When I look around, I do not like what I see. My perception is that nothing is working the way it should be, and strong measures are long overdue if the malaise is to change. People seem to be living on entertainment and social media while waiting for things to improve. Hope and euphoria alternate with discouragement and despair. Neither is not the right answer; nor is procrastination and indecision. Disconnects cannot be resolved by throwing gasoline on a fire when less of something else would be more appropriate. It is time to face realities and stop rehashing the same things over and over again without providing answers. Desperate times require desperate, or at least innovative, measures. They also require a consensus.
For those who don’t get it, Main Street is in the toilet. Everywhere I look, I see businesses closed that I depended on for many years and their space vacant for months, if not years. One of my favorites had survived the Great Depression. At the same time, even with financing, new shops have difficulty opening due to bureaucratic red tape and difficulties getting services connected and equipment delivered and installed. They could be providing new jobs. It is also no wonder that large retailers are doing poorly and closing stores when consumers learn from them and then buy from competitors on the Internet. What are the limits to this punishment? What will the Internet sellers do when they drive everyone else out of business? Keep prices low? I doubt it! There needs to be a way to resolve these inequities.
As students get ready to go off to college and the unemployed ponder futures without jobs, I wonder what they are thinking. Are they prepared to add more debt with no hope of getting a job if they are studying the wrong things or don’t already have marketable skills and experience? Could it be that outdated teachers are passing along outdated information? What about all the technical wonders that sit idle or are underutilized because someone bought ahead of their needs or failed to understand how to get a reasonable return on their investment before obsolescence set in. Can we really afford to squander resources like that?
Could social media be the next bubble? Perhaps. Social media has probably been oversold, and now that there is so much competition, a major consolidation could occur anytime. For me, it is difficult to decide which horse to bet on after years of mixed results and false starts. Although lots of people use social media to share experiences, from a business perspective, I have not been satisfied. It is too difficult for small businesses with small marketing budgets to gain traction solely because a few people happen to “like” them on facebook. It is important to leverage new capabilities, but do so cautiously.
To put this subject in perspective, I have checked information about facebook on a financial website. Their Initial Public Offering (IPO) was in mid-May (2012). Price started about $42 and went as high as $45 soon after the IPO. The stock was as low as $25-3/4 in early June. Since then, there was a high about 33. Monday (7/23), it closed at $28.75. Today (Friday, July 27) it dropped to about 22-1/2, an all-time low, for a total loss from the high of 50 percent after disappointing estimates of future earnings before recovering to $23.71 at the closing.
With this in mind, I am more convinced than ever about social media being oversold. I believe that it is important to hedge bets in the stock market, but also for a business to diversify itself by creating a winning combination of social media, e-commerce and traditional marketing and sales.
For a new business with an innovative new product, my first challenge has been to convince customers that they need something they have not already considered. I look for a way to link what they already
know and accept to the new and different. An innovative solution that provides added value and benefits may be wonderful, but it still needs to compete against the tried and true. This provides a difficult challenge that many consumers and small businesses need to solve before committing too far, too fast to anything whether it is staying with the status quo or innovating. Careful deliberation will improve outcomes, avoiding disconnect and disappointment.
This morning when I woke up, I turned on The Weather Channel to help me make plans for the day. There was a commercial for their services that showed Noah out in the hills with two hands superimposed on the scene to represent God. The hands were gesturing while there was talk about 40 days and 40 nights of rain and the need to build an ark. The message from The Weather Channel was about the “Miracle of Personalized Weather.” This is an example of personalized information that they and others are gradually making available to customers.
Better services and solutions are facilitated by storing and analyzing digital information about things customers need and ask for. Everywhere vast amounts of data are being collected and mined to provide commercial value. They are turning the digital data explosion into gold. This is likely why Facebook’s IPO (Initial Public Offering) is being valued higher than the market capitalization of established companies like McDonald’s and Hewlett Packard.
Of this new generation of innovators, Amazon is the company that I use most often. My on-line account shows every purchase that I have made since January 1998. I may have even made purchases before that, but in any event, the information they have been collecting about me is significant. They are mining it to analyze my buying habits, find things that will interest me and compare my inquiries to ways other customers have satisfied similar needs. All of this is available to help me make more efficient use of my time and better purchasing decisions. I also learn from the feedback of others and contribute my own comments when I can. Teamed with UPS, FedEx and USPS, I can track most shipments and see when they will or have arrived even minutes before.
I suppose that everything has its downside. Perhaps some of the information being collected could be used to take unfair advantage of consumers if it becomes too concentrated. Thus far this does not seem to have happened. There are many opportunities left where digital data and data mining can bring value to our lives. Healthcare is a perfect example with its paper legacy and consumers who have limited roles in decisionmaking. Challenges like these make progress especially difficult. However, as I look back on my 15-year relationship with Amazon, progress and value go hand in hand over time. Success requires participation, not just spectators. As learning proceeds and roles change, benefits of mobile, information and network-based solutions will no doubt continue to grow. Expect this to be a continuing subject for this blog. Please share your views and comments.
Twenty-five years ago (January 1987), Apple Computer released a visionary VHS videotape entitled, “Knowledge Navigator.” What it depicts is amazing, and over the years, I have viewed it a number of times. It lasts 5 minutes, 45 seconds and shows future expectations from 1987. Many features have been validated by the direction technology has taken since then, but others, including ones that are important to me, have yet to be realized. Recently, I found that the video is available on the Internet.
The entire video takes place in the quaint office of a fictional college professor. We watch him perform tasks and deal with distractions, such as a call from his mother. To help him, he interacts with a remarkable device sitting on his desk. It’s the Knowledge Navigator, a truly impressive, collaborative and analytical tool that operates proactively as it adds value and anticipates needs. It could almost be mistaken for a tablet computer, but it must be one on steroids. He talks to it, uses its touchscreen, sees and listens to voice responses, and gets intelligent input. It also manages his communications and schedules appointments for him.
The Knowledge Navigator does some things without consulting the professor and adds value that he likely does not expect. It is especially wonderful how fast it accomplishes things. The Navigator barely receives a command before it provides a response. Although I am truly grateful for my progress to date, a Knowledge Navigator would never-the-less make a big difference in my life by taking care of a growing number of time consuming, repetitive tasks. For starters, it could manage my email, do research on the Internet, analyze data and create reports for me.
I see the vision of the Knowledge Navigator gradually being fulfilled, and believe that it will not be too many more years before we have true Knowledge Navigators. Already, it is possible to take advantage of many of their capabilities by building solutions from commercially available hardware, software and services. Numerous functions and apps are being created for increasingly powerful and functional smartphones and tablets. Linking their capabilities will gradually provide seamless solutions to problems, enable computers to perform a wider variety of tasks with little or no supervision, and turn into true Knowledge Navigators.
It is easy to get caught up in the marketing hype about something new, especially if it could solve an important problem or satisfy a special need. However, I have had enough disappointments when things have not lived up to expectations. More recently, consulting on-line product reviews has been a big help to avoid these surprises. However, care needs to be taken since they cannot always be taken at face value.
When product reviews are based upon early samples, they may no longer reflect the current product. Bad reviews may then no longer be accurate since problems have been fixed after the review was posted. It is therefore very important to make sure to take into account the date of a review and make sure that it is current especially if it is a bad one. Otherwise, the downside is that benefits from a truly good product could be missed.