it will be like playing three-dimensional chess where a move on one board will have an impact on the other boards in play. What are the boards? Search (organic and paid), mobile, social networking, blogs, product placement, PR, TV (broadcast, cable, satellite), POS, direct mail, etc. etc. etc. Each of these "games" have their own unique rules of play. Each demands their own keen contextual understanding to succeed. Each has their own respective emergent complexity. Each cannot be appreciated unless understanding their respective impact and influence on the greater good.

Here are some tips to exploiting emergent complexity:

  1. Understand the media behavior of your targeted audience.

  2. Understand the basic "rules" that apply to the channels your audience is using.

  3. Create an internal culture of continuous learning by exploiting the basic rules of each channel and developing appropriate strategies that employ "the best moves" while eliminating the "irrelevant or outright bad moves".

  4. Simultaneously, think horizontally, vertically and diagonally. Avoid "thought silos". A great chess player considers all the pieces on the board when considering a move.

  5. Organize thoughtfully. Put the right players of your organization in the right game, i.e. "a great checkers player doesn't necessarily make a great chess player."
In summary, be prepared to play the game of emergent complexity in 2008 or find yourself "checkmated" by the competition.