Efficacy of Targeted Ads

The mobile ad ecosystem is starting to make a lot more sense to me after weeks of research for my apprenticeship and several lessons and discussions in and out of class. The level of potential ad targeting, on Facebook in particular, is mind-blowing, but is it really effective? I’ve heard that certain industries — those revolving around “fun,” in particular — might, just might, benefit from complex ad targeting on FB. But, in the case of Narrative.ly, is in-depth storytelling “fun”? I tend to think so, but perhaps it’s a hard sell when your story du jour is about death or poverty or animal extinction. I’m excited to do some small scale testing with Facebook and Google AdWords to figure out what’s effective. The concept of only paying for clicks, or success, is mouthwatering. Anyone have any experience with ad targeting yet?

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The Art of the Negotiation

The in-class negotiations got pretty hot and heavy last week. It seemed that ideas of Instragram-esque deals bulging with fantasy-sized cashouts perhaps got the best of some of us stubborn negotiators. The exercise certainly got me thinking about the fact that careful calculations go into any negotiation — whether it’s for a fake real estate deal, as played out in class, or our first potential ad partnership for our real-life business.  Playing hardball is important, but so are concessions and principles. Likewise, research is integral — not only research on the potential deal and business involved, but also due diligence on the negotiator who will sit opposite you. Is he or she a loud ego-maniac or the sensitive, soft-spoken type? Understanding someone else’s ticks worked for us with regard to soliciting positive feedback during our class exercise several weeks ago, so I don’t doubt it would work for us several weeks from now, when many of us are sitting down for the start — or end — of that important business partnership.

Short-Term Customer Value

No question that the lifetime value of a customer is crucial as we calculate marketing budgets and determine the most effective strategy to build our brands and cultivate our audiences. But I’ve also been thinking a lot about a customer’s short-term value, especially in our beta phases. Of course, we all want our initial customers and evangelists to stick with us, to be by our sides through good times and bad. But those initial customers are valuable, too, even if they only help build us up in the beginning before moving on to new fledging companies that need their Facebook and Twitter shootouts and P.R.-enhancing blog posts. I keep envisioning a starting pitcher throwing his strikes and wearing out the opposing team before the closer comes in to deliver the victory. The crowd goes wild, the sports reporters have a field day over the hitless innings the closer threw, and oftentimes the guy who pitched the first four innings hits the showers and is all but forgotten. Even if the same backers who helped pump “Matter” up on Kickstarter disappear a few months into its launch, they will have done their jobs of catapulting an otherwise unknown brand directly into the center ring of the media circus. From there, its up to Matter — and the future Matters and anti-Matters of the world — to create a top-notch product that is worthy of attracting new audiences. If they’re lucky, and successful, maybe even some will be there for the duration of the product’s lifetime. Whether that’s months or years, only the audience can say.

The (Public) Feedback Loop

Amit’s recent presentation about feedback, while seemingly built on common sense — or at least good judgement — was nonetheless a little eye-opening. It’s obvious that we all have friends, family and co-workers who are a certain “type” of person — they’re sensitive, bossy, charming, overly confident, or any number of other adjectives. And we’ve all experienced varying levels of success and satisfaction when engaging these different personalities in conversation. What if we were all equipped with the results of a personality test summarizing our own traits and those of people with whom we routinely interact? Kind of like a real-life version of what Amit said McKinsey compels all of its new hires to do…

The implications for such valuable — and revealing — information became evident during our class exercise in which we each had to ask a classmate for something related to our startup: advice or feedback…or web dev or funding, for that matter. We each know our fellow fellows fairly well by this point, or at least well enough to know that one of us may respond positively to praise while another might be better convinced by pragmatism.

And such preliminary information, paired with the ability to ask on-the-go questions about a classmate’s personality, made the “ask” a lot more efficient and seemed to maximize our chances of success (or at least garner the temporary good favor of someone who knew full-well that they’d never be held accountable for their momentary lapse in judgement!)

Should such a personality test, and the public disclosure of its results, be mandatory in places beyond the hallowed halls of McKinsey? Might Facebook create a widget for just such a morsel of previously private information? I wonder.

Show Me the Paywall

All that talk on Monday about accounting and break-even volume got me thinking a lot more about a subscription model and various pricing points. I keep reflecting on an example Jeff M. gave me about testing different prices on the web. When marketing his online children’s newspaper to parents he said he experienced the best conversion rate at the highest price point; the worst response was with the cheapest price for the product. The perfectly logical conclusion was that parents — and consumers — want value and something with a cheap price tag doesn’t necessarily inspire confidence in that arena.

I think this phenomenon — if you can even call it that — is only growing stronger as the web, and its audience, continues to mature. I, for one, have experienced a shift in content consumption, and spending, habits over the past year or so; whereas 12 months ago I don’t think I was paying a dime for web content — as all my subscriptions were exclusively in print — I now proudly pay for Spotify, The Atavist, Once Magazine and several other web publications and services. I want quality and I want something that’s different, and I’m willing, and wanting, to pay for it — to support it and to sustain its growth to ensure it is delivered to my virtual doorstep every morning.

Beyond the Dollar Signs: Getting Real Value from Investors

Baruch’s Ulas Neftci gave a great presentation on Monday and it got me thinking a lot more about how and when and why to approach an investor. So I did a little research, and came across this interesting Q&A with Daymond John, founder of FUBU and a judge on “Shark Tank.”
“I was so green when I started,” he told Inc. Magazine of his debut on “Shark Tank.” “But now I can see the many paths that an entrepreneur may be heading down that I know to avoid and can pick out the entrepreneur that is just like me — resilient, driven and won’t take no for an answer.”
Like many investors, John said he invests in people, not ideas. But interestingly, he emphasized that the entrepreneur-investor relationship doesn’t only have to consist of money — that strategic partnerships or knowledge also play a key role.
While this may sound obvious, it’s worth thinking about the fact that investors — whether they’re angels or VC’s, friends or family — can offer a lot more than just financial capital. Even if they don’t sign on as investors, they’ve been around the block, and heard the good, the bad and the ugly from would-be entrepreneurs and their hair-brained schemes. Many probably have a thought or two they’d be willing to share, even if they don’t go scrambling for their wallets.
Perhaps most noteworthy from the interview with Daymond John was that he said he wouldn’t even think about an entrepreneur who had just come up with his or her idea “yesterday.”
He or she has to “know everything about their business and be educated in their space,” John cautioned. And, like we learned in “Myths of Innovation,” those businesses and ideas take time and nurturing.
“So they need to have gotten the bugs out — tested and vetted it in the market, and had some kind of sales,” John added. “Sales are how I found strategic partners.”
Entrepreneurs can talk a big game, he continued, “but you cannot make up your own facts. Sales cure all.”

Debating the Perfect Pitch

As I push toward a Kickstarter launch of my project, I’m watching lots and lots of pitch videos. Some are lofty and serious and inspiring, like Matter‘s; others, like Dollar Shave Club, are humorous while still to the point.

Of course, a pitch video’s tone — and pitch — varies according to its target audience, with young, witty businessmen shavers ostensibly preferring comedy while readers of longform science journalism might be drawn more toward facts and integrity.

I wonder if there’s room for some combination of the two. Might an entrepreneur appeal to the needs of a customer segment by imparting solid, self-serious knowledge and information, while perhaps also poking fun at himself for even taking on the challenge? Certainly, in the business of content — brimming with uncertainty and aggregators — a wannabe entrepreneur might provoke his fair share of catcalls and raised eyebrows for even entering such a difficult market?

I’m excited by the challenge, and think success is within reach. But I still believe in the importance of a fantastic pitch to help me get started. So please send me any interesting, engaging pitch videos you’ve recently seen! And look out for me on Kickstarter in the near future!

Longform: Journalism’s Version of the Diamond-Encrusted iPod?

In class on Monday, as we discussed the pricing strategies of “skimming” versus “penetration,” the infamous “diamond-encrusted iPod” came up as an example of a product geared toward a very particular customer — a small, wealthy, or at least indulgent, segment, to be sure.

This is admittedly a ridiculous analogy, but I wonder if longform journalism in the digital age has become a bit like a blinged-out mp3 player — and I hope to change that.

The craft is clearly not commanding a premium price — at least not in the $2 or $3 price tag it sports on several new longform platforms — but it is still a product that appeals to a relatively niche audience. That audience, as I found in my market research and certainly many others have learned before me, is willing to pay for in-depth content at a time when there’s an endless supply of journalism available for free on the Internet.  There are plenty of other stories, other iPods, available to them, but they opt for the premium, hand-crafted product.

Enough with iPod metaphors. But I am seriously thinking a lot about how to appeal to new customer segments — segments beyond those who faithfully subscribe to The New Yorker and other tried-and-true outlets of high-word-count reportage. For this reason, and several others, I’m thinking beyond “longform” and am considering branding my product as “in-depth,” as some stories might be much shorter than the typical magazine-length read.

As I found in my market research, the idea of an “in-depth” story resonated a lot more with certain readers than did the word “longform,” especially with an older crowd that was not particularly familiar with the term.

I suppose there are products out there that emerged as “skimmers” and ended up penetrating an entire market, like the first computers, for instance, or trans-Atlantic travel. Somehow, I can’t see diamond-studded iPads becoming the next “it” aftermarket product for Apple, but maybe in-depth, original journalism, produced and sold for tablets and platforms of the future, might just become that hot must-have commodity. You never know…

Relieving the (Switching) Pain: From Chinese Takeout to Editorial Content

Switching pain is real, whether you’re dealing with a bank, a mobile service provider or even Chinese takeout. (Why in the world would I risk having a subpar plate of General Tso’s when the place around the corner consistently delivers, literally and figuratively, the best chunks of chicken around?) The same can be said for a content company. I personally subscribe to no less than eight print publications — all of which I also read online — and whether most content consumers still get their hands inky or do their reading online, a majority would likely agree that there’s a glut of options out there. Thus, accepting a new content site into your already supersaturated regimen can be a daunting proposition. Not only does a new publication need to have a standout value proposition, the potential consumer needs to have that all-too-precious and rare of commodities these days — time. And when none is available, a consumer either needs to cut back on one of her current publications in order to make some room, or else move on and leave that new option in the dust.

Clearly, none of us want to be covered in dust. So it would seem that differentiating our startups from the competition and delivering at such a high and consistent level that consumers have no choice but to adopt us would be a major success factor.

So many of the startups we read about today have essentially created their own, technology-infused verticals that ultimately deliver a hefty market share. (like Twitter, for instance, which restricted us to 140-character bursts at a time when such web limitation seemed crazy.) But what about the companies that aren’t so revolutionary, the companies that enter a saturated market and must differentiate themselves in order to compete, to survive. Southwest and Virgin airlines come to mind. Can anybody think of any others?

Same Activities…Altered Performance

I was intrigued with our discussion about tactical distinctions between startups, notably the Southwest Airlines case. Having been rather surprised at the supposed “low barrier to entry” in the airline market (the ability to rent planes, terminals, etc.) I began thinking a bit more about Southwest’s unique approach to market share: targeting price-sensitive customers through secondary and midsize airports in so-called “regional cities.”
What if a “content company” were to do the same thing? Avoid the big cities that are  saturated with food blogs and news blogs and celebrity blogs and political blogs, and go for the midsize markets — the Ashevilles and the Pittsburghs of the world. Let Patch and the other hyperlocal startups have their bedroom communities in the suburbs and make a major play for the cities out there that have a big identity and passionate, engaged residents that crave news created for and about them — a fresh, interactive alternative to the small daily newspapers. These small cities live in the shadows of their behemoth neighbors, but are brimming with activity and headlines that have yet to be written.