Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Putting Audio to Work for You

Audio is a good way to present yourself and connect with your site visitors.

I read recently that sound is the #2 most powerful connection to memory. Smell was #1 and I don't know how to do smell online. So I think about sound.

In the past I have used mp3's when I used sound only. The problem with this is it takes time for the listener's browser to open the mp3 player on the local computer. The benefit is the mp3 can be downloaded and transferred to the listener's i-Pod or other portable MP3 player.

I suppose I could use Flash. That is what I have gone to for video. Flash is in all modern versions of PC browsers so it solves the problem of the time it takes to open a local player to run the video.

A new online tool from has been brought to my attention by Kip Bodnar over at Digital Capitalism. I thought I would try it out here and let you compare a traditional MP3 audio to an Utterli audio.

Here is the Utterli audio...

Of course Utterli is more than just a way to record. It is also a community site where your recording can be shared with other similar to Twitter. That may or may not be a plus for your use.

Here is the more traditional MP3...

Listen to my MP3 here. Rmember to wait for your media player to open,

I am sure there are other solutions to audio online. Let me hear about them in the comments.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Social Media in the Real World of Everyday Business

Most of you should know I am a true believer in the use of social media and online collaboration tools as the future of your business. But because I spend so much time thinking about it, I am certain I can be a droning noise to family and friends.

The truth is the only opinions that will matter about the importance of your use of social media is your customer's and potential customer's. So what does the "average person" get from social media?

Kipp Bodnar had a great posting yesterday about social media and the real world. You can read it for yourself at Digital Capitalism .

Here is some of Kipp's post...

"So what do people want from social applications (which for most of the people was Facebook)? They want to reconnect with people, to understand the major changes in peoples lives since they last saw them. People wan to know about the big stuff: vacations, kids, job changes, moves, deaths and they other major events that fill our lives. This reconnection is how most people want to use the social web today."

"The one thing that people love about social media even if they don't know they are using it is discovering new things. Discovery is the common ground across the entire group of people I spent time with of the holidays. People want ways to discover new things and this isn't new, but this does drive main stream adoption. Think about most of the mainstream social applications: Facebook, Digg, Amazon, Flickr and they all facilitate discovery and that is why people love them. Most of the people I listened to are completely in love with Amazon's recommendations feature both online and via e-mail."

As you start thinking about how you will use all the great social tools to better connect with your customers you should keep Kipp's thoughts in the forefront of you mind.

Monday, December 29, 2008

How to Use Twitter for Your Business

Yesterday I challenged you to start doing something concrete about your business communications.

Here is a good start from Dan Englander at ShoeBoxed.

Here are the highlights...

  1. Strengthen Your Brand
  2. Inform People of New Products and Services of Your Company
  3. Link to Your Website, Blog, Press Releases
  4. Weigh in on Conversations Others are Having About Your Company
  5. Engage with People Talking About Your Field
  6. Promote Events
  7. Provide Customer Support
  8. Inform communities when other communications fail.

If this seems foreign to you, please take the time to read it.

Also remember Twitter is a tool you can use from your computer, cell phone - heck, even your I-Pod Touch.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

2009, the Economy, and You

I have felt for about 12 years that the world economy has been experiencing deflation. It has shown in bits and pieces.

The price of a pair of blue jeans at WalMart has been a good gauge. As free trade moved jobs, as Y2K opened up outsourcing, the basic price of so many goods and services have been on a consistent downward fall.

There were many things that masked this but in 2009 I feel there will not be anything to mask it.

What are the retailers going to do to get rid of their unsold goods. I would assume cut prices. But I also assume they will cut orders for new goods.

What are car manufactures going to do with cars as old as 2007 still on lots as new cars? I heard somebody say they were shipping unsold cars to Russia to get them out of the US market. Even so, I think they will make a lot fewer cars in 2009.

So my feeling is that price deflation is going to be a force in 2009 for anything that is a physical product which does not spoil. Food is safe. Blue jeans not safe.

Services like car repair, car towing, non elective health care - things you just have to have will likely grow in 2009. These places will not add jobs, they will just have more business.

Products like car insurance or homeowners insurance will probably see price increases. We have seen so many insurance company's investments drop so much in value that insurance companies will need to increase prices to get their surplus rations back in line. This price increase will take up surplus that in the past few years has been used to write new business. I think many insurance companies will cut back on trying to grow market share as a result.

In area's where goods are not being sold and so not being ordered, manufacturers will have to reduce employment. Fear of job loss is already part of this current slow down in sales. Higher unemployment in 2009 will make this fear stronger and cause the continued slowdown in spending by consumers.

If you are an insurance agency what should you do? Your customers are going to have less spending money and not be in a mood to spend it. You companies are going to be raising prices so your customers are going to shop.

If you can keep you customer base you will actually be in a great position to grow in 2009. How are you going to keep your customers?

Now is the time to start spending a part of everyday learning how to use the fantastic communication tools that have come into the market in the last decade. And you are going to need to learn by doing.

I used to sail with two friends. One was a top administrator for the EPA. The other was a regional director for a mental health agency. They liked to study problems before taking any action. so when we would be coming up on shallow waters in the North Carolina sounds they would like to have a committee meeting about what to do. I would yell "Ready about", "Hard alee" and turn the boat.

You need to take this "turn the boat" attitude this year. You will get better by practice and doing.

Concrete steps to take:

  • Start an agency blog. Post at least twice a week.
  • Oh - if you do not have a web site, set up a web site.
  • Start reading online forums for the types of customers you have. You can find these simply by searching for the topic plus the word forum. Example "tow truck forums".
  • Start using email to distribute a newsletter - or blog updates for subscribers.
  • Learn how to make a short video and post it on

This is not a complete list. It is a work in progress. The important issue is you need to begin communicating pro-actively with your customers. Get out ahead of them. Be sure they know it. Don't let the next communication you hear from them be about how they are moving their business because the price went up.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

First Steps to Connect

Actually you probably already have a first step. It has become so basic that it no longer stands out. I hope the things I talk about here will fall into that category very soon.

The first step in connecting is to have a connection point. What most of us have today at a minimum is e-mail. That gives you a basic tool through which to communicate.

I am going to assume this is a baseline starting point and call it step zero.

Step one is to have a platform to launch e-mail, or other communications. For a business this platform is your client's basic information as relates to the products or services you provide that client.

In the mass online space this would be the equivalent of a FaceBook or MySpace profile. In the typical business space this is the equivalent of your in house customer database system.

Here are the problems with using these for connecting.

Social networks such as FaceBook or MySpace are intended to be wide open. When you are transacting business you need more customer privacy. Sometimes the privacy is legally required. Sometimes - all the times - it is just appropriate and expected behavior.

Back office customer databases are just generally not built to be open to each individual customer. The entire system design is usually a small improvement on the best of the 1980's IT thinking. Trying to move it into the real time, keyword based, social tagging, online 24/7 is more or less like adding a GPS to Great Granddad's horse. You can do it but it lacks a certain something.

What you need is a platform that is built for the web. Not retrofitted.

I am going to talk about the platform we have built and are continuing to enhance. I know this will sound like a commercial - it is to a small extent. But mostly I am going to talk about that platform because I know it best. It is being built in steps that have a reason behind the sequence of releases. It is not something that may fit your situation. It is designed for insurance agents, so most folks that read this will have no use for it and will also have to insert their own industries needs.

The first step is creating user profiles for all the folks with whom you need to connect. These profiles can be changed by each user once they start using them to collaborate with you. But you need to create them initially.

In our little corner of the world - insurance - we have three basic profiles. The business, the employees of the business, the clients of the business. Your business is probably about the same to this point.

So for us step one is to create a business profile.

Here is what our systems agency (the insurance business entity) profile looks like.

Notice that the first thing we show is the business logo. The web is a very visual space now that everyone assumes high speed connections. Your logo is part of your brand and should show on every communications you have. In our system it shows in the top left had corner of all screens you will use to collaborate with others.

Next you put in your basic name, address, phone, web site, e-mail and mailing address information. Remember, this is a communication platform. All this information is about how to connect with your business.

Step Two is to create a profile for the folks that work at the business.

Here is what our Agent (the employees of the Agency) profile looks like.

Again, this is a visual medium so we have a picture for each person that works at the business. this way when your co-workers or clients are connecting or collaborating with you, they can see you. That's a good thing by the way.

The rest of the profile is information to allow connection and communication.

Third Step is to create a Client Profile for each Client.

Here is what our client profile looks like.

Notice the top left image is a picture of the client or something about them. The lower picture is the agent (employee) who is primarily responsible for this client. Now when anyone is working in the space, they can see the other parties visually.

You will also notice that the client profile has much more information connected to it. There are all the tabs at the top of the profile for more detailed information. There is also a Map Link to pass information from this profile out to other useful services. In this case Google Maps. Remember, there is no need to build services that are already easily available. That is part of collaboration also.

So this is the first part of Connect, Collaborate, Compete. Getting things started as it were.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Connect, Collaborate, Compete

My pause in this blog was to get work going on my project "Connect, Collaborate, Compete".

And, boy howdy, am I pleased with what we have gotten done. OK, so mostly the other folks I work with have gotten done.

This past several years have been about exploring the amazing new technologies that have shown up online. Now I am focusing on concrete steps to implement these in a business setting.

My focus is going to be on small business and/or businesses that have this kind of project driven by some one other than the IT Department. Mostly I will be focused on all of us who do not have any IT department.

My belief is that if the technology is not simple enough to be set up and run by just about anyone, then it is not really ready for the prime time revolution we are already in.

What do I mean by Connect, Collaborate, Compete?

I mean the steps every business or organization needs to be taking to effectively provide your product or service to your customers or members.

Connecting requires a presence. You have to be "there".

Collaborating means you have to be interactive. You have to be "there" and "talking with not to" others.

Compete means just what it sounds like. As they said on the TV show Monk about the lottery "You can't win if your not in". This is not a lottery. This is work. But like the lottery, if you are not "there", you can't win.

Starting with my next post I will focus on very narrow specifics. Not always in any particular order, but at least toward a larger whole.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Internet Summit 08

I just got home from Internet Summit 08 at the Friday Center in Chapel Hill. I have to admit I was very pleasantly surprised.

The speakers and panels I attended were al both worthwhile and kept me awake. That's a good thing.

Lunch logistics did not work so well, but I did not go for the free feed.

The software as a service was very interesting in talking about the sales and marketing model. Apparently most Saas companies have an extremely high customer acquisition cost. That made me feel a little better about my two Sass companies. The first has almost no customer acquisition. It makes a profit from day one. The second has an as yet unknown customer acquisition cost. But it is known that it is it almost nothing. We sell into several different segments of a vertical. Some of the segments have a very high customer acquisition cost. I probably saved myself a lot of money and time on different sales channels by attending that session.

The session on Social Networks was the best of the day. The panelist were great. The topics were timely. The comments were deeply insightful. The big take away was that social networks have to find a way to charge for applications there members need - not want. Still, no one was willing to venture what those apps are.

The session on Search taught me how to - and why to - protect my business on Google maps from being hijacked. I will do some reading on this tonight and comment on it later.

I definitely plan to attend in the future if the event is held again.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Replacing "Interfaces" in the Insurance World

Currently in the insurance world - and probably in many other industries - there is an enormous amount of work being done to allow many different systems to "integrate" with each other.

"Integrate" as used here means to be able to pass electronic data from one system to another. The goal is to have the systems "talk to each other". Primarily this has been pushed as a way to avoid the dreaded double entry of data.

We have been working on a product revision that allows a wide variety of sharing and collaborations between many diverse users. Kind of a social service for business that lets you keep your business private.

As part of this service, we allow the user to add hyperlinks and embedded links to their portion of the site.

Why should "interface" not be replaced with links and embedded links?

The problems with direct data to data interface is either it never ends or it crushes innovation. Neither is a good solution.

Crushing innovation is good for the Applied Systems and AMS's of the world. It is good for proprietary company systems that want to lock you in to doing business only with them.

What if instead of getting a data dump to update your in house system, you got a link to the related document on the insurance company's system.

Here is a big plus for that - just one version of the document - everyone sees the same thing. No out of sync issues. Plus no storage space issues.

Plus - and of course the leading software providers of management systems will hate this - you would no longer need an expensive Agency Management system. You would only need a very inexpensive - or even free (Google Docs? Maybe?) - document management platform.

I can hear the screams from the establishment now. "We can't do that!" "You don't understand!"

My answer - Are we Americans or American'ts?

Of course the folks that are reaming you now for an obscene amount of money will say it can't be done. They might not have a job. Of course the companies that want you to only work with them - even though they don't offer all the products you need - will say you don't understand. They might have competition.

I think you do understand. I know it can be done.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

When Your Internet Goes Down

When the Internet goes down at your office are you tempted to just close up and go home?

I think this is true for a lot of us these days.

Here is the next question, if you need the Internet so much to do your job, don't you think your customers want to work with you through the Internet also?

Do you think your customers feel the same way when the Internet goes down at their jobs?

I have been around a while so I actually reminder the dark ages when you owned a computer - even a PC - because it actually ran some stand alone programs I found useful - I think???? Now, I am not real sure what other purpose a computer has except as a way to connect to the Internet.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Symbolic Representation

More thoughts from reading Glut...

Symbolic representation of things is a skill that allows humans to communicate better.

With computers the first common symbolic representation of things might be considered the GUI screens from Windows and Apple. This is kind of like sign language to many, but it was a big step up from the DOS prompt and allowed computers to be much more accessible to many more people.

In today's social web world I can not think of a site that does not include - in fact demand - that each user post a image to be the symbolic representation of themselves. I joined a site recently that defaulted to a very ugly goat picture to encourage you to post your own image selection.

To be honest I find an immediate and subconscious reaction to any site or service that uses these small images. It personalizes.

What else could be added to do this even more?

Sound is often something that drives me away.

Video is good but to static. And how and when to activate it is always an issue.

How do you feel the ability to personalize backgrounds fits into this?

Any other ideas? 

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Glut and 5 Levels

I have been reading Glut by Alex Wright.

He thinks that we humans have a natural need to classify things. He also thinks we are most comfortable with classifying things at 5 levels of complexity. The middle level apparently is normally the thing itself.

Let's assume this is true. What are the 5 levels of Facebook, Twitter, etc? I am not sure I can see 5 levels. Is this a problem? Is this because we are so early in the way we use and understand social online?

Here is an example of the 5 levels:

Hound Dog - in North Carolina that would be a Plott Hound
Bassett Hound - again - not in NC

On Twitter would this be:

World Wide Web
Social Web
Mirco Blog

Do relationships have this same 5 levels? Online - again say Twitter:

User of Twitter

Any other thoughts.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

What Makes A Service A Platform?

I have been told - or read - that a platform is totally ignorant of the content on the platform. Under this definition a word processing, spreadsheets or YouTube is a platform. Right?

What about the fact that these platforms define the type of content? Word processing is usually mostly text - words. Excel is almost always numbers and formulas. YouTube is videos and only videos.

Does this keep these from being platforms?

Is Facebook more of a platform because you can have text, pictures, videos, links, messaging, etc all on one service?

Twitter is text and links only. But I think most folks consider Twitter a platform because it has standard API's for third party developers to use. Is this a part of the required criteria for a platform?

Any opinions?

Friday, October 31, 2008

Indiana Contractors Insurance - Online

I have been to around a dozen events this month giving a talk on how insurance agents can do business online. I am focusing on the regular home town agency doing small to medium commercial lines insurance.

One of the sites I refer to in my talk is I spoke with this agent a couple of years ago now. If I am remembering correctly, he built this site about five years ago just as something to do. Then he forgot about it.

After some months he starting getting calls from contractors every week or so. They would tell him they found his site and wanted to buy insurance. After enough of them called, he decided maybe there was something to this Internet thing.

Long story short, this is now a major part of his income. He has other similar sites that also seem to do well.

Take a good look at what he has done. There is nothing fancy, but everything is very solid. You can learn a great deal about how to move to doing business online from this.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Value Gap

What is the difference between what a someone can do without you and what they can do with you?

That difference is the value you bring. That is your "Value Gap".

If you are trying to decide what you are selling, or how you are going to convince someone of your point of view, figure this out. Everything else will follow.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Has the Web Removed the Value You Get Paid For?

Here is more thinking from Clay Shirley's book Here Comes Everybody.

The web removes barriers which created transaction costs in accomplishing many different tasks. When these transaction costs go away, business models that generate their value by overcoming these costs no longer have value.

For newspapers, the barriers were owning a printing press, hiring and managing writers, controlling the distribution and selling the ads. The web allows anyone, anywhere, to do these things at little or no cost. Newspapers are struggling because one of the main sources of their value has gone away.

This ability of ours to change our actions as barriers are removed is not limited to just the web. I think it is important to realize this. This is a fundamental fact of human nature. 

Here are some barriers other technologies have removed and how we have responded to their removal.

After we had trains and cars and airplanes most folks who wanted to "Go West" quit walking from coast to coast and adopted a newer method of transportation.

When most people had telephones my Grandmother stopped walking the three blocks to her sister's house to ask a single question and just called her on the phone. In my generation we never even experienced the visit to avoid a phone call.

When my kids could text message me and avoid my asking them questions or making them stay on the phone, they quit calling. (The ungrateful rats.)

For your job or business, what barriers does the web remove that have historically been a value you added?

1 - Time restrictions. The web can let you provide information and services 24/7. You can not be physically present 24/7 but you can provide access to interaction your customers need to do with you 24/7 online.

2 - Distance barriers. The phone did this, but it charged for long distance. The web not only does not charge for long distance, it allows more types of communication than just voice on the phone.

3 - The ability to get forms or documentation - even signed documentation. The web allows you to provide rights based access to almost anything you currently make folks come to your office, wait for a fax or, wait for the mail to receive.

Monday, September 22, 2008

My Son and Joe Gibbs

My son got his pilot's license when he graduated high school a couple of years ago. Since then he flies as often as he can afford to rent a plane and get the time away from his college studies.

This past week he had been flying and after landing was talking with a mechanic at the airport. Some guy came up to them and asked where the helicopter pad was. My son didn't know, but the mechanic gave directions.

Then the guy asked my son what he is doing. When he hears he has just been flying, he asks a few more questions and then goes on over to the helicopter pad.

The mechanic turns to my son and says "I guess you are not a NASCAR fan. Do you know who that was?".

My son says he figured it was just some other pilot.

The mechanic tells him it was Joe Gibbs. My son asks who that is.

What I like about this is that Joe Gibbs has been a public figure for a long time and yet he is clearly just interested in things and a social kind of guy. He certainly didn't take the time to talk to my son because he thought he had been recognized by a fan.

What I like about my son in this little story is that he didn't care who the person was - except he does love to talk to other pilots. He has learned that people are all just people and that is enough.

Of course I realize that if this had been just another person I would not be writing this entry. I guess we are all just people and that is enough, but adding fame to the story makes a better story.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Built on Dreams

Joe Plumeri, Chairman and CEO of Willis said in his talk Tuesday at the eInsurance Symposium in Dallas that almost everyone in the insurance business is in denial about the monumental changes in that industry. He wasn't talking about the financial markets. He was talking about new business models and new communications tools.

He challenged everyone saying:

"Don't be an industry built on memories. Be an industry built on dreams."

One of the great barriers to changing your business is competence. It is a common saying that the good is the enemy of the great.

Here is a link to a good article in Fast Company on this topic.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

A Single Data Standard

For as many years as I can remember the insurance industry has had a dream - a goal - of having a single data standard for all insurance information. It seems every publication and every convention or conference pushes this dream. I want to argue that the dream is making everyday worse and worse for the insurance industry. I believe that the dream of a single unifying data standard is creating harm by encouraging the industry to deny reality and as such fail to move forward.

My second favorite episode of the TV show X-Files was the one where Mulder found a genie and was granted three wishes. He wished for world peace and was instantly the only person left alive on Earth. The Genie smiled and commented the only way for humans to not have disagreements was for there to be only one human. (My favorite X-Files episode was the one where the villain got away through an exploding chicken house and Mulder - covered with chicken shit - told Sculley he was pooped.)

If you accept the premise - which is the current cold, hard truth - that there is no single data standard, how can the sharing of information be made more efficient? Certainly there are answers of things which can be done but do not include changing to a single data standard.

By holding out for the dream of perfection this industry is avoiding making any progress at all. Why not find ways to make things 60% better instead of taking no action unless it is the dream of making them 100% better?

What do you think could be done?

Friday, September 19, 2008

MicroSoft Technology vs. Business Model

I had the wonderful experience of attending the eInsurance Symposium in Dallas earlier this week. Bill Hartnett, Microsoft's U.S. Insurance Industry Solutions Director, gave a talk in which he highlighted the SilverLight product they have developed.

I have to admit I was blown away by the technology of the service. It was a very good visual presentation of information integrated with a wide variety of useful web services. I thought "This could really have an impact". Then I recalled Bill's opening remarks.

Bill started the talk by asking "How many of you were here when I spoke last year?". I few hands went up and his next comment was something close to "Good, then I won't be repeating myself too much.". At this point a light should have gone off - repeating yourself a year later would seem to be saying not much has changed in the past twelve months.

Next, it became clear to me that Microsoft is selling this product to insurance companies to push out. This makes sense when you recall that Microsoft sells operating systems to PC manufacturers who then push the product out.

This business model was reinforced later when Bill talked about Microsoft Sync in Ford's new cars. Again, Microsoft sells to Ford who pushes this out to their customers.

I honestly can not tell you if Microsoft has sold any users on SilverLight. I also have to admit that Microsoft is extremely profitable and as such it is hard to seriously criticize their business model.

Nonetheless, I left feeling like SilverLight was never going to be a major factor in the insurance space simply because of the model.

Here is the model I would think about. Offer the SilverLight service free to anyone who buys insurance services. Allow these users to invite insurance providers to accept a data pass of information from the buyer in order to provide the buyer with an proposal on their account. Require the insurance providers to pay to be able to accept the data and respond.

This model ends up making the same party pay for the service - the insurance company - but it allows customers to push the product into the company instead of having the service pushed onto them.

I could be way off base here. This is just a different distribution model, but I think it would make all the difference in the speed or even the "if" of any adoption of the service.

Friday, September 12, 2008


Even I will admit this is funny. Bill Gates and Seinfled...


Thursday, September 11, 2008

You Want A Piece of America? Well Here I Am.

9-11, 9/11, Sept 11

Last night I watched Tom Friedman on Charlie Rose. He put in words what I have been feeling for years. He said..

"To me 9-11 is the day between 9-10 and 9-12. I am not about an America defined by 9-11. I am about an America defined by the 4th of July"

How about you?

I am sick and tired of USA standing for the United States of Afraid. I want the United States of Aspirations.

Every time I take off my shoes to go through airport security I know we have lost. Next week I am going to the airport. I am going barefoot. That way I will not be surrendering by taking off my shoes for security.

I am not interested in or inspired by a government who wants to take away my freedom in the name of my security.

I dream of being great, not of being safely hidden behind armed guards.

I have always thought that our President - George Bush - had the chance to be remembered as our greatest President, to be put on Mt Rushmore, if on 9-11 he had stood up immediately and with fire in his eyes and smoke coming out his nose said...

"You want a piece of America? Well here I am. Come get me!"

Instead he sat there looking inept. Then he disappearred to a "secure and undisclosed location". He took this whole country with him.

Today I have had enough.

I will not give my life to or for a country that provides me a safe place to hide and be afraid.

I will give my life to and for a country that offers the American Dream of the 4th of July.

My America is where dreams come true.

My America is where you can become great.

My Amercia is not a hiding place.

Join me.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Google's Official Blog Post on Chrome

Here is the official Google Blog post on Chrome...

Here is the link to the now famous cartoon...

Google Chrome and the Power of Free

Google released Chrome today. Here is a good overview from the Alley Insider...

For the bigger picture it is pretty clear that Google's business model is the real problem for its competitors. How can Microsoft give Windows and Office, etc away for free?

Can you make Free your business model? Has a competitor already done this to you?

More on this in a post soon.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

A Starting Point to My Thinking

Here is my basic premise about the World Wide Web.

1 - It is a fundamental change in the abilities of people to communicate and interact.

2 - It reduces or completely eliminates the financial barriers that have previously existed for publishing and distribution of anything which can be made digital.

3 - It removes time and distance as factors in what is possible.

Under this group of three, here is my early sub group of effects that flow from these changes.

1 - It destroys many existing business and professional models.

2 - It creates models that have never existed before.

What does this mean to you and how you may choose to go about the normal everyday activities of your life?

Let me say right now that I hope I put these restraints on myself…

1 - I will not ever say the web is the solution to any and all problems.

2 - I will not say the web will lead us to a utopia.

3 - I will never suggest the web is a get rich quick scheme. If I do, please someone, give me a gun and I will shot myself.

Here Comes Everybody

I have been reading Clay Shirkey's book Here Comes Everybody. I am going to be writing several entries about topics he discusses in his book.

I hope this will not simply be redundant for those of you who have read the book. I highly recommend this book and Sarah Lacy's book Once You're Lucky, Twice You're Good.

These are the best two books I have read this year related to defining the current state of the Web.

In fact, at the moment, these are the two books that have had the strongest influence on my understanding the Web since I read Tim Berners-Lee's book Defining the Web. As the creator of the world wide web, Berners-Lee has a unique position and his book is well written in describing his concept and intent.

More later today.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Not More Traffic, Better Pages

A lot of folks spend most of their time trying to get more and more traffic to their web site. At some point this becomes a proposition with very diminishing returns.

With the idea in mind of making your site about your visitor, you need to spend at least as much, and maybe even more, time on making the pages as usable and effective as possible.

From a crass perspective it is better to provide a page where twice as many of the visitors you have take the actions they came to take - and the actions you want them to take – than a page that gets twice the traffic.

Remember, visitors come to your page for a reason of their own. They want that reason satisfied when they arrive. Twice the traffic at the same conversion rate is twice as many dissatisfied visitors.

Spend your time increasing the percentage of page visitors who are satisfied. This will give you more happy users, more positive word of mouth. Better results.

Here are a few good ideas for improving results on your pages.

1 - Consider removing the normal navigation and other distracting elements of your page. Studies consistently show that the headline and then the content in the top left corner of each page are the most viewed – visible – parts of a web page. Use these two spaces to make clear the purpose of each page.

2 - Add “trust indicators. Things like “Hackersafe” logo. Also testimonials. Make your visitor feel safe and comfortable.

3 - Make any forms that are completed on your site as simple as possible. The page of least resistance is a normal human choice.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Twitter and Business

I found this link through Wayne Sutton

Any of you that use Twitter at all can probably come up with many more ideas.

Personally, I think the basic technology of Twitter, enhanced with more privacy features, is the much better business plan. Interestingly, while the data center is significant, the basic software is not cutting edge.

Just goes to show it is the imagination, execution and persistence that make a great application. And the folks at Twitter have all that and then  some.

What about you?

Monday, August 11, 2008

Some Great Videos Explaining The Web

This is from about a year ago. It is a truly fine explaination of the interactive web - or Web 2.0. This will give you great ideas about how you might use the web to interact with customers.

Professor Michael Wesch from Kansas State University. It is 4 minutes and 32 seconds.

From the same Professor Wesch, this one explains YouTube. It is 55 minutes but worth every minute.

Finally, this one I just found very interesting. The secret history of the Silicon Valley. also about 55 minutes.

This one is not Professor Wesch.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Why Do People Come to Your Office?

I was teaching a class on interacting with your customers online in Atlanta this past week. A basic question occurred to me in a different way.

I asked folks why people came by their office. 

Everyone agreed that not a single customer came to their office to be told how many years experience the combined staff had. Or how they provided great service. Or even how many years they had been in business.

So I asked folks how many of their web sites spent much of their time telling visitors this stuff. Turns out most all of the web sites spent most of their pages on this.

Make your web site just like your office for your customers. Whatever the reasons are that folks come to your office, or store, let them get that same need met on your web site.

Now you need to make a list of the reasons people come to your physical location. Then make a list of how you would satisfy these needs through your web site. Then you will have the finest online business going for the products or services you provide.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Security at the Olympics

I just read there are 100,000 security personnel at the Olympics. I don't really find this all that newsworthy.

Totally by chance I have known at least one athlete at every Summer Olympics since 1972. So I have had the great joy of hearing these folks tell me about their personal experiences.

A friend who competed in the Sydney Games told me she was met by a personal security person as soon as she got off the plane. There was always one security person with her 24 hours a day for the entire Olympics.

That is more interesting to me than a number. Maybe they are doing the same in China. I'd like to know. I guess I'll ask.

The story makes it personal. The number doesn't. I always like the story better. But, with that said, I generally hate the "up close and personal" type of story. I guess it is a hard line to call.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Be the Best of Something

Driving over the New River bridge on US highway 19 in West Virginia you can't help but notice the sign on both sides telling you this bridge is the "longest arch bridge in the Western Hemisphere".

I really like the last touch. I would have been satisfied just saying America - meaning of course the US. These guys took it to a whole other level by saying for an entire hemisphere.

The most important thing of course is they found something the were the #1 at and let everybody know.

In business, we should all do the same. 

Find that thing that makes you special. It may be equivalent of being the longest arch bridge in Durham County, North Carolina. It really doesn't matter so much what it is. It just has to be honest and true.

Folks like to work with the best of something. It is your job to be sure you tell them what that "best" is when they work with you.

Monday, August 4, 2008

When LBJ Came to My Home Town

I grew up in a middle of nowhere town. But that little town had a few heavy hitters in the world of politics. As result one day then Vice President Lyndon Baines Johnson came to my hometown.

It was a grand small town event. It shows a type of mastery which I guess still exists, and if so then some other kids are going to be blessed with memories like this.

LBJ gave a brief pump up the crowd speech at the baseball field of the local high school. They took out a fence section in center field. After the crowd had filled the seats, LBJ appeared through that fence section riding a white horse. (How many current political leaders can ride a horse?)

LBJ was of course wearing a giant white cowboy hat. He and the horse circled the bases. He dismounted onto a podium that had been placed atop home plate.

I have no idea what he said, but when he finished they brought the horse to the podium, LBJ swung up onto his steed, waved his cowboy hat and galloped off through center field.

Now that was one hell of an image. How could you not vote for him after that?

But it got even better.

That evening he attended a dinner and dance at the local country. The club was famous for its parquet dance floor.

After the dancing had begun, someone brought in a donkey. (The symbol of the Democratic party) LBJ danced with the donkey on the parquet dance floor.

Later the floor had to be repaired in some places. I assume the donkey was not an experienced dancer.

Once again, the imagery of that day has remained strong with me all my life. Regardless of the Vietnam War and the riots and all the other things that many people remember when they think of LBJ, the riding in on a white horse and dancing with a donkey will always be the primary things I think about when I think about LBJ.

What power is held in images? The power to overcome rational facts and thinking for certain.

Do you think you leave such powerful images? Could you? Would you?

Sunday, August 3, 2008

The Long Tail or Local Community Building

Earlier this week I went to the launch party for . I now feel so dot commy. I have been to a real launch party. is as sight that aggregates local blogs for the Research Triangle area of North Carolina. Most people see the RTP as meaning Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill. As a nod to the spirit of 30threads I will suggest maybe it is also Hillsborough, Morrisville and Lizard Lick.

At any rate, the premise behind 30threads fits with some reading I had been doing over at Kevin Kelly's Technium site. His post on Wagging the Long Tail says that there is no money to be made in the end of the Long Tail by the creators of the content. He suggests that the only money to be made is by aggregators of Long Tail content.

I think you would have to count 30threads as a Long Tail member of the Long Tail aggregators. With such a narrow focus - local content - I really don't see them as a money maker. But they do appear to be a good attempt at a community builder. And I think they do add value and exposure to the blogs they cover. They will probably help these blogs be found by more people.

Would your community benefit from this type of community building? Who would do it? This one is more or less done with the backing of a local television station. I think the tie in is good. I also think not pushing the tie in creates more credibility.

I think every community would benefit from a similar local content aggregation. And, if I were a local business I would definitely start a blog to be part of this type of aggregation.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Something I Was Shown on Twitter

Here is a post worth sharing. One of the folks I follow on Twitter mentioned this.

It is a post by the woman who ran discussing the experience of that business and the effect it had on her personally. Finally it discusses how to see yourself as more than how others see you.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Starting at the Back of the Pasture

This is just a story I have often told about how I decide to start a new product or business.

When my wife and I bought our first place - a little farm to be - we cleared the pasture sections and planted grass. We built our own barn. Now we were ready to fence the pasture.

I had never done any fencing. But I was excited and ready to go.

I loaded up the pickup truck at the feed store with all the fencing stuff I needed and pulled in to the head of the drive. Starting at the closest place I came to.

No surprise, the section of fence that I started with was the absolute ugliest and worst section I have ever put up. Every day when I went in and out of the drive I had to look at that awful job I had done.

Now I start everything at the back of the pasture. Fencing, new products, new businesses. I know I will make a mess in the learning process. I keep it hidden and out of sight. And I don't have to look at it every day after I do learn.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

More Thoughts on Digital Identity

Your thoughts on this will be particularly helpful.

Is your Digital Identity only able to move sideways?

Here is what I am trying to get a handle on. In the social networks I have used I am able to invite in friends or be invited. Then we can share things back and forth.

In a business setting this allows me to share with my co-workers. That way anyone who takes a call can help the customer. That is a good thing as far as it goes.

But what if I am responsible for the group. Can I see everything going on in my group without letting the group see everything I am doing?

To me that would be allowing Identity information to move sideways in the group and allowing it to move upward into the manager.

Now what if I wanted to allow access to part of my Digital Identity, but not all of it, to be shared with my group and one specific person not in my group. 

To me that would be moving Identity information sideways and down.

Do any of you who use social networks have any thoughts on this. Can the networks you use now do this type of thing?

Thanks for any feedback.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Automated Phone Calls

I am sitting in the library at home re-reading the ClueTrain Manifesto when the phone rings. It is a machine telling me "I am calling about the vehicle you currently have listed for sale. We can sell it for you faster and for a higher price".

First disturbing thing - I have no vehicle currently listed for sale.

Second disturbing thing - my home phone number is unlisted.

Third disturbing thing - my son does have a boat he is selling and listed it on Craigslist with this phone number.

Fourth and last disturbing thing - I hung up fast and the damn phone rang again with the automated call still talking. I hung up again and the phone rang immediately again with the automated message still talking. I could not hang up on this thing until it hung up on me. How did they do that?

Surely no real person would ever do business with a company so low as to have its computer call you and not allow you to hang up. These people deserve to be taken out back and have some convincing done.

But worst, now my beloved Craigslist is compromised in my mind. Some bot is out there pulling this data into its robot phone sales person and invading my life. I don't blame Craigslist but regardless I am now more circumspect about using them in the future. I suppose I will resort to proxy phone numbers but that will hurt my ability to interact with the people I want to call.

How appropriate that I was reading Cluetrain. Maybe the bot and its master should be required to read it also. Maybe a good Turing test for people to prove they are people not computers would be to be able to tell they can tell the people they are talking at were also people.

Digital Identity and Profile / Update Aggregators

I have been considering the concepts of digital identity and the way it is used in current social networks.

The idea of a digital identity seems to mostly have been implemented as a profile with name, address, web links, some media and a friends or followers list at this point. It is a start. Better than nothing.

Some services are trying to move the dime off of having to create a unique profile for every additional social network you join. This is the next obvious step. It seems to me that it runs into the beautiful irony that now you have to join the correct digital identity aggregator to match your networks. If you don't, now you have a new layer of aggregators you have to join.

This issue will generate a grand but fruitless debate about standards. The folks that develop a standard will see it as a solution to bring peace and harmony to the world. Plenty of others will see it as giving up a proprietary advantage. (Here comes the data portability gang) 

I am always reminded of the X-Files episode where Muldar was granted three wishes. He wished for world peace. He got a world where he was the last human on the planet.

If you have two people you are going to have two opinions and two motivations and disagreements. This is not a bad thing. 

Diversity is a strength that we need to embrace, not control.

Take much of the effort and resources used to try to mold the digital identity world to a single standard and apply it to understanding the reality - even the virtual reality - of differences and how to accommodate that with the goals of social.

I have tried to think of instances where standards have worked. I figured this would help show the limits of standards.

The first, as a web user, is the Internet Protocols or the World Wide Web core level structures. But, of course, after thinking about these I quickly come to the admission that this is only one existing standard among many for electronic communication.

Finding standards that work seems to always include finding definitions to severely limit the environment in which standards are sued. The smaller the environment - the more closed the environment -  the better chance standards can exist or succeed.

What are your examples?

After more thought I am down to standards such as human beings need food of some sort, air to breathe and water.

I guess that a better list might actually lead to world peace and harmony. But that list seems beyond my ability. How about you?

What is it that gives us the hubris to believe that even though we can not all speak the same language on this planet, share the same beliefs or have the same cell phone backbone we somehow think we can set standards that will give us this online?

Is our vision of the online world so much smaller than the reality of the physical world?

I think the story of the Tower of Babel is a story not of punishment, but of freeing the creative human experience. That freeing leads to the ability to test learning and growth in many more ways. The benign despot may well be the most successful form of government every conceived, but it would have put Charles Darwin out of the theory business.

It is going to be fascinating to watch as we - all of we - continue to address these basic human issues down the road of this online journey.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Who Owns the Data and Files on Yours Customers

I like the Twitter and former Flickr terms of use wording. More or less "What's yours is yours. You are responsible for it."

If you take a picture and upload it to Flickr, you own it - not Flickr.

If you upload the same picture with an application to an insurance company, they will tell you clearly they own it and they may, if they feel like it, let you view it, and maybe download it.

If you upload the same picture to most insurance agency management systems, they will tell you that you own it, but if you want to stop paying them a monthly fee, they will certainly take away your only means to ever see it again. Seems like they own it to me.

This is the question behind the current discussion o data portability.

Captive data has long been the main reason many software companies make money over time. Why do we keep falling for this?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Your Personal Brand and My Flight With John Edwards

As I left the Admirals Club  at RDU, John Edwards - former Senator and serial Presidential Candidate - passed me on the way in. (BTW he is shorter than you would think, but still taller than Steven Seagal, the actor. I stood behind Seagal in the cashier line at a bookstore once. His head didn't come up to my chin. I felt like pulling his pony tail. Isn't it great to have a cheap and easy way to feel like you are superior to celebrities when you meet them - OK, sort of meet them. You knew who they were at least. I will refrain from telling you about standing at the urinal next to Kevin Costner.)

I digress.

I head on over to the gate for my flight and just before boarding, John - I feel we are on a first name basis now, and that is part of the point here - walks up, the airline staff knows he is coming and are all smiles greeting him. Other folks recognize him, he smiles at all, is incredibly comfortable, makes everyone he looks at feel like seeing them is the highlight of his day. Folks are just giddy.

Of course he is seated in first class so everyone boarding the plane walks by and he graciously acknowledges all. Gives himself to them as individuals.

I have never seen a flight crew in such a wonderful mood for a flight.

What would you give to get that reaction from any living creature other than your dog?

Now that is a powerful personal brand.

You do actually have a personal brand whether you know it or not. If you want to have one like my new bud John you need to cultivate it very consciously. You need to become more of a public presence. While you probably will not ever get exposure from endless coverage of a presidential campaign, you can expand your brand through everything you do. And, of course, as an online apostle, I suggest you use the web to do so.

Persistence pays off in this game. Let me know when your mere presence makes an airline crew giddy. I will want to be in your posse. It is completely possible you know. You just have to make the decision to pursue the goal and then the discipline to execute over time.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Social Network vs. Collaboration

I see social networks as a place to get to know folks and to interact with them. It's like meeting folks at school or at a recreational event.

Social networks let me get a feel for you and you get a feel for me. No more commitment than that. They are great for sharing information with a group of any size without having to email every body one at a time.

But sometimes after I meet someone, I may want to do something with just them.

In the physical world this would be like going to a restaurant for a meal. Not everybody, just two of you.

In business this would be like going back to your office to talk about things I really do not want everyone else involved in.

This is more what I think of as collaboration.

I know social networks have give you the ability to set up Groups and some other private area's, but I want to be able to move further away from the network than that. I want to be able to meet you through social network tools, but I want to be able to do business with you in the privacy of your office.

I think this is the giant missing piece in social networks currently.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

My Car Is a Social Network

In trying to understand social networks I have come to realize my car is a social network.

Let me explain why.

First, I have had many cars in my life and I have never had a car that I would have thought this about. I have had Porsche's, Pininfarina's, GMC 3500's, minivan's, Honda Accord's, Toyota Celia's, Chev Vega's, Ford F150's, Land Cruiser's, Peugeot's, VW's - including Herbie's Father, and Mercedes Benz's.

My current car is a social network because in the 18 months I have had it I still get people - OK strangers - coming up to me and wanting to talk about the car. The car creates a way for people to connect to me and for me to connect to them.

I have people come up to me in parking lots. I can understand that. Folks in drive thru's - I get that too. Dozens of times I have been pumping gas to have people pull off the road and park in front of me - not buying gas mind you - just to talk to about my car. I really can't see myself ever doing that. I took my son to several car dealerships to buy him a car and the sales folks all came out to see my car. In fact, we came back from a test drive and one of them was under the car looking at stuff. I can't imagine what.

As I think I understand things, that is what a good social network does. Creates a common connection that lets folks meet, greet and get to know in a non threatening way.

What do you think? I am getting close?

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Who Is Using Social Media

This was an very interesting overview of who uses social media

Thanks to Kipp Bodnar for his Twitter mention of this link.

Monday, July 14, 2008

RTP Startup Weekend

What a weekend!

I learned more about the value of social media than I knew there was to learn. The speed and impact was amazing.

On Friday night the new businesses we started had zero returns from a Google search.

By Monday afternoon this was the Google search result: - 268 returns - 217 returns - 196 returns - 47 returns

That was the power of twitter, some new blogs with posts, some existing blogs with posts and a few Facebook accounts.

One thing I would have never thought about - each new business created a new twitter account in the business. Then they referenced the new business web site in a twitter post. If you do a search on Google notice how fast the twitter posts get found.

I know it did not hurt that the event got local media coverage. it will have national coverage on CNBC this Friday. The results count will be interesting then. But this early result seems to almost all be social media.

So much more to learn.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

What Comes to Your Mind When I Say Folsom?

Today I was referred to this article on the city of Folsom choosing to not name its new bridge after Johnny Cash.

My favorite part of this is this comment...

“We are known for a lot more things than the prison.”

Here is what I think. I sure don't have any idea what else Folsom is known for. I asked the guy sitting next to me and he didn't know either. So I am not alone.

I don't intend to sound mean. I grew up in the middle of nowhere. As a result, I recognize it in a flash. Sure, I knew lots of things the middle of nowhere town I grew up in was known for. But anyone who lived more than 30 miles away didn't have a clue about any of them.

Folsom had a chance to use a connection with which they are known all over the world. They didn't do it because they only saw the name as it related to their own feelings about who they are. Not the way basically every one else in the world sees them.

If you want to change the way people think about you it can be a good plan to get them to think about you at all as a first step.

When you are working to create the image and you do not understand what your current image is, it can be much harder to change that image to the one you want others to accept.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Making A Commodity Special

What could be more of a commodity than a hamburger and fires? Or car insurance?

But look at the enormous difference between how well local restaurants differentiate themselves from other local restaurants and national chains and how local insurance agencies differentiate themselves from other local agencies and national chains.

Here are some of the places in my hometown of Durham, NC I go to get a burger. These comparisons are for a CheeseBurger, Fires and a soda. No taxes.

Wimpy's - $7.15 - Just about everything at Wimpy's is homemade: fresh home-ground beef for the burgers. There's fresh baked banana pudding daily as well as some kind of cake. The draw back to Wimpy's is there is no drive through and no seating. Very low on the convenience factor.

Cook Out - $7.15 - Their burgers really do taste and look like burgers you would cook out yourself. But it is just a drive through, so I have to eat in the car or take it back to the office. Convenience to buy, inconvenient to eat.

Wendy's - $5.25 - They are just sort of a no mind habit. Cheap, the same everywhere. Impersonal. High on convenience.

Watts Grocery - $9.45 - Absolutely the best hamburger and bun I have ever eaten. This is a treat not because of the price, but because it is a nice, comfortable restaurant with a fine and friendly atmosphere. Takes longer than a fast food restaurant to have lunch.

Red Robin - $9.74 - When I have a crowd of youngsters, this is a first choice. They all like it. It is the "In" place for their age. Takes longer than a fast food, about as long as Watt's Grocery.

I rank these as favorites in this order:
  1. Watts Grocery
  2. Cook-Out
  3. Wimpy's
  4. Wendy's
  5. Red Robin

It is interesting that if I, a middle aged male, like the best burger and the slowest service. The Cook Out is a top choice when the family is out of town and I am feeding myself. Wimpy's is my choice when I want to remind myself I was born and raised here. Wendy's I eat mostly when I am traveling and need a fast stop off the Interstate. Red Robin is only for taking a crowd.

My son, a hungry young man, goes to Cook-Out most frequently. He also likes Hardees and Red Robin. He will not go to a Red Robin alone. He is more sensitive to price than I am.

Before I get to our local insurance agencies I am going to admit we all go to restaurants more often than we go to insurance agencies. That makes it easier for me to tell you how I feel about restaurants. Also, I go to several restaurants, but I will most likely only go to one insurance agency.

This lack of frequency of going to an insurance agency only makes your branding and my experience with you even more important in my way of thinking.

Back to insurance agencies. Here are the results i get from Google when I do a search for "insurance agency" + Durham, NC.

First I get "Local Business Results"

A. Mitchell Tom Insurance Agency - - (919) 286-4513 - more
B. Bull City Insurance Agency Inc - - (919) 596-0671 - more
C. State Farm Insurance Agents: Durham Agents - - (919) 477-7300 - more
D. Forrester & Associates Insurance Agency Inc: Durham-Pittsboro Area - - (919) 383-8551 - more
E. Jessup Insurance Agency Inc - - (919) 479-6996 - more
F. Faircloth Insurance Agency - - (919) 383-6704 - more
G. Perry Insurance Agency - - (919) 471-1688 - more
H. Jones Andrew Insurance Agency - - (919) 493-2929 - more
I. Direct General Insurance Agency - - (919) 220-0887 - more
J. High & Rubish Insurance Agency - - (919) 913-1144 - more

By the way, this Local Results is GREAT!

The Sponsored Search has:

Durham Car InsuranceFast Free Quotes. Save Over 20% onDurham Car Insurance Now!Durham.AutoInsure.orgNorth Carolina

Insurance AgencyLocal insurance providerInsurance to cover all your needs.www.E-Abacusinsurance.comRaleigh-Durham (Fayetteville), NC

Raleigh Insurance AgencyHomeowners, Auto, Life, and HealthInsurance. Get an Online Quote!

ABC Auto & Tricorp Ltd.Looking for a new insurance plan?Protect your family &

The non local, free search results has this...

Jason R. Redmond Insurance Agency - Durham, NC, 27712 - Citysearch
Come to Citysearch to get information, directions, and reviews on Jason R. Redmond Insurance Agency and other Life Insurance Companies, Consultants, Autos, - 61k - Cached - Similar pages - Note this

Sizsiz Wong Insurance Agency, Durham NC 27713 --
Sizsiz Wong Insurance Agency, 105 W Nc Highway 54 Ste 279, Durham, NC. Tel: 919-544-7000. Come to MerchantCircle to get Sizsiz Wong Insurance Agency ...
var mb12=ManyBox.register('12',3,'W47l_ZHMfYsJ','','f3bf',14,'Show map of 105 W Nc Highway 54, Durham, NC 27713','Hide map of 105 W Nc Highway 54, Durham, NC 27713')
Show map of 105 W Nc Highway 54, Durham, NC 27713 - 30k - Cached - Similar pages - Note this

How To Select An Auto Insurance Agency Durham NC - Durham NC, car ...
You can have success in selecting auto insurance by choosing the right auto insurance agency – one that has your best interests in - 68k - Cached - Similar pages - Note this

Payless Insurance Agency - Durham, NC - 27703
Listing for Payless Insurance Agency - Durham, NC - 27703 - includes address, phone number, map and areas of specialization.
var mb14=ManyBox.register('14',3,'o7hiqLqcsD0J','','83a5',14,'Show map of 3502 Holloway St, Durham, NC 27703','Hide map of 3502 Holloway St, Durham, NC 27703')
Show map of 3502 Holloway St, Durham, NC 27703 - 13k - Cached - Similar pages - Note this

Jason R. Redmond Insurance Agency - Durham, NC 27712 - Reviews ...
Read Reviews of Jason R. Redmond Insurance Agency in Durham, NC.
var mb15=ManyBox.register('15',3,'5T7v2gI-GxQJ','','600e',14,'Show map of 4223 Lazy River Dr, Durham, NC 27712','Hide map of 4223 Lazy River Dr, Durham, NC 27712')
Show map of 4223 Lazy River Dr, Durham, NC 27712 - 25k - Cached - Similar pages - Note this

Dominick Huckabee Noblin & Trent Insurance Agency, Durham, NC ...
Get directions, reviews, payment information on Dominick Huckabee Noblin & Trent Insurance Agency located at Durham, NC. Search for other Business - 30k - Cached - Similar pages - Note this

Info for PAYLESS INSURANCE AGENCY powered by MBB YELLOWPAGES.COM Industrial Directory includes address, phone, map, . A specialist in INSURANCE, - 20k - Cached - Similar pages - Note this

Faircloth Insurance Agency - Durham NC - Insurance - (919) 383 ...
Looking for information about Faircloth Insurance Agency in Durham NC? Open List offers business information, reviews, and recommendations about this - 54k - Cached - Similar pages - Note this

Life Insurance Businesses in the Durham Yellow Pages
Faircloth Insurance Agency (919) 383-6704 3310 Croasdaile Dr Ste 800 Durham, NC 27705 Top Rated listings for "Life Insurance" - 104k - Cached - Similar pages - Note this

George Stevens Insurance Agency, Inc. - Insurance in Durham
Providing auto, home, life, business, and more in NC . Includes area info, insurance info, and online - 15k - Cached - Similar pages - Note this

I know this is a lot of links.

For starters, can you tell from the results above what they offer? What is their specialty? Do you have any feel for the experience you will have with them?

Second, go to several of their web sites. When you visit the web site, can you then tell me the answers to the above questions?

Are any of these agencies going after the same customer types you are going after? If so, pay attention to what they are doing that makes you aware of that. Especially pay attention to things they are doing that you think successfully bring in new customers or keep existing customers. You will want to do these things also.

So, after a round about trip, here is my point, with all these links and comparisons. Even if you think you are not creating a brand - you are.

Even with commodities like hamburgers and insurance, you are different. You need to understand how you are seen as different. You need to decide if that is that way you want to be seen as different. You need to intentionally create the difference you want others to see, experience and understand.

Figure out the impression and experience you want to create for the customers you want to attract. You can learn this by seeing what the most successful agencies in your market are doing to get their results.

Friday, July 4, 2008

How Many Visitors Do You Need?

Robert Scoble has a greatpost on this question here .

This kid has had 45,000,000 visits. But how does he make any money?

You want targeted visitors who are interested in what you are doing.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Who Is Your Boss?

If you run your own business, you know that your customers are your boss.

If you want to do well and succeed, you need to make your boss happy. You also want as many bosses as you can get.

Is your customer telling you they want you to be online? Your honest answer can easily be "No".

If this is your answer, then I am going to tell you that you need to be online more than ever. Here is why.

If your whole industry is changing because of the way the Internet is changing communications and your boss does not think that is important, then I can only conclude that your boss is a part of a group which is getting smaller every day.

You want to be part of a growing group, not a declining group. You are not hearing the forest that does not know you exist, you are hearing the trees that still haven't changed.

I asked the staff at my office who are under age 40 how they bought their insurance. And by the way, the same holds true for everything they buy.

First - they did not look in the Yellow Pages. In fact, they no longer keep a copy.
Second - they did not call to get a quote, even when that was suggested online.
Third - they preferred to spend more if it meant they could finish the purchase online right then.
Fourth - if you were not found online, they never knew you existed.

I have heard a lot of insurance agents and companies say they did not want these customers. They thought they would be bad customers. I imagine lots of other business people have this same reaction.

So, the question you have to ask yourself is "Do you fell lucky?"

The question you have to answer is - "If you do not want new customers under age 40, where do you think new customers are going to come from?'

The question I ask is "If you think the 70% of potential customers are customers you do not want, are you saying you really want only the part of the population that can not afford an Internet connection or does not have the skills to use the Internet?" I have to really doubt that.

If your customers are your boss, and almost all new customers want you to be online, you should do what your boss wants you to do.