Archive for the ‘Business’ Category

I read a story about a rather bizarre hiring trend in the U.S. Some employers are now explicitly stating in their want ads that unemployed people will not be considered. I was once a hiring manager at a company that drew a lot of applicants whenever we posted job openings. I know what a time sink it is to have to plow through stacks of unqualified resumes. In those days unemployment was quite low and if a person was not currently working there was usually some issue that cast doubt on how well they would work out as a new employee. So in those days resumes with big employment gaps quickly reached the circular file.

But is that the case these days? I don’t really know since I am “unemployed” (lol at you hiring managers who still have to work for someone else). I remember when the last recession hit technology around the beginning of 2002 a lot of great people were laid off. It was a real boon to some companies, like a couple of startups in the southern California area that picked up entire design teams in one fell swoop. I suppose if they were unemployed for an extended period then there would be concerns about currency of skill sets. But these companies today who are trying to snarf employed people, is that effective? Maybe it is, since you figure anybody who still has a job must be indispensible. On the other hand, they probably don’t feel some comfortable being the new hire who would be first to go if the second leg down of the double dip recession gets bad enough.

Everybody is a brand manager

Posted: May 29, 2010 in Business

Maybe it is my training as an engineer that makes me roll my eyes at all those people who find it so easy to claim expertise in soft skills, like “brand management” for example. I mean, everybody has an opinion, and it’s easy to make claims about what will and won’t make a brand and lead to sales, particularly since brand building takes so long and has so many variables that it is next to impossible to measure the results of any single thing you do, and very easy to attribute success to something that may have little at all to do with it.

It stands in such stark contrast to so much technical work where you actually have to make something work, and when it doesn’t work it is immediately obvious. Take website building, for example, something I dabble with strive for excel at these days. The design and functional aspects of a website are in-your-face, they work or they don’t and it is immediately obvious as soon as you publish a web page. What about the branding for your web presence? I’ve worked alongside a few self-proclaimed brand managers and some of their direction and advice has been not so great.

Consider the case of evolving a brand to be somewhat more expansive but still encompassing the original brand image. What should you do with your existing list building efforts? According to one brand manager you should suspend your newsletters and wait until the new brand book is complete, not worry about losing your subscribers because the brand is changing, and then start over with list building. I think this is rather poor advice. That list is so valuable you should be constantly building it and keeping it engaged. Subscribers who are already engaged will follow you to the new brand since it still encompasses the old one. I think that kind of advice comes from someone who has never done list marketing and has no concept of how valuable it is.

Another thing that sticks out as a big issue is putting resources in the wrong places. A brand manager insists you must make your company look big and impressive with a very flashy website design that has big name security certification badges featured prominently in the online store. Big ticket items those are, and they undoubtedly make a big difference in sales conversions…provided anybody sees them. But when you have very little traffic to your website to begin with then what difference does that multi-thousand-dollar theme make? A good clean design that is fully functional, conveys the brand, and has a basic SSL certificate for secure purchases is all you need to make a good go of it. Once you have steady traffic and sales you then start split testing changes in the design and evolve to a bigger look and feel. In the early stage, however, you need traffic so put your resources there. Get the mechanics busy driving targeted visitors to the site. Make sure the traffic builders internalize the brand document first so they are targeting the right audience, but then send the brand manager on vacation until there are actually enough customers that you can measure the results of changes. Otherwise it is all speculation.

Those are just two examples of brand management in action. I’m talking about e-commerce, of course, where it is often quite efficient to measure results. That’s key, being able to measure. Is it this bad in meatspace? Maybe worse because it is often harder to measure.

This little gig came about as a result of doing some website development work for an offshore merchant. I first started website development when I was in the states and set up a number of websites for local customers. When I moved to Thailand that kind of business dried up for a few reasons – I wasn’t local to my U.S. customers any longer, I didn’t speak Thai well enough to work with the Thai local businesses, and at the time there really was little value for Thai businesses in having an online presence because there just weren’t enough potential customers using the web in Thailand.

But one of my customers needed some help with order fulfillment. They had an ebook product that was selling pretty well, a fiance visa guide for people who were trying to get a visa for Thai girlfriend. The problem at the time was making it easy for customers to pay. As a very small business a merchant account with credit card processing made no sense. Paypal was the only cost effective option but at that time Thailand was not a supported country. So I proposed to do their order fulfillment for them, taking payments to my own Paypal account, delivering the ebook, and handling customer service issues.

It has worked out well for a number of years. The order volume isn’t huge so I can handle it all myself. There are rarely customer service issues, just an occasional question now and then about how to open the ebook – it’s PDF and really easy but still some people don’t have Acrobat Reader installed. I take a cut that profitably covers the few minutes of time on average I spend. And the merchant doesn’t have to lift a finger other than to update the product now and then.

VC spam

Posted: August 1, 2006 in Business

I read some commentary on Friendster being awarded a patent on social networking and saw a term called “venture capital spam”. I don’t know if that author coined the term or not but I haven’t seen it before. And it certainly fits much of what start-ups are doing now. They get some VC money and then spam the patent office with patent applications for ideas that are often not new, certainly obvious, and usually been done before. Then when their start-up with no real business model doesn’t become an overnight success they threaten to sue real businesses that are making money.

That commentary asserts the usual argument in favor of patents and copyrights, that without them there is no motivation to invest in innovation, and then laments that the system is abused. That, of course, is one of fundamental flaws in western thinking. Greed is taken as a given, and even a good thing, so all systems are constructed to accommodate it. Which of course serves to further cultivate greed. Legislators and leader of industry wish to channel the greed for the “benefit” of society.

Beneficial greed, another oxymoron of the same ilk as responsible drinking. From the perspective of a mind mired in the realm of competition, business, and profit motive, it seems like it is the good guys (developers protecting their profits with patents) against the bad guys (patent breakers copying protected ideas). But step outside of that quagmire and one sees they are all just birds of a feather, all craving big profits. The greedy all receive their consequences in kind. Dogs eating dogs.