StickerGiant: Profiting from selling a completely commoditized product line
The path of innovation inevitably seems to end up in the commoditized business graveyard. Time and again smart, nimble companies invent new technologies or manufacturing processes, just to standardize them, inspire knock-offs and direct competitors and ultimately find that their unique differentiator in the marketplace has evolved into a commodity and that customers make their selection based on price or availability, not manufacturer, brand or logo.
Indeed, I believe that the challenge of commoditization is so great that I just finished co-authoring an important new business book on just this topic, coming soon to a bookstore near you. It's an important topic, and many of the people reading this very blog are doubtless threatened by outsourcing, the globalization of the modern workforce and similar changes to the business ecosystem.
That's why I was quite intrigued when I had a chance to sit down with John Fischer, head of StickerGiant, and talk about how he's identified a pure commodity business and turned the commodity nature of the sticker space into an advantage, creating the largest sticker reseller in the world.
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It's time for an Internet Sales Tax
David Cortriss of Revenue magazine recently interviewed me about the Streamlined Sales and Use Tax Agreement, a project that intends to make it easier to calculate sales tax in various venues, including online. While it's not news that people are trying to simplify pieces of our incredibly byzantine tax codes, it's worth noting that the Streamlined Sales Tax agreement is already winding its way through quite a few state legislatures.
David's question to me about the Streamlined Sales Tax has led me to reconsider one of the sacred cows of the Internet, taxation of Internet purchases.
In a nutshell, I believe that it's high time for us to reconsider the Internet Sales Tax with the triple whammy of the war in Iraq and the widespread devastation left in the wake of hurricanes Katrina and Rita. But there are even more important reasons why it's time for us to enact taxation of Internet purchases...
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Interesting job opportunity: blogger with RSS knowledge
A colleague of mine, Eric Thom, over at RSS Applied, sent over the following job listing that I imagine a number of people wanting to more into the blog world professionally will find of great interest...
RSS AND WEBLOG RESEARCHER AND ANALYST
RSS Applied has been focused on the business opportunities presented by RSS and Weblogs for years, and we�re ready to bring another person onboard. This position will involve intense daily research focused on the latest RSS technology news, business blogging strategies, corporate communications, podcasting applications, as well as blog design and navigation.
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LinkSpam: The failure of traditional social networking models
Every so often I receive an unsolicited connection request on LinkedIn, usually from someone overseas who seeks connections in the United States. That's not too bothersome because I can at least understand their motivation for connecting, and, frankly, as a businessperson, I can appreciate their attempts to extend their professional network. Typically I reject the connection and will instead invite the sender to communicate with me about their needs and interests.
This morning, however, I received an invitation to connect from another Yahoo 360 user, someone who from all appearances has only one thing in common with me: we're both using Yahoo 360 in some manner.
In general, I expect that anyone I don't know who is genuinely seeking to connect with me either socially or professionally will have taken at least a few seconds to write a personal message, even "Saw you speak, and I'd love to connect" or "You have funny blog entries, we should network!" Fishermen know this and you'll rarely see someone tossing out a hook without some bait or a fly appropriate for the fish they're seeking to catch.
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Is Voice Over IP (VOIP) Telephony Ready for Small Businesses?
I've been experimenting with a couple of voice over IP systems and in the last week have finally gotten some new hardware configured, so I thought I'd share some of my experiences and ask for others to share their experiences with VOIP for Business too. Let me say up front that I am well aware of the expensive VOIP solutions from companies like Cisco, but I'm more interested in the value proposition for small, 1-2 line businesses or satellite offices, not larger corporate settings.
First off, like millions of other people, I have a Skype account, but honestly, I don't use it very often. Skype is built atop peer-2-peer (or "p2p") networking technology, so it's really a world unto itself, though with something called SkypeOut you can tie it to a traditional land-line telephone, albeit awkwardly.
The two problems I have with Skype are that I find the voice quality to be mediocre, and that since I don't yet have dedicated computer telephony devices, I end up using my computer audio system, and for a business environment, disembodied voices coming out of my computer speakers and talking into a screen are just too weird. In my experience, it's far too difficult for me to focus on a conversation with Skype as I currently have it configured.
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Companies monitoring the blogosphere
I just bumped into a splendid example of how at least one smart company in the senior healthcare space is monitoring the world of blogs and closing the loop with customer commentary.
My friend and colleague Jeff Miller runs the Senior Safety Blog which focuses on issues of dealing with health and safety for, you guessed it, senior "citizens." While this could be just a litany of products for sale or a depressing series of updates on people who are slowly becoming more infirm and dying, in fact it's interesting and worth reading for both seniors and those who are involved in senior care.
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Is Google forgetting the importance of customer service?
Until just a few minutes ago, I'd actually forgotten that I'd emailed a question to the Google AdSense Support Team about a problem I had getting AdSense working in one of my RSS feeds, but indeed I had, way back on June 7th:
Three and a half months later here's the response I just got from Google...
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Global PR Week: Fake Blogs: New Marketing Channel or Really Bad Idea?
My second article for Global PR Week 2.0 has been released and I think you'll find it interesting reading. Here's how it starts out...
Fake Blogs: New Marketing Channel or Really Bad Idea?
"If you�ve been reading weblogs for a while and sporadically following links and blogroll entries to explore new blogs, you�ve learned one of the dark truths of the blogosphere: most blogs are boring, written by bloggers with passion, but little creative spark and even less writing ability.
"This doesn�t mean that they shouldn�t be blogging - after all, you and I are going to disagree on which blogs are good and bad anyway - but it does suggest that sprinkling the blogosphere with some creative ideas and innovative writing would benefit us all as this communications channel grows and evolves.
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Global PR Week: Why CEO's Shouldn't Blog
I'm pleased to be one of the many professionals who have contributed time, ideas, and articles to the online conference Global PR Week 2.0, and want to highlight one of my articles that just came online this afternoon.
But before I do so, I want to explain how I can write about PR is Dead and then join the circle of public relations folk who created Global PR Week. The answer's simple: I'm not interested in seeing public relations die, I'm trying to help move the discussion of what is public relations in the 21st century along. Those people who believe I'm anti-PR have missed my basic point: go back and read my article again and you'll see what I'm saying.
Anyway, if you have even a passing interest in public relations - and you should - then I encourage you to dedicate some time this week to reading through the many superb articles going online each day at the Global PR Week site, or just use an RSS aggregator to subscribe to the RSS feed.
Now, on to my article on Why CEOs Shouldn't Blog. Here's how I start it out...
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Mailing list discussions are not free content for your blog
Quick: if you're part of a mailing list and there's a splendid discussion, a really informative back and forth dialog that transpires, can you copy and paste both sides of the discussion on your weblog without requesting permission?
This very topic arose on the LinkedIn Bloggers mailing list -- a list that has some minimal member requirements and closed list archive -- and generated what I thought was a surprisingly wide range of answers.
I spent some time on list trying to clarify my own thoughts on this matter, detailing where I believe it's acceptable to quote others without permission and when I believe it's imperative that you seek and receive permission before quoting even a single sentence. I'd like to include my thoughts here on my weblog too, for more general reference purposes and to hopefully spawn some dialog on this topic too.
The discussion started out with the following question...
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Interested in learning business blogging from Dave Taylor?
I've a busy calendar in the next few months and wanted to let people know about the many opportunities you have to learn about business blogging, how businesses can gain visibility - and findability - through utilizing the blogosphere, and how to mine blogs for competitive intelligence, market research and customer satisfaction.
Here's an overview:
Writing for the Online World and Blogosphere for the Rocky Mountain Chapter of the Society for Technical Communications. Oct. 20, in Denver, Colorado.
BlogSmart!, my always-popular seminars on business blogging, including extensive hands-on blog creation and management. It's a darn smart way to learn everything you need to become an effective business blogger. Oct. 5th, in Boulder, Colorado.
Explode Your Business with Blogging, an exclusive half-day workshop at the fabulous 2006 Affiliate Summit, the premier conference for affiliate marketers. Jan. 8th, 2006, in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Exploding Your Business via Blogging, an eight week teleseminar with online marketing guru Brad Fallon, eight weeks of personal discussion, networking with other high-powered entrepreneurs, and much more, all without you having to leave the comfort of your home or office.
More detail on each event...
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Lockheed and US Army fumble $6 billion Aerial Common Sensor project
The Washington Post can be credited for bringing this ridiculous management fiasco to my attention: $6 Billion Lockheed Deal For Spy Plane in Jeopardy. Reading the story reveals that it's an even more amazing situation: "The Army ordered Lockheed Martin Corp. to stop work on a $6 billion manned spy plane program yesterday after determining that the company's proposal would not meet the project's requirements."
What I'm still trying to figure out is how did the contract ever get awarded and Lockheed start working on the project if their proposal didn't meet the project requirements in the first place?
Let's try to clarify the situation by drawing a simple parallel: you've asked a carpet company to bid on installing new carpet throughout your office, they've submitted a bid that doesn't actually match your specifications, but to which you, for no obvious reason, say "Looks good! Why don't you get started?" A few days later your partner says "Hey! We wanted blue carpet and they're installing green! Didn't you actually check the darn bid before giving them the go-ahead?"
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Professional networking: is global or regional better?
I recently received an email message from Scott Ingram about his new professional networking Web site Network In Austin, focused on the Austin, Texas community. Since I'm a part of the LinkedIn community, focused on global networking connections, I thought it was quite interesting to contrast the two.
There are a number of questions that come up, however, as I think about local versus global networking and watch more networking sites come online every week. I also get invited to participate in lots of them, from the slick clone O'Reilly Connection to the rather amateurish Soflow, so I have a chance to really see how different people think about professional networking.
The first, and most obvious question is why are there so darn many sites? That is, if each site were visibly different from the others then I could understand why a group of developers would put the time in to build a new online networking site, but they're all basically the same. So what could possibly motivate people to build new ones when there are already existing networking sites with millions of users? And what would motivate users to join a new site when they're already devoted the time to build a profile on one of the busier, older sites?
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So many tails, so few dogs...
I just turned in a commissioned article for a well-know magazine and was surprised to receive back an edited copy to proof that had all of my stylized text eliminated. Words I had deliberately put into bold or even had quoted were no longer any different from the prose around them. Given that my subject is of a technical bent, this was a definite problem.
When queried about the situation, the production editor informed me that their workflow starts with them stripping out all non-textual elements, pouring the text into an XML markup system, then applying standard styles based on their corporate style guidelines. Words that I wanted offset would always be lost because what I wanted to have highlighted and what they were able to highlight and keep highlighted throughout the production cycle were very different.
Once I stopped grinding my teeth in frustration, I recognized another instance of one of the greatest problems in modern business, a problem I call the tail wagging the dog.
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Is eBay helping rip off young Harry Potter fans?
Here's a small tempest in a teapot that's brewing online, just in time to sidetrack eBay from its multi-billion dollar purchase of Skype.
Real signature, or forgery?
In one corner we have Harry Potter author Jo Rowling, who has been sharing with her fans that she's upset about "signed copies" of her books for sale on eBay that are actually forgeries. In the other corner we have eBay who says "consumers should be wary of any signatures sold on the site".
Confusing the matter, eBay is also stating that "it's up to the copyright owner to report a violation" while Rowling claims she's already done so, without result.
What makes this interesting is that it really demonstrates the phenomenal challenge of policing the digital world: author Jo Rowling is essentially claiming that she knows the location of every signed copy of her Harry Potter books, while eBay is responding that figuring out what is legitimate and what isn't is far too difficult a job for them to undertake.
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When best intentions turn into LinkedIn spam
I'm usually quite a proponent of LinkedIn, as readers of my weblog are aware, but I find it quite fascinating that the desire to have the LinkedIn site ranked highly in an influential BusinessWeek Best Of the Web poll is showing a bit of the seamy underbelly of online networking.
Four times in the past week I've received email from one of my LinkedIn connections asking me to pop over to the BusinessWeek poll and vote for LinkedIn to help it rank well in the results. The intention is splendid and the slightly questionable tactic of trying to either (depending on your viewpoint) encourage voter turnout or stuff the virtual ballot boxes is no different from many of the other nominated sites posting "vote for us" articles too (even Om Malik, one of my touchstones for professionalism in the business blog space, couldn't resist when he added Vote for GigaOM to his weblog).
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Crafting the Perfect Blog Comment Disclaimer
After all the discussion about the lawsuit and legal liability that bloggers apparently have with the comments on weblogs (see my earlier piece on Blogger sued for comments on his weblog), I�ve decided to add a small disclaimer to this blog to help protect myself in case anything untoward might occur in the future. �Should you add one on your site? Maybe, maybe not.
To get the full scoop, and to help write a disclaimer that will actually protect me against potential lawsuits, I�ve asked attorney Daniel Perry to help with this particular entry. My prose is in black, Daniel's is presented in blue.
"Your words are your own, but you agree that I have the right to delete or edit as I feel appropriate or necessary."
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Of FEMA and IE: Why are bloggers obsessed with the trivial?
As much as I like to talk about how blogging opens up new doors in citizen communication and how empowering all of us to be reporting on the news and analyzing the events of the day lets us take a significant step closer to an informed democracy and better world, it's distressing to see how frequently the blogosphere is sidetracked by the stupid, mundane or trivial. We're not just talking about not seeing the proverbial forest for the trees, we're talking about running headlong into the tree while watching the ants march along the floor of the forest.
The latest example of this is the meme buzzing around about how the area of the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) where victims of Hurricane Katrina apply for aid and emergency loans apparently requires that the user have Microsoft's popular Internet Explorer Web browser.
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On linking to ephemeral pages
Rick Bruner, a trusted business colleague, emailed me a pointer to an article on blog search engines published by the Wall Street Journal, with a caveat that the link would only work for seven days before the article was pushed into the paid member archive. I'm a paid subscriber, so I don't much worry about that, but he also told me something I hadn't realized that won't mean anything to you unless you too are a subscriber: the "email this story" URL is actually a publicly accessible link.
When I cite the Wall Street Journal, I include the link to the story itself -- not using the "email this story" URL -- and simply add [members only] or [pay site] or similar.
Two ways to link to the story, but both have their limitations, problems that I really encountered when researching business articles recently for my upcoming IBM trade business book (whose name might well be changing, so I won't list it her). Bloggers like to talk about permalinks, permanent page addresses that will always point to the article referenced, but I'd like to ask a different question: how do we link to ephemeral items or information behind a wall of one sort or another?
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Steve Ballmer announces Microsoft's "Midsize Business Center"
I just received the following Executive Email message, the latest in what passes for an entry on Steve Ballmer's virtual weblog at Microsoft. It's quite long, ironically so for a notice about an effort to simplify computing for midsize businesses, but there's some very interesting positioning here, well worth reading.
Microsoft: Together We Build Businesses
Midsize companies face many of the same demands as large corporations. Globalization has opened up new market opportunities, and to take advantage of them it is essential for businesses to maximize efficiency and collaborate with partners and suppliers around the world. Business success increasingly comes from delivering more personalized, just-in-time service to customers. The regulatory environment requires greater attention to compliance and record-keeping. Yet companies with less than 1,000 employees often struggle to find the resources to tackle these challenges.
At Microsoft, we believe that the key ingredient to sustaining and growing a business is the people behind it. Together with our partners we're creating technology solutions that can amplify people's impact in a way that can drive business success for midsize companies around the world.
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Don't sell me a product, tell me a story!
I had lunch today with an interesting chap who is between gigs (a fancy way of saying "unemployed", I know) and we started talking about his deep and extensive knowledge of the medical and pharmacological industries from a marketing and business development perspective, and how it overlapped with his background and legal training too.
When he got around to explaining how he's trying to find a job but hasn't landed anything yet, I wasn't surprised when he asked for my suggestions on how he might leverage the blogging phenomenon to help generate both visibility in his target marketplace and some income.
What stuck in my head, however, was that his background gave him a unique ability to tell an interesting story. After all, isn't the best marketing and, yes, even public relations, fundamentally all a throwback to our days around the campfire trying to influence and sway people based on our ability to communicate in a more interesting and engaging manner than the next person?
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How much does bootlegging really cost?
The members of a writing list with which I'm involved are engaged in a very interesting debate about the dangers and evils of bootleg copies and illegal downloads. While most members take the stance you'd expect of people who produce unique intellectual property, that all copying, however benign, is evil and shouldn't be tolerated, a few are questioning whether that's really true.
In particular, when the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and the Software Publishers Association talk about the billions lost to piracy and illegal copies, their argument is based on a false premise: that every single person who bootlegs or pirates would otherwise have purchased the original.
I just don't think that's true. In fact, I think that the vast majority of people who have pirate or bootleg copies of music, movies, software or books would never have spent a dime on the product if that was the only option.
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Of Tariffs and the Aftermath of Katrina
As I watch the different coverage about how the relief efforts for victims of Hurricane Katrina are going, I'm struck by the level of care and concern people have for their fellow man. Very heartening. I'm also unsurprised to see that it's politics as usual, however, particularly in the complicated world of international trade.
Here's what I mean: Today the United States and Canada put aside our bitter fight [signup required] over lumber tariffs (whose prohibitive terms have cost Canadian lumber companies over $4.1 billion in punitive tariff fees so far) and are standing as best of friends here on the North American continent.
Meanwhile, our tariffs and quotas on clothes coming from China have been increased in the last few days, adding Chinese bras and synthetic fabrics to a list that already includes knitted shirts, cotton pants and underwear. It seems to me that clothing is just as much a staple, a core product to help us rebuild the devastated South and help families get back on their feet, as lumber is, however.
Is this a form of racism in the midst of everything else we're dealing with nowadays?
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Comment added to blog leads to inclusion in the Wall Street Journal
If you've been reading my Intuitive Life Business Blog, you already know that it's become a hotbed of discussion about the lawsuit that Traffic Power sent to Aaron Wall, and its implications about our responsibility as bloggers for comments left on our blog. That article is Aaron Wall sued over comments on his weblog. As it happens, I also just wrote about how adding comments on other people's blogs should be a cornerstone of your own blogging strategy too: How do i get more traffic to my blog?
But lawyer Daniel Perry has the best testimonial I've seen yet about why commenting on other blogs is such a good strategy. In less than a week he went from adding comments on my blog to being quoted in the Wall Street Journal.
I'll let Daniel explain what happened...
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