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Is the podcast dead?

Is the podcast dead? And what is a podcast anyway? Back in 2005, the New Oxford American Dictionary hailed it as the Word of the Year and described it as a “digital recording of a radio broadcast or similar program, made available on the Internet for downloading to a personal audio player.” That definition has morphed, however, and now plenty of people view a podcast as both audio and video. It can either be a show with regular episodes, or a lecture or some other one-off event that is downloadable. But the question is, how many people are doing the downloading??

Wizzard Media proclaims podcasting to be “one of the fastest growing and widest distribution mechanisms in the history of media.” Of course, they have a vested interested in saying this, and we’ve heard it before. In March 2006 eMarketer said the “audience for podcasts has shown meteoric growth, particularly in the U.S. It is variously projected to reach between 20 million and 80 million by 2010.” Way to pin down that prediction, eh? A month later, Forrester predicted growth “from 700,000 households in the United States in 2006 to 12.3 million households in the United States by 2010.” That’s a big difference: 12.3 million vs. 80 million. The most trustworthy source, Pew Internet & American Life Project, reported in November 2006 that only 1% of Internet users report downloading a podcast on a typical day.

My quick Web search didn’t yield a lot of stats or reports on podcasting in 2007—perhaps the hype was dying down at this point? But a February 2006 eMarketer report estimated that the total U.S. podcast audience reached 18.5 million in 2007.

I’m pretty skeptical about a lot of these numbers and projections. But I am sure of one thing: Podcasting is still an inexpensive way for a company to get its message out, and the medium can help a company establish a personal, human connection to its clients and customers. And don’t forget that you can also post transcripts of podcasts. At Tendo, we often preach the idea of “write once, use many.” In this case, “record once, use many” is true, too. Julie Jares, managing editor

February 29, 2008 Posted by | blog, Julie Jares, Mobile Content, Multimedia | Leave a comment

A whopper about the Whopper

You’ve probably seen the ads: Burger King employees tell customers that the Whopper is no more. What?? The home of the Whopper has discontinued the Whopper?? Customers freak out, and Burger King eats up—and films—every minute of it.

One blogger says the ads are “breaking all the rules.” I’m not so sure. I thought the ad was clever when I first saw it, but then I gave it more thought. Burger King has been the home of the Whopper for 50 years, so of course customers would be shocked to hear that the company discontinued it. You’d get the same reaction if McDonald’s pulled the plug on the Big Mac, or if Starbucks stopped selling Frappuccinos.

According to a recent marketing newsletter, the ads are “using a negative situation to highlight the popularity of the Whopper.” True? It seems like a given that someone standing at the Burger King counter would be bummed to learn of the Whopper’s demise. But if you went into a McDonald’s and filmed reactions to the same statement, you might not think the Whopper was very popular (and for the record, I’ll take the Western Bacon Cheeseburger from Carl’s Jr. over a Big Mac or the Whopper any day).

So back to the point: Is the ad “breaking all the rules” by lying to customers and then recording their reactions? Is Burger King clever for jumping on the YouTube/viral marketing bandwagon? Maybe. But I’m wondering if the ad campaign is just preaching to the converted.

What do you think? Julie Jares, managing editor

January 14, 2008 Posted by | Brand Marketing, Julie Jares, Web Content | 4 Comments

Elections and MySpace

It’s Election Day in San Francisco and I forgot to vote this morning. Mayor Gavin doesn’t need me, but Measure D might. To assuage my guilt about not supporting the city’s libraries with my vote, I’m brushing up on my presidential candidates so I’m not in the same predicament next year.

I consulted the MySpace Impact “channel.” It launched in the spring and it features profiles of the presidential candidates and other info on current events and politics. Turns out that not only are MySpace and social networking important tools for companies (see John Kovacevich’s recent post), but they are also becoming increasingly important for political candidates. But how are these presidential hopefuls using MySpace? Very differently. Here are my initial thoughts:

Chris Dodd’s site could use some attention from his campaign. His “about me” section sounds canned, even as he sings the praises of two-way communication and not talking “at” people. I, for one, feel talked at. Plus the posted comments include spam—fake offers for free Coach handbags and $500 gift certificates at Macy’s—and he asks visitors to join the Dodd Squad. Puh-leeze. Pretty dated reference, especially for the MySpace crowd.

Fred Thompson hasn’t updated his MySpace blog since early September (come on!), yet he has still collected 12,344 friends (more than Dodd and Giuliani, fewer than McCain and Edwards, and way behind Obama, who had 190,120 friends at last count). Mitt Romney has more than 30,000 friends, and five of them are his photogenic sons.

Rudy’s page is approachable. His “about me” blurb is casual, and one of his campaign workers, Dan Meyers, tells us that he and his colleagues are updating the page. Nice that they don’t pretend to be Rudy. Hillary also tries to be approachable, telling us that she’s a “lousy cook,” “never did well at math,” and recently bought a Carly Simon CD.

Most candidates post only positive comments (Rudy, Hillary, McCain), but I noticed a negative comment on Bill Richardson’s page. A mistake? A deliberate decision to let every voice be heard? Probably the former.

Do you think these candidates are making good use of MySpace? Take a look at their profiles and let me know what you think. —Julie Jares, managing editor

November 6, 2007 Posted by | In the News, Julie Jares, Multimedia, Web Content | 1 Comment

Email newsletters: alive and well

Apparently the rumors of its death were greatly exaggerated. Four years ago in Jakob Nielsen’s first report about newsletter usability, he said the future of email newsletters was grim. More specifically, he said, “There may be none. Legitimate use of email is at war with spam, and spam may be winning.”

Now an in-depth 2007 usability study from Nielsen and company sings a different tune. They say that email newsletters are a powerful communication tool and an effective way to get the word out about a variety of topics, including your company, your industry, prices and sales, and upcoming events. Despite email and spam overload, email newsletters are alive and well.

You have to pay for Nielsen’s study, but you can peruse the executive summary free of charge. His findings, based on testing with 93 users, are an interesting read. —Julie Jares, managing editor

October 23, 2007 Posted by | Email Marketing, Julie Jares, Usability | Leave a comment

NY Times abandons TimesSelect

A few years ago I moved into a new apartment building and quickly learned about the kindness of strangers—one of my new neighbors was snagging my newspaper about once a week. After a few unsuccessful attempts to solve the problem and/or embarrass the thief, I gave up and canceled my subscription. I decided that it was easier and cheaper to read the New York Times online.

So when in 2005 the Times introduced its TimesSelect feature, which cost about $50 a year for non-subscribers, I was bummed. Certain articles, including op-ed columns by Maureen Dowd, Thomas Friedman, and others, were deemed “Select.” Translation: pay to read the juicy stuff. I missed reading the good editorials, but I never seriously considered paying for TimesSelect. And while 227,000 online-only paying customers apparently didn’t mind, the TimesSelect experiment is officially over as of midnight tonight. Score one for the democratization of the Web.

According to the Times, the online landscape has changed (it took them two years to figure this out?). “Readers increasingly find news through search, as well as through social networks, blogs and other online sources,” says the Times in a letter to readers. “In light of this shift, we believe offering unfettered access to New York Times reporting and analysis best serves the interest of our readers, our brand and the long-term vitality of our journalism. We encourage everyone to read our news and opinion—as well as share it, link to it and comment on it.”

Also worth mentioning: Online advertising is on the rise, so the paper has found other ways to cash in on the Web.

But whatever the reasons, I’m a big supporter of the shift to openness and greater accessibility for all on the Web. Here’s hoping the Wall Street Journal soon follows suit. —Julie Jares, managing editor

September 18, 2007 Posted by | Content Strategy, Julie Jares, Web Content | Leave a comment

Marketing the Simpsons

In a clever, highly publicized guerilla marketing campaign for The Simpsons Movie, due out this Friday, 12 7-Eleven convenience stores were converted into Kwik-E-Marts. The stores were unveiled on July 1st in the United States and Canada.

An ABC News article quotes Drew Neisser, CEO of Renegade Marketing Group, praising the promotion: “Among ‘Simpsons’ fans this conversion is sure to enhance their perceptions of 7-Eleven as a cool place to shop. What is really clever about this is the blending of reality and fiction.”

As traditional marketing methods give way to more creative approaches, the fact/fiction blur is happening more and more. It’s also not without precedent, though past gimmicks seem more about capitalizing on a movie’s success rather than promoting it beforehand. I’m thinking about Wonka chocolate bars (courtesy of the 1971 movie) and the more than two dozen locations of the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., which we can blame on Forrest Gump.

I avoid Bubba Gump, but I admit I’m tempted to check out a Kwik-E-Mart. What’s odd about this is that I’ve never been a Simpsons’ devotee. I laugh when I watch it, but it’s a take-it-or-leave-it show for me. So why am I considering driving 40 miles to Mountain View just to shop at a Kwik-E-Mart? I hadn’t even heard of Krusty-O’s cereal until a few weeks ago. It’s a marketing gimmick, yet I’m intrigued. And apparently I’m not the only one. According to Wikipedia.com, the redesigned 7-Eleven stores are showing a 30 percent increase in profits. The proof is in the pudding—doh!—I mean the donuts.

But here’s the real question: Will the promotion encourage me to see the movie? Probably not. So if I buy a six-pack of Buzz Cola at the Kwik-E-Mart but I don’t see the film, is the promotion still a success? Post a comment and let me know what you think. —Julie Jares, managing editor

July 24, 2007 Posted by | Brand Marketing, Julie Jares, Target Audience | Leave a comment

Cinema surprises

As Chris Zender pointed out in her May 22nd blog posting, several TV shows have used innovative marketing techniques to promote their shows, including cross-media offerings like content-rich experiences online.

The marketing of films is changing, too. One tactic that has become increasingly common is the movie "Easter egg”—a scene shown after the end credits have rolled (according to Wikipedia, these post-credit scenes are also called stingers.

In the 1980s, stingers were typically funny additions at the end of comedies. Remember when Ferris tells the audience to go home at the end of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off? Movies like Airplane!, Scrooged, and other funny flicks from the decade also have stingers.

More recently, the practice has evolved as marketing has become more sophisticated. While Wikipedia’s list has a disclaimer that it’s incomplete, the site lists 11 stingers for the entire 1980s, whereas it lists 16 stingers in 2006, and eight so far in 2007. Stingers are no longer limited to comedies—dramas routinely use them as well. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End has a bonus scene, if you’re patient enough to wait for the endless end credits. And franchise flicks often promote the next chapter: Matrix Reloaded had a stinger for The Matrix Revolutions. And X-Men 3: The Last Stand has a scene that reveals that a key character is still alive. Pique the interest of the audience and entice them with what’s too come. Now that’s good marketing. ―Julie Jares, managing editor

June 8, 2007 Posted by | Content Strategy, Julie Jares, Multimedia, Web Content | Leave a comment

Outsourcing to the outer limits?

Two people sent me the same article this morning about outsourcing. Seems that a website in Pasadena, California, is outsourcing its coverage of Pasadena politics to two journalists living in—are you sitting down?—India.

In this case, the decision to outsource seems to be based solely on money. The editor and publisher, James Macpherson, estimates that he’ll pay $20,800 in salary for the two writers, who will write about 15 stories per week per person. Cheap deal. The article quotes professors at USC and UCLA bemoaning the state of American journalism, and I have to agree. In his defense, Macpherson says that Pasadena city council meetings are available on the Internet, but puhleeze. If you’re covering a city’s political scene by watching Internet video, you shouldn’t call yourself a journalist. Where’s the local color and nuance? The “man on the street” reactions? Where’s the real reporting?

That said, sometimes outsourcing makes perfect sense. Plus it isn’t always about lowering costs or about hiring someone on the other side of the globe. I “outsource” plenty of tasks in my personal life, usually because I don’t have the time (cooking), the inclination (housekeeping), or the skills (anything that requires a tool box) to achieve the results I want. I’d save some money if I kept these tasks “in-house,” but to me, the benefits outweigh the costs.

At Tendo, our clients hire us for some of the same reasons. They might be terrific at building cars or developing great technologies, but they don’t specialize in creating customer communication programs, nor do they have the manpower to take on the associated challenges. And they don’t need to: They hire us for our expertise and our outside perspective while they focus on their core business.

Tendo, in turn, sometimes outsources, too. We have a stable of freelance writers, for example, that we use when we need specific expertise in a certain subject area. You can’t always have the resident expert on high-energy nuclear physics on staff.

Outsourcing has its limitations—I don’t want writers in Seoul giving me the scoop about Gavin Newsom’s latest scandal—but it can be an efficient and logical solution to a business challenge. —Julie Jares, managing editor

May 11, 2007 Posted by | Custom Content, In the News, Julie Jares | Leave a comment

The business of March Madness

Every March the requisite articles come out about how productivity goes down due to March Madness distractions: filling out office pools, watching games online, taking long lunches at the nearest sports bar, and gloating over friends who picked a #16 team to go to the Final Four. Since college basketball has been on my mind this week, I decided to think about the life and business lessons I could potentially glean from March Madness. Is this just an excuse to read SI.com and legitimize my NCAA research? Maybe. But I did come up with five lessons:

1) Hard work pays off. If you work hard for the whole season and you come out on top, you will be rewarded with a No. 1 seeding like North Carolina. In the business world, you can work hard and still not be Bill Gates, but it does reap rewards.

2) Prepare for the unexpected (aka, don’t underestimate your opponent). Just when you think your bracket looks perfect, a George Mason will come out of nowhere and spoil your party. This can happen at the office, too, so be prepared.

3) Overall performance is key. Don’t judge a team by its scoring or its famous coach. Look what happened to Texas Tech―one and done. You need to consider the whole package and make informed decisions.

4) Perfection is impossible. I stumbled on a site today that is offering one million dollars to anyone with a perfect bracket. That’s because it doesn’t happen. Mistakes happen, you just need to fix them. Or in the case of March Madness, accept them and hope you’re not eliminated.

5) Office pools have better odds than Vegas. OK, this is more of a gambling lesson, but it might come in handy.

Julie Jares, managing editor

March 15, 2007 Posted by | In the News, Julie Jares, Tendo View | 1 Comment

Freedom of speech?

As the Web becomes more and more interactive, news organizations and others may be shifting away from interactivity. According to an article on KFMB-TV’s website in late January, "Yahoo quietly pulled a discussion feature from its news site in recent weeks. Before, readers were allowed to post comments on individual news stories. The message boards were suspended, according to a note from Yahoo’s general manager for news, Neil Budde, because they allowed "a small number of vocal users to dominate the discussion."

The article goes on to say that most news organizations don’t allow readers to freely publish comments on their sites. I did a quick search and found that some news blogs, and also corporate blogs, do still publish comments. Whether readers can "freely publish comments," however, is another question.

As readers, we may never know what’s been weeded out, but a quick peek can be telling. For example, NBC’s Meredith Veira has a blog called "Behind the scenes with Today’s leading lady." After my unscientific perusal of the comments, I’d say they run the gamut from gushing to highly critical.

Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz blogs regularly and Sun is courting responses. The February 6 home page asks readers to "comment on what Sun’s CEO is blogging about." Readers are complying, but I have a sneaking suspicion that the comments are being screened, and not just for language or appropriateness. The 21 comments in response to Jonathan’s January 30 blog posting are either positive or somewhat neutral. Is that possible? I have my doubts.

Reader feedback is key to a blog’s success. Comments are often interesting to read, they can spark debates, and they show that the blogger is touching on topics that spark interest. But how does a reader’s right to express opinions co-exist with a company’s right―or desire―to control messaging on its own website? ―Julie Jares, managing editor

February 12, 2007 Posted by | Customer Care, In the News, Julie Jares, Web Content | Leave a comment