Saturday, September 30, 2006

An ounce of practice

Today I spent a couple of hours exploring marketing as it is shaped by the existence of the Internet and infotech. In fact, I wanted to try to run a campaign myself by configuring it on Google Adwords and to see what effort this entails for a business owner. That's one way of understanding the practical implications of web marketing, which is key for me to deliver the best possible service to my customers. "An ounce of practice is worth more than tons of preaching" as Gandhi used to say...

As part of that experiment, I came across a great series of posts on Guerilla Consulting. The author, Andrea Harris, discusses her personal experience working on one of her customers' web marketing. She gives her views about the issue of search engine optimisation, visibility and available tools to support web marketing work. She very rightly points out the issues of metrics, which were already a hot topic for traditional web marketing and are becoming even more intense with newer buzz and word-of-mouth marketing; something I discovered with amazement during my work for BuzzParadise in summertime. In fact, BuzzParadise have developed tools allowing them to gather information about the actual impact of a campaign and although they remain perfectible I was positively impressed with their commitment to actually measure the effectiveness of their campaigns. On the other hand, with customers like Nokia, Time-Warner or Procter & Gamble can they afford not to measure?

Friday, September 29, 2006

Back online

OK , so it seems the disruption on Network Solutions' email service is now over. I recovered the use of my email without any idea of potential losses of messages. Relying on service providers for crucial elements of business infrastructure entails risks that are hard to limit. Plus when you are working from a SOHO environment your ability to influence the service provider is limited, so that actually builds the case for carefully selecting providers and I personally feel good about NetSol: their customer service was excellent this morning because they were very honest and they solved the issue in a relatively short time.

Massive denial of service on Network Solutions

I have been unable to send or receive email for the past few hours and a support person at Network Solutions told me they were experiencing massive problems with their email servers. "Sporadic" denial of service or something like that, she called it. This makes me think how reliant we have now become on email. It also gives an idea of the helplesness of a company that provides hosting services to the masses when confronted with something they cannot even assess in terms of actual damage (they don't know if I will get all of my mail or not)... Food for thought for my customers who provide online services. As far as I am concerned I guess it is a great opportunity to work on my equanimity and patience!

On a more practical level, please copy any emails you are sending to me to my Gmail address for the next couple of days and please resend any email that was returned to you over the past couple of days to

Losing the War, Winning a Police State: Managing the American Public?

The New York Times disclosure of an official National Intelligence Estimate, which states that the Iraq invasion has worsened the global terrorist threat, carries an unspoken subtext that the Bush administration is either woefully ignorant of how to combat terrorism or finds the terrorist threat a useful tool for managing the American public.

read more | digg story

Lesson 18 - Focus

Today I opened The brand you 50 at random. I landed on page 91, lesson 18 whose title is "Focus". So I read it and it does make perfect sense for me now (synchronicity?) as I am trying to answer a few strategic questions for my little business (like for example "should I develop services that are in high demand during recessions given that my current services sell better during growth periods?"). So here's my quote of the day:

"Brand You = Distinction = Implementation = D-e-m-o-n-i-c Focus. [...]
swear to me (swear to yourself is more like it) that 75 percent of your (precious) time will be focused - somehow or other - on that o-n-e measure / dimension of your true distinction.
Consider taking a course in meditation... a yoga class... a painting class...anything that builds your concentration...that empties your mind of clutter...that helps you attain the state of grace needed to really focus all your energies on your signature project(s).

You know what? The man is godam right and I can tell you first hand that clutter really kills enthusiasm, passion, love, energy, drive, motivation, commitment and flow required for stellar performance. I'm going to do some serious work on just that. Now.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Cirque du Soleil: what a business!

Yesterday evening I went to the
Alegria show of Cirque du Soleil. Impressive as a show and perhaps even
more as a business. Cirque du Soleil is one of the most effective
marketing machines I have ever seen.

First of all I must say the people who run Cirque du Soleil know something about customer experience:
from the second I drove into the parking lot to the moment I went out
of the place (Tour & Taxis, Brussels), everything went smoothly.
They got me a parking space very quickly, checked us in the tent extra
fast, delivered a fantastic show (here's my impression of the show
in French), always had smiling and helpful people to serve me as a
customer and to help me get what I needed and very efficiently got me
out of the parking lot with only minimal hassle (I have been to events
where it takes you an hour just to get out of the parking area).

Secondly, merchandising
seems to have no secrets for them. The first thing the customer sees
upon getting inside the tent is the incredible and very beautiful
collection of hats, T-shirts, shirts, DVDs, mugs and books of Cirque du
Soleil. I bought a book and the DVD of Alegria at a cost of 52€ and I
would bet Cirque du Soleil makes at least 30€ per person on top of the
revenue from tickets (just a wild guess).

Thirdly, there is clearly comething about operational excellence
in every single area of the business. I watched people work on lights,
on sound, on wlecoming guests in the main tent and of course I was
delighted with the performance of the artists (which is clearly a
central part of the operation). Precision, speed, efficiency and they
made it all look so simple! During the break I was thinking that every
single nut and bold of this huge machinery had travelled thousands of
kilometers without a glitch to be assembled in Brussels for a little
over a month, pondering at the degree of organization this performance
demands... Huge!

And of course all this translates in financial terms. Don't get me
wrong: financial performance is the by-product of all the hard work
done to create, produce, organize and deliver the experience to each
one of the 2600 spectators in the main tent. So I am not saying it's a
money machine that runs on its own, but it's probably the closest thing
I have ever seen to a money machine. So I did some research: Cirque du
Soleil has a yearly turnover of more than 500 m€ (yes that's five
hundred million Euros!). Here's an interesting article from Business
Week on this amazing business:

Download 20041213_BusinessWeek_CirqueDuSoleil.pdf

I also quickly tried to assess how much money is made when there are
actually 2600 people attending the show. Assuming the average price of
a ticket is 35€ and that on average people spend around 25€ per person
on food drinks and merchandising, the revenue of one show is over 150
k€ (yes, one hundred fifty thousand Euros). That's if the sow is
sold-out. Assuming a 66% occupancy rate (which is20060925_cds_occupancy
low considering the availability of seats as published on their site today),
each event yields 100 k€ in turnover (minimum)... In Brussels the show
is scheduled to be performed around 50 times, which means that their
turnover must be in the region of 5 million €. In fact that's not huge
considering the infrastructure required and the level of investment
that the creation of the show represents. Not bad, but not a game won
before it begins...

I really find this company stunning and a great model for anyone interested in excellence.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Attention economy coming up

What happens when smart people try to figure out how to monetize human attention? What if attention could actually be assessed in a financial way? What if attention could be securitized and traded on stock markets? Thoughts and questions sparked by this most interesting blog post and this one both of which, well, captured my attention. Perhaps the expression "paying attention" will actually end up meaning something. Perhaps we will also create new expressions like "attention is money"... Fascinating and scary in certain ways.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

The value of customer experience

20060304_iphoto_lorenzattractor_2Sometimes it is interesting to watch small things happening at a very local scale because they can be food for thought for larger operations. How about a business loosing about 30% of its potential revenue simply because it fails to create the right customer experience?

Right across the street from where I live there is a small shop selling fruits and vegetables. The people who run that shop do not seem very capable of welcoming their customers and serving them optimally. For example, these guys don't really like being paid with lunch vouchers (in Belgium we can pay for food and drinks with lunch vouchers called "tickets repas") for some reason I cannot fathom since a few meters up the street there is a butcher who gladly accepts this form of payment. On top of that they seem to have some form of paralysis of zygomatics and to suffer from Alzheimer in the brain centers that manage good manners. Anyway, when the people running the fruits & vegetables shop serve
me as a customer I don't feel welcome. When I pay them with lunch
vouchers, they don't like my payment... So I don't really enjoy going

Today, due to time constraints there was no other choice, and I actually forgot a couple of things but since they are not essential I will just wait until I can visit go to another shop. Now, I paid something like 11 € and if I felt motivated enough to go back to that shop I would pay another 5€ or 6€...  Wrong customer experience means a loss of 31% of revenue in this case. It seems like a pricey negligence, don't you think? Especially since I know that when my experience is good in a shop I always have a preference for spending my money there and for spending a bit more than strictly necessary there... So in fact the loss of potential revenue (including implusive buys) is actually higher and may even exceed 40%.

Of course I know that one instance is not statistically significant blah blah blah... still in this case knowing that it is a fairly permanent situation it simply occurred to me to try to quantify the loss for that business. I thought that this might actually be happening in a number of other businesses which do not care for customer experience. And that might actually be good food for thought, at least for today...

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Youth's week at the finest restaurants of Belgium

A friend of mine who is currently attending evening classes to become a chef, sent me an email saying that the "Maitres Cusiniers de Belgique", a sort of guild of master chefs of Belgium, is organizing its yearly  "youth's week". Between September 18 and 23 young people between 18 and 23 years of age will be able to eat in the country's finest restaurants for a fixed price of 35 €/person.

I found that to be quite an effecitve way to do low cost public relations and to tease young people who are the future customers of top restaurants. Here's a link if you know someone who could be interested in  (and qualified for) the event.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Expertise in high demand

20060830_ft_internetadvertisingshortageoThere was an interesting article in the Financial Times of August 30 about the fact that lack of experience staff is the main limiting factor of Internet advertising. Since the begining of Q2/2006, I have been studying the business of marketing services with a focus on how they are changing because of the Internet and I am not that surprised by the FT's account.
At least one of my customers will be very pleased to read this article ;-) It says a lot about the relevance of providing next generation marketing services in today's market.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Back to work

I landed on Saturday and will be resuming work Monday. In the first couple of days I will be dealing with emails received while I was away, finishing off one deliverable I am producing for one of my customer and planning my work for the coming 6 months. So I expect to be fully operational as from Wednesday, but may answer my emails with a delay until Friday.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Sensible security

This is the first time I am taking planes since the presumed averted serious terrorist threat in the UK. The situation is beacoming insane. Getting off a plane, I was leaving the airport of Toronto and was not allowed to buy and take with me a bottle of mineral water (I was supposed to empty it in a plastic glass and take the glass with me)...

I wonder what the cost of paranoia is and who really believes that security measures that prevent people from taking fluids with them will solve the root cause of increased insecurity since 2001. We've spent five years waging wars, creating security policies, procedures and agencies, abducting "suspects" (see about the investigation of the European Parliament) and sending them to less than democratic countries for "tough"interrogation and throwing money out the window in military initiatives that lead nowhere.

Now the cost of war operations is SEVERAL TIMES the entire budget of the Marshall Plan of the 1950s; are we really investing our money in the best possible way to defeat terrorism, to build lasting peace and support durable development? By the way, terrorism in Greek is called "Tromokratia", which has the same structure as the word "democracy" (Dimokratia) and it means "political power by fear" (democracy means "political power by the people")... Perhaps in our times more than ever before fear is a means by which to exert political power. Today on Slashdot there was reference to an interesting article (read "What the terrorists want") written by someone who seems to have a very sensible way to approach security.

Food for thought...

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Blogging in Canada

WritingA couple of days ago I started a blog about my trip to Canada. Giving a thought to this blog, I decided to focus it more on business and professional aspects and to create dedicated blogs for other topics: books, cooking, trips, training, personal development... My plan is to invite other people to write in these dedicated blogs. More in a couple of weeks.

Saturday, September 9, 2006

SIP telephony: quality not guaranteed

MapovervieweI'm really excited because I managed to place a couple of SIP calls with my Nokia E61. Quality of sound leaves a lot to be desired if the connection to the Internet is not excellent. I was on an 802.11.b network and I suspect the Internet connection was not that great, so I ended up spending more time asking the people I was calling whether they could hear me than actually speaking to them. Still, I find it great that a personal communication device can be used to place long distance calls via the Internet instead of standard cellular networks... Quality will improve. The question is whether cellular operators will reinvent their business models and how the mobile telco industry will be shaped now that it seems possible to get Internet access in extremely remote places.

Thursday, September 7, 2006

When the web is where GSM coverage is not

Currently in the Magdalen Islands, Canada. No GSM coverage. Splendid corner of the planet (not only because of lack of coverage). Sitting in a cafe configuring my new E61 for SIP telephony. One quick thought: incumbents had better rethink their business model 'cause it's dying slowly but surely.

Friday, September 1, 2006

First day in Toronto, Ontario

Canada_flagFirst day in Toronto. First impressions outstanding. Nice people, nice city, exceptional blend of cultures and styles. A great feeling of openness, freedom and respect.
In fact I came here because a dear couple of friends is living in Toronto (and they love it)... So for me it is a great opportunity to discover a new place and discovery sometimes leads to interesting inspirations. Who knows?
I was stunned this morning in the underground reading a poster of the TTC, the local public transports organization, stating that they are able to provide information and service to their customers in 70 languages... Amazing! Canada seems to be a surprising blend of a developed country and a country that still has a lot of development opportunities for the future.

Today was a lot of walking downtown. China town is a beautiful experience and a great place for anyone who wants to study commercial talent... Tomorrow's schedule says "Greek part of Toronto" (how could I not go there after all?) and uptown... Let's see what the impressions will be.