Why is online feedback so broken?

service on yelpConsumers have changed in the past 5 years, now they do more than consume, they create too.

Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Foursquare and others have trained their Billion users combined in the art of publishing. The pursuit of Comments, Likes and Shares are at the heart of Consumer Publishing, and getting those Likes can sometimes be more important than being truthful.

When it comes to feedback, trying to write a sharable review is at odds with the needs of the business being reviewed. Constructive feedback is great for the business owner, but isn’t all that sharable. Controversial, sensational, emotional, hateful and provocative are better. Combine this with an unhealthy disregard for issues of liable, with Online Ratings and Reviews sites perceived to be a Safe Harbour for the reviewer, and your business can suffer very badly indeed, with little or no recourse.

Yabbit provides a channel for consumers to give feedback that is both discrete and constructive, giving the Business Owner the chance to follow up and diffuse any issues before they become public. By promoting Yabbit you encourage your customers to channel their feedback to you in a constructive way, saving your business from expensive long term brand damage.

Why Dick Smith Electronics is a dead brand walking

Dead Brand Walking

Less than a year after Woolworths (WOW) sold DSE to Anchorage Capital (after 20 years of ownership), and the basics of retailing seem to be all but gone at the struggling Electronics retailer.

It was always hard to imagine that the specialist Private Equity firm could do a better job than WOW at shaking up DSE’s retailing fortunes, suggesting that their focus may be on the DSE Website. But try as they might, they will not build an online profit pot big enough to counter the millstone effect of a failing retail chain.

Get face to face with one of the DSE crew in any of the 325 stores (that’s Harvey Norman and JB Hi-Fi put together) and you will more than likely abandon any idea you once had of purchasing some battery powered thingamy.

My third trip to DSE George Street Sydney in so many weeks has left me agape at the ineptitude of the floor walkers, scarce as they may be.

Here’s an example. “hey” I said, “can you tell me about this Kensington GPRS device”, “no”, he said, “I don’t know anything about it”. “ok, well, what about this Jawbone UP?”, “no, sorry”.

Where is “Let me find someone who does”, or, “let’s look it up on one of the 200 effing PC’s we have in the store”, or “give me your email and I’ll send you something”, or ANYTHING FOR THAT MATTER – SHOW ME YOU CARE, SHOW ME YOU GIVE A SHIT! This is about care for your customer, which is an attitude. JB Hi-Fi seem to solve it with hiring and incentives, but failing that getting the culture right is a good place to start.

I may have been unlucky. Three visits and three checked-out check-out workers. But that’s all it takes to kill your brand once and for all – and after 45 years on the high street, that would be a tragedy.

Starting a business is True Grit, not The X Factor!

Successful businesses evolve from the same place as unsuccessful businesses, but something happens along the way that makes them pop. On rare occasions, a phenomenal idea will emerge that’s backed by a suitably phenomenal management team then the magic happens, but that’s the stuff of legend. For the rest of us, separating wheat from chaff is a grind.

But the grind is the last thing on the mind of many an entrepreneur. Overnight success stories litter our TV screens, conditioning those who know no better to think that being discovered is more important than working hard. And like pitchy hopefuls on unreality TV, many entrepreneurs mistakenly assume the slippery slope to success is greased by exposure alone. It isn’t. Time spent looking for limelight could be better spent knocking on the doors of potential customers, hunting for feedback and trying to secure distribution for their shiny idea.

Walking the streets and talking to potential customers is busking for entrepreneurs, it probably won’t lead to overnight success, but you get to perfect your pitch and make some money along the way, increasing staying power and the likelihood you will nail an audition if the time is right. Better still, generate enough income to avoid external funding and you negate the allure of instant fame altogether.

Turning Advertisers off with visual Vomit

As a user, Facebook is frustrating, and as an advertiser, it’s downright useless.

Humans are skilled at ignoring the visual vomit around them, and these are skills that have been perfected over many years of increasingly desperate advertising techniques – from the subliminal to the ridiculous.

Stealing 5 minutes to get critical updates on the latest cat meme is what Facebook is all about, and monetising that experience has mostly been limited to targeted advertising (selling your personal details to advertisers so that they can craft ads most likely to drive a response). But with just $10 of annual revenues from each of its 600m or so engaged users Facebook has a long way to go to satisfy its many Shareholders’ many expectations!

The real challenge for Facebook though is that economically it’s still a One Trick Pony with 8 out of every 10 dollars of revenue coming from advertising. So how does Facebook outgrow the rebounding economy in order to drive up shareholder returns?

I think they have three pillars of advertising growth ahead of them, each of which will likely trade off user experience for advertiser revenue:

More advertising inventory – as the rate of subscriber growth slows more inventory is required to avoid an overall slide in the supply of advertising space – meaning more of the Facebook page will be dedicated to paid media resulting in a poorer user experience

More personal advertising – Facebook will give as much data as it can to advertisers to make the advertising product more effective – meaning Facebook will go even further to leverage their users’ personal data

More interruptive advertising – as consumers get better at ignoring the Advertising Vomit, Facebook will push its products to become more interruptive, meaning you have to wait for them to finish or actively “push” them out of the way. A poorer experience but one that is likely to yield more clicks for the advertiser.

And yet, the real challenge here for Facebook is that it just isn’t a great place to advertise for most businesses. It’s neither a great Brand advertising platform, nor is it a great Performance advertising platform – and in this analytically informed world of Marketing, the investment required to evaluate the effectiveness of an advertising platform is lower than ever before – meaning most big advertising dollars have already come and gone.

Group Buying fortunes on the up?

After bottoming out during the past few months, the fortunes of some Group Buying businesses seem to be on the up, albeit a significant number have collapsed or been acquired in the past six months and the outlook remains grave for many more!

The fact that the sector’s nose is slightly up is in part due to the weeding out of weaker and often less scrupulous competitors who often served only to undermine the reputation of the sector as a whole.

In fact out of the 50 largest Group Buying businesses assessed in April, only 29 remain intact just 6 months on. And given only 10% (5) of those businesses were acquired that supports the view that smaller Group Buying businesses are of limited real value. In such a crowded and undifferentiated market lifesaving investment is tricky too given a lack of brand equity, good will or asset strength (off the shelf web sites are common and subscriber base overlap with top-tier competitors is often well over 70%) resulting in the collapse of underperforming and debt laden Group Buying businesses.

A quick browse through the sites of the 29 still standing uncovered indicators of pending doom for some.

Here are the choking canaries of the Group Buying world:

  • A high degree of niche product deals, such as robotic vacuum cleaners or iPad accessories
  • No sign of “number purchased”, an essential component of Group Buying that is quickly discarded when numbers are low
  • Extended Deal deadlines, this industry was founded on deal a day for good reason!
  • A smorgasbord of deals on one page, suggesting desperate recycling of old offers

Group Buying remains a $1bn future industry in Australia, regardless if that industry seemed to lose its way and stall when it was only half way there. Regaining lost momentum will be down to the leading players showing the way once again with a combination of brilliant marketing and a commitment to helping consumers discover great business products.

The strongest already have their playbook (Living Social, Cudo and Ourdeal) and will extend their positions in the coming 6 months through a focus on back-to-basics Group Buying offers like quality restaurants, high value vacation offers and utility products such as Cudo’s Meat Merchant.

Although I suspect another 15 from April’s top 50 will be gone by April 2013, leaving only a dozen or so standing, I think I already know who they are, I wonder if they do?

Good commercial sense underpins sustainable philanthropy

BC Logo new

In 1999 the ever cheery Brits (of which I’m one) were flabbergasted when their #1 Son Richard Branson lost a bid for the National Lottery. His manifesto for the People’s Lottery was based on it being run as a Not for Profit meaning that profits would be provided as donations to the lottery commission over and above the standard fun-raising efforts of the National Lottery. Even though these additional donations would exceed $1bn each year the Lottery Commission said no, instead they chose Camelot who had no such altruism in mind.

Surely something’s afoot, why would the Purpose driven Lottery Commission choose greedy toes Camelot over goody two shoes Branson? Isn’t that Greed before Good?

Not that simple.

The Lottery Commission figured that without the benefit of a Profit Engine behind Lottery Ticket sales, they’d be worse off taking the $1bn contribution from the Virgin effort. That their interests would be misaligned and the overall donation pool would be smaller as a result. A decision that has since been vindicated several times over.

If the collective interests are balanced, doing good doesn’t have to be unprofitable.

Recently I co-founded a business called BeyondCover. On one hand BeyondCover is an Insurance reseller for Global Underwriter QBE, selling CTP (The mandatory Motor cover in Australia), General Motor and Travel Insurance, on the other hand it raises money for causes by rewarding Cause partners when they introduce a new Insurance Customer.

The key to having the right incentives in place lies within the nature of Philanthropists. People who regularly support Good Causes are good people, they take fewer risks, cause fewer accidents and pay their bills on time. They make pretty good Insurance customers too!

Big companies can’t win, time to get down and dirty!

Reinvention is bloody hard, rarely has a big business managed to pivot wholesale to a new them without causing a catastrophic collapse of their core along the way. History is littered by once great corporations hollowed by their failure to recognise the need for reinvention.

But this isn’t a cautionary tale featuring Kodak and their resistance to the Digital age, although that is a good story! This cautionary tale concerns those businesses that recognise the need for change but fail, fail because their big company DNA rejects the wide eyed organism growing within.

Clayton Christiansen describes the issue as the Innovators Dilemma. The central theme of his argument is that big businesses innovate within the constraints of their own expectations. Big business’ expectations demand an aggressive and predictable return on capital as well as a degree of polish that small businesses and startup entrepreneurs happily live without.

Those expectations limit their ability to innovate to the Sustaining kind only, meaning incremental improvements that result in incremental bottom line impacts. The new breed of competitor, i.e. startups, don’t live with those constraints and can therefore galvanise their new business around an untested way forward.

Innovation favours the brave and startups are certainly brave. Entrepreneurs often leave themselves with little to lose and can afford to turn existing models on their head in a effort to break through. And breakthrough they do.

In the past big corporate goliaths still won though, regardless how stilted their innovation; barriers to entry and scale benefits afforded them a dependable lead against newer foes. But today’s David is better equipped. They have the triple whammy benefits of low cost of capital, cheap scalable technology and affordable access to a large audience; also, this new wave of Disruptive Innovation is easily embraced by customers so should be feared by slow to move businesses and their shareholders alike. Boardrooms have too much as stake to stay ignorant to the Breakthrough Innovation occuring around them, so breaking through the innovators dilemma will have to happen eventually. But there is a great risk of too little too late.

Corporate leaders have to do more to embrace breakthrough thinking and create structures to do so. Establishing a mini startup fund and incubator for internal entrepreneurs and staff incentives to encourage broader thinking are essential steps. Communicating to the broader business the importance of supporting those innovations by accepting the quick and dirty necessity of breakthrough thinking is also essential if rejection of the new organism is to be avoided.