Archive for May, 2009

Twitter marketing strategy in 140 characters

Imagine joining a group of new friends over dinner. Listen to understand. Say something genuine, beneficial, and compelling. Quit jabbering.


Obama at Notre Dame

I went to Notre Dame.  I watched the president’s address at commencement today.  I was proud.

A story was told by Obama of University President Emeritus Theodore Hesburgh’s role on the Civil Rights Commission, which negotiated and drafted the resolutions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  Apparently, Hesburgh was the key to the members finding common ground.   At the end of Obama’s remarks, he was presented with a photo of Hesburgh and Martin Luther King, Jr. at a rally singing We Shall Overcome.  At 92, Hesburgh was in the audience today.


Here are two important excerpts from the proceedings:

President Obama has come to Notre Dame, though he knows well that we are fully supportive of Church teaching on the sanctity of human life, and we oppose his policies on abortion and embryonic stem cell research.

Others might have avoided this venue for that reason. But President Obama is not someone who stops talking to those who differ with him.

Mr. President: This is a principle we share.

As the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council wrote in their pastoral constitution Gaudium et Spes: “Respect and love ought to be extended also to those who think or act differently than we do in social, political and even religious matters. In fact, the more deeply we come to understand their ways of thinking through such courtesy and love, the more easily will we be able to enter into dialogue with them.”

– Rev John Jenkins, President of the University of Notre Dame

…the fact is that at some level, the views of the two camps are irreconcilable. Each side will continue to make its case to the public with passion and conviction. But surely we can do so without reducing those with differing views to caricature.

Open hearts. Open minds. Fair-minded words.

It’s a way of life that has always been the Notre Dame tradition. Father Hesburgh has long spoken of this institution as both a lighthouse and a crossroads. The lighthouse that stands apart, shining with the wisdom of the Catholic tradition, while the crossroads is where “differences of culture and religion and conviction can coexist with friendship, civility, hospitality and especially love.”

…But remember too that the ultimate irony of faith is that it necessarily admits doubt.

…This doubt should not push us away from our faith. But it should humble us. It should temper our passions, and cause us to be wary of self-righteousness. It should compel us to remain open, and curious, and eager to continue the moral and spiritual debate that began for so many of you within the walls of Notre Dame.”

– Barack Obama, President of the United States

Both parties are emphasizing a point I make to my daughters:  unless you are willing to listen and understand, you cannot expect another to do the same.  I would like to see this attempted in Washington.

Mr. President, if you mean what you say, you are welcome at my university.


Test drive of WolframAlpha

I just heard about WolframAlpha from Steve Graham of the U of Chicago Computation Institute, a smart software guy not easily impressed.  Essentially, he said “you’d better see this.”  So I checked it out.  Here’s my first impression.image

WolframAlpha presents a Google-like text entry field, wherein one enters subject matter or a formula.  The application provides “computational” information in response.  Cursory reading of its About section reveals the intent to provide not only look-up data, but computed knowledge, things that can be mathematically or algorithmically derived from the associated data.

Our goal is to build on the achievements of science and other systematizations of knowledge to provide a single source that can be relied on by everyone for definitive answers to factual queries.

They have a flash video that shows off compelling capabilities.

Some of what it can do is a bit like the lesser-known functions of Google in returning the results of mathematical equations or giving quantitative equivalencies (e.g., try typing “90 hectares in square miles”).  Give it more latitude, and it will surprise with concise presentations of relevant data.  Example when entering “next total solar eclipse Seattle.”


But after fiddling with it for 30 minutes, I found that my particular areas of interest correlated with an echoing lack of anything.  I tried solar vs. wind, Acer PC netbook share, top brands, Ford Motor Company share, and many more.  Nada.  Since…

Wolfram|Alpha aims to bring expert-level knowledge and capabilities to the broadest possible range of people—spanning all professions and education levels.

…they have a lot of work to do.  Although for mathematicians and geneticists, I’m prepared to believe it rules.  Given the academic pedigree of those involved, I thought “OK, let’s try a more college oriented computational knowledge challenge.”  For the health conscious college kid looking at calorie tradeoffs, bingo!…


Translation:  one case of Bud has the same calorie count as 17 strawberry (frosted) Pop-Tarts.

They do call it “Alpha,” and they do say there is much work to be done, so I’ll reserve judgement.  But I at least tried testing the obvious question:  is WolframAlpha a threat to Google as a mainstream tool?  I used the #2 Google search term from 2008 on both apps, and got the following results.



Verdict:  Google is safe for now.  Wolfram needs to be careful not to reach a broad audience until he’s got broad topics covered.  Initial frustration will substantially delay retrial among the masses.  But, if you are a higher echelon scientist or technophile, you will probably geek out over this.

Differentiation you can feel

Mike Sievert posted on one of my favorite topics:  brand differentiation and corporate strategy.  I think Mike gives a good round-up of positioning alternatives.  An excerpt below, full text here.

I think of differentiation on four dimensions (see illustration).

To me, differentiation happens on the four dimensions of Product Offering, Customer Connection, Business Model, and Availability. The best companies sustainably out-pace their competition in more than one dimension, or else, really dominate in the one dimension that is most important in their category. In the illustration above, the oval denotes the position of a company that is very undifferentiated in product or customer connection, but very differentiated in business model, leading to sustainably low costs, and in availability. In this case, which might represent a computer company such as Acer, the company reinvests cost advantages to create distribution (availability) advantages.

In contrast to that example, some companies focus on product differentiation. Clearly, product differentiation remains an important dimension. But in my view, it is changing in nature. Today, product differentiation is less and less about rational features and more and more about intangibles. Products that are well differentiated make us FEEL something.

One cannot lead in all differentiating factors.  See Porter.  Companies seem to constantly be looking at the greener grass in their competitors’ yards, rather than tending their own.  Whatever you choose to distinguish your company, do it so well that no other will dare invade your territory.

Regarding Mike’s point about differentiated products making us feel something, I think that is a great benchmark.  A new ThinkPad makes me feel more capable.  The sign-in book at the Crunkleton (a bar in Chapel Hill) makes me feel that I belong.  If non-JIF peanut butter enters the house, I feel betrayed.  A premium is earned by all of those.

Easy to say, hard to do.  This deserves another post.  Short version:  1) actually care about your customers,  2)  listen to and talk with them,  3) surprise them with something they care about,  4) stick with it for a long time.

Upgrading the black pine

I’ve grown a black pine (Pinus Thunbergii) next to the garden entrance for four years untouched.  It was recently time to make it look like a citizen of the Japanese garden.

This took a lot of contemplation, consultation of The Journal of Japanese Gardening, and courageous cutting.

I can’t decide yet whether I made it better or ruined it.  I made one mistake I know of (broke off a top level branch on the left), and I’m sure many of which I’m ignorant.  I do know this is a many step, multiyear process.


2009 04 09_2448


2009 04 19_2535 cropped

Better bacon banner ad

Here is the best banner ad I’ve seen in some time.


It ran at breakfast time on Engadget.  I’m thinking the ad network knows I’m male, and maybe even a Lenovo ThinkPad owner (the computer equivalent of bigger, better bacon).

The merits:  The category is clear (bacon).  The differentiating benefit is clear (bigger).  Potential objections are headed off (bigger might mean just a thicker slab of low quality fat).  They make use an onomatopoetic word to connect to powerful sensory triggers of bacon lust (can’t you just hear and smell the sizzle?).

When clicking through, you land at and get appropriate reinforcement of desire, and additional rational alibis to buy (“but honey, it’s award winning and natural”).  Awards, expert bacon guy, yummy pictures.  And in the lower right anchor spot:  where to buy.


One more click gives a clear list of locations.

But what on earth?  No incentive to buy online!  No FREE BAG OF PORK RINDS if you click to buy a case now and use PayPal?!  These people must not know online marketing.

All I can say is…I’m ready to go hunt and kill some of my own right now.  Maybe I’ll pick up some milk while I’m at it.