A Blog by Jonathan Low


Jul 23, 2014

The Discontent With Content Marketing

Content marketing's first challenge is overcoming the that it is a euphemism. It is advertising masquerading as journalism or other seemingly objective information narratives designed to obscure its ultimate purpose, which is to get customers to buy whatever the content is purportedly about.

Assuming there is nothing overtly misleading in the presentation of the material (though the definition of overt is open to interpretation) there is nothing illegal about this.

Content marketing came to the fore because the net made frantic mobile ADHD-like internet scrolling a perfect environment for those who had a message wrapped in experts' clothing to provide in order to catch the attention of anyone whose neurons or synapses might respond, however momentarily,  when their eyes flicker past a keyword of potential interest. Seemed like a clever idea: rather than wait for actual writers to generate 'content' that those in a hurry - which is to say, everyone - might notice. In reality, however, content marketing results have been disappointing.

The reasons for the dissatisfaction, however, may have to do with our over-reliance on technology - eg, we'll just program a computer to do that - and our under-appreciation of actual writing skills. Turgid prose turns out to be no more of a substitute for compelling or entertaining narrative online than in any other medium. Score a small victory for education, discernment and taste. JL

Alex Kantrowitz reports in Advertising Age:

Many marketers come into the field via functions such as sales, product design and business development. These marketers, she said, come from places where communication is important, but where being provocative, intriguing and informational isn't as valued

The Dark Side of Emotional Intelligence

All of us are being encouraged to get in touch with our own feelings as well as those of the people with whom we interact.

Nowhere has this been more evident than in the workplace, where the imperatives of the post-industrial economy challenge us to manage in ways that reflect the intelligence and skills of the technologically sophisticated workforce.

As a general proposition, this has been considered a net positive: that people should be treated courteously and encouraged rather than threatened is more defensible morally and more effective operationally. But given the power that technology provides, this should not be considered an unalloyed positive. Knowledge can be applied in ways that encourage manipulation and abuse of customers, employees and anyone else in the business eco-system. As the following article explains, creating a values-driven framework within which such intelligence is considered is essential to the effective application of any knowledge-based construct. JL

Adam Grant reports in The Atlantic:

If we’re going to teach emotional intelligence in schools and develop it at work, we need to consider the values that go along with it and where it’s actually useful. It is high time that emotional intelligence is “pried away from its association with desirable moral qualities.”

Curb Your Enthusiam? Netlfix's Growth Redefines It's Competitive Position

One of the verities of business wisdom is that periods of  rapid growth are usually  the most dangerous to management and to the enterprise. The reason is that growth sucks up a lot of resources and because of its psychological allure, can become an end in itself, divorced from strategy - and not infrequently, from reality.

Netflix has exceeded analysts' estimates 31 times in the past nine years. It has now passed the 50 million subscriber threshold and could well continue to grow at a stirring pace. But a corollary of faster growth is that while it gives you more heft with which to challenge current or incipient competitors, it puts you on the radar screen of those who are even larger. Among the effects this has is that it draws more attention to the enterprise's strengths and weaknesses by entities which may be even better endowed - and changes expectation of performance.

Netflix, as the following article explains, has enjoyed a 400 percent increase in its stock price in the last year. But it is also locked in a struggle with cable providers over whose pipes its content is carried. The cable guys argue that Netflix sucks up a lot of bandwidth and should pay more for the privilege, while Netflix pleads net neutrality and the mutual benefits of customer satisfaction. The reality is that Netflix and the cable networks will do what they perceive is right for them, but with an eye towards the day when, inevitably, they become direct competitors. Investors, meanwhile, will no longer view Netflix as a scrappy digital startup but as a full fledged media conglomerate - and their expectations will reflect that change. JL

Spencer Jakab reports in the Wall Street Journal:

While its business model is no house of cards, it may be time to curb your enthusiasm.

Jul 22, 2014

Games People Play: Deposed Dictator Manuel Noriega Sues 'Call of Duty' Game for Exploitation of His Image

Memo to game makers: uh yeah, so this whole image value thing seems to be getting, like, serious.

First it was relatively unknown college athletes demanding royalties for the use of their images on games like EA Sports' NCAA College Football game. Then it was aging child actress Lindsay Lohan suing Grand Theft Auto because in the latest version there is a character who bears a more than casual likeness to her.

So in terms of popular entertainment, we have sports and entertainment covered. What's left? Oh, that's right! Politics. So prototypical Central American dictator Manuel Noriega, formerly the supreme leader of Panama but currently serving 20 years in Panamanian prison for various crimes against the state, is now suing Activision, maker of the Call of Duty shooter game, for misappropriating his image and likeness for profit.

No virtuoso cellists or Nobel prize winning astrophysicists have yet sued game makers, but they cant be far behind. To say nothing of pizza makers, cocktail mixologists and celebrity masseuses. This is a wake-up call not just for the gaming industry, but for the entire tech field. To the extent that anyone thinks their personal data has value, they are going to file a lawsuit demanding a piece of the action. And who can blame them? Hey, even evil drug-dealing dictators have commercial interests. Why should all the loot go to game industry geeks and their venture capitalists? The free data party's over folks. JL

Blake Brittain reports in Bloomberg:

The game has sold nearly 25 million copies worldwide, and Noriega is seeking lost profits and damages for "blatant misuse, unlawful exploitation and misappropriation for economic gain.

Insurers Dispute Half of All Business Claims

Insurance is so boring that few outside the industry pay attention - which is exactly how the insiders like it. 

Whether in a professional or personal setting, we tend not think about it - until we need it. This has allowed certain processes to evolve that greatly benefit the insurers at the expense of the insured. But what it particularly amazing is that businesses appear to suffer to the same degree that individuals do.

This is surprising because given the laser like focus of the financialization avatars on everything from salaries to real estate to legal representation, it would be reasonable to assume that the growth in insurance premiums would have been given the same treatment. Not only does this not appear to be the case, but as the following article explains, insurers challenge fully half of all business claims and take almost three years to settle even the most prosaic claims.

The insurance industry may finally be receiving some of the same scrutiny that so many others have had to endure, almost always to their disadvantage. The only question is why it took so long. JL

Alistair Gray reports in the Financial Times:

Insurers take an average of 35 months to settle disputed claims, often through arbitration proceedings with gagging clauses and for a fraction of the sums sought.

Prepare for the Rebranding of Money

It's emblematic of the old startup issue: people optimistically leave a steady gig with a reputable employer because they believe their talent and ideas can attract capital and skilled colleagues. Only to discover that the former employer's reputation provided a lot more value than they had realized.

Which is obviously not to say that people never add that incremental value and make a go of it. But our various successes with tech have led some to believe that they can improve upon the concept of money.

The bitcoin bubble started it. It was techy, libertarian, tax-advantaged and smarter-than-thou. Until some problems cropped up which, to our credit as members of a socio-economic system, were identified early, proved to be prescient and to which people paid attention. Way to go, humanity.

The challenge faced by those intent on reinventing and rebranding money is that they tend to focus on the tangible issues, like the underlying economic and technical details rather than paying more attention to the crucial intangibles like - as the following article explains - trust, brand and that 'full faith and credit' thing that gets bandied about whenever governments want to issue more debt. The intersection of technology and finance has come in for some well deserved criticism so anyone attempting to supplant the current system is going to have some rather large hurdles to overcome.

Given the persistent growth of various innovative payment systems, it is likely that alternatives will emerge, though they will probably be more incremental and complementary than radically disruptive. But in order to succeed, whatever their structure and purpose, they will require belief on the part of users: ultimately, a brand is a promise to the consumer and money in its various guises, is no different than anything else. JL

Molly Flatt reports in TechCityNews:

The single theme that united disparate tech visions was the importance of trust and the power of branding. For all their disruptive potential, alternative financial models will only convert the mainstream when they offer the consumer a sense of equal, or greater, security than state-endorsed systems and currencies

Jul 21, 2014

The Buy Button: Why Twitter and Facebook Are Clutching Ecommerce

When Twitter and Facebook both announced they were testing new means of making impulse purchases from within their own networks, the presumption was that they wanted a larger piece of the revenue being generated.

That both systems are designed to encourage impulse purchases, eg, those that require little forethought and are most prone to promotion, if not outright manipulation, well, who could be surprised: these were hardly departures from the exploitation ethos that reigns over so much of the big data shopping interface.

But taking on Amazon is no one's idea of an intelligent strategy. So as the following article explains, in a departure from the usual linear ecommerce  progression that leads from attention to engagement to purchase, what the social networks are doing is reversing the sequence so that ecommerce is a source of validation for the other elements of their platforms. Given the broader concerns raised about valuations and effectiveness, this could be a clever tactical advance in the short term, with potential strategic implications down the road. JL

Seth Fiegerman reports in Mashable:

"The motivation has to make the whole advertising process easier, to prove the returns and the conversion rates. If it results in them being more of an acceptable platform for e-commerce... that's sort of gravy. But I don’t think the motivation here is say, 'We’re going to be Amazon.'"