Anachostic

My tagline, let me show you it.

Tag Archives: marketing

A Good Idea Made Better

Driving to work today, I saw a dumpster truck for the disposal/moving company, College Hunks Hauling Junk.  It made me wonder how that name came to be.  Maybe the original founders were considered hunks and were in college and decided to haul junk to make money.  It makes me wonder if the founders approached other college kids and offered them a job on the premise that they would get paid for essentially working out.  You get paid and you maintain your “hunk” status.  Sounds like a win-win.

Well times have changed, so I’m going to create the next iteration of this business model.  I call it: Middle-aged Shitheads Being Crossfit-heads.  And I already have the commercial planned out.  But the pitch to the potential employees is still the same.  They can get paid while doing their ridiculous exercises.

We open the commercial with old, large, grouchy moving men slowly moving pieces of furniture from a house to a truck.  “When you’re moving, you understand that time is a crucial factor.  Why be held up when your moving company moves like a glacier?”

Switch the scene to a few thin, ripped people (men and women!) in crazy-tight spandex dashing back and forth between the truck and house with household items.  The difference is, in the true crossfit standard, the items are just chucked into the back of the truck.  You see, the focus is on speed, not quality.

The subsequent scenes reinforce the absurdity of applying crossfit to moving.  Boxes and completely unpacked articles piled up in the back of the truck; someone pitching clothes from a pile like a dog burrowing in the ground; someone struggling with a heavy item and two or three others crowded around him shouting at him to “finish it” instead of helping out; a couch being flipped end over end through the house out to the truck; gratuitous celebrations after moving a box.  You get the point.  The commercial could get lengthy.

At the end of the commercial, there would be a teaser for a sister company, Shithead Servant Services, which specializes in personal household services, like handyman (cue scene of hanging a picture with truck tire and sledgehammer), gardening (scene of “battle-roping” with hoses – or fire hoses), and carrying groceries inside (Guys looking at grocery bags in truck. “It’s at least two sets of Gurpals!”  “AUUGH!  I HATE GURPALS!!” “Oh wait, these are going to be Durkels.”  “YEAAHH!  I LOVE DURKELS!!!” Guys then hauling in all bags at once, then obviously celebrating on completion.)

I’ll be rich.

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The In Thing Is Crap

The place that I work at recently hired a new marketing person.  We didn’t have one before, but I guess we needed one now.  This feels a bit like my rant about the Mozilla Foundation hiring a marketing person who had to bring in enough new money to pay for himself and make the company more profitable.  But anyway, that’s not the point.

This new person has some fresh new ideas for how to market our company: videos.  You kind of have to understand the industry of our company is pretty tight.  Everyone knows who all the other players are here.  We’re not trying to break into new fields, certainly.  Yet somehow, we’re supposed to be gaining new clients.  That’s not really the point of this either.

To get more to the point, we had a day where a production team came to the offices and shot video of executives and some random videos of people pretending to work.  You know, it’s all staged, it’s not candid.  As part of the team’s visit, we were supposed to participate in a company-wide group photo.  It’s going to be so cool.  It’s going to be shot by a “drone”!!

So we’re bussed to our biggest company office and over about 20 minutes in the noontime heat (the worst time and the worst lighting to take a picture), a drone whizzed back and forth, forward and back, while we just stared at it, or talked to each other, or waved, or cheered, or whatever else the video team wanted.  It was a dull experience.  Not cool, not exciting.

It’s been about six weeks since that photoshoot and we’ve just been given a sneak peek of one of the pictures from the session.  I opened it with a lot of curiosity and immediately was underwhelmed.  There’s not a single crisp pixel in the photo.  And I’m not sure what I expected.  I mean, a drone video camera is probably 1080p (surely not 4k) which is uh, 2 megapixels?  And we know that the megapixel count is less meaningful than sensor size, so how big could a drone video camera’s sensor be?

Now a much less exciting photoshoot would have involved a rented cherry picker and a photographer shooting a quality DSLR on a tripod with a low-aperture, wide-angle lens.  That would give something a bit larger to work with.  The photo we got was 3840×2160.  Basically a 1080p video still doubled in size.  Also, the photographer could have taken a series of high-framerate shots and used software to do face swaps and prevent some of the worse headshots of some of the employees.

So, drones are big now, I get it.  It’s cool to have drone videos, sure, I agree.  Maybe having a video of one buzzing through the halls of the office could be neat, too.  But drones are not cameras.  They are not created for photo quality.  The plan to use a drone for such an important and expensive photo was poorly-conceived as best.  The result was crap, no matter how cool it was.

SpamBastard–1aauto.com

I had an application idea at one time and actually finished writing it, but ended up never doing anything with it once it was live.  It was spambastard.com and its purpose was to catch companies that would sell, lose, or otherwise mishandle your email address info.  The concept was simple.  You sign up for their site using their domain name @spambastard.com and if any email comes in with a mismatch between the FROM domain name and the TO domain name (as the username, before the @), the email address would be considered compromised.

That domain and application is long dead, but I’ve been able to replicate the same concept with my personal email domain.  That eliminates the hassle of creating a second account for every site I sign up for (one with my real email and one with a spambastard email).  To date, I’ve only had a few cases where I’ve had to take action.  Those cases are:

  • albumartexchange.com – There are many people including myself who posted on their forum and complained that they received PayPal phishing emails to their unique email address.  The website did not respond.
  • lakelandlelectric.com – That debacle was chronicled already.  The utility company did follow up with an explanation of how it happened and how the process was unfortunately legal.  They said they would push for tougher laws on keeping customer information private.  This prompted a follow-up email from the spammer who was incredulous that government would try to reduce transparency.  See, transparency is only good when it works in your favor.
  • paypal.com – This got compromised after only nine people knew of its existence.  Whether it was sold or stolen, I don’t know for sure, but I am pretty confident that some eBay seller has a compromised account and a spammer is looting their customer list.

Now we can add to the list – 1aauto.com.  I placed an order with their site in January (remember when the punks broke the mirror off my car?).  Today, I get a political email from John Kasich’s New Day For America to that email.  So I immediately send a message to 1aauto.com saying they’ve either sold or given away my info or their customer database has been hacked.  So which is it?  I got a pretty quick response.

Hello and thank you for your email.

I do apologize that you received a spam email to your account. I can assure you that your information is secure and we have not experienced any kind of hacking. We do keep our customer information confidential and secure and have several measures put in place to prevent against fraud and stolen identity.

Thank you for notifying us. We will keep tabs on this and look into what we can do to prevent this from happening in the future.

So, I guess the answer is the owner sold out his customers to promote his choice of political candidate.  The fact that this happened at all negates the statement “We do keep our customer information confidential“.  As far as what they can do to prevent it from happening in the future, that’s simple.  Don’t do what you did again.

Thanks to spam law requirements, the spam email footer confirms the email address that it was sent to.  It tells me that I was added to the list on 2/24/16 via opt-in (gee, I don’t remember that), and gives me ways to unsubscribe.

There’s no sense in unsubscribing.  The email address is out in the wild and is now worthless.  Do I want to spend my life unsubscribing from every email campaign that gets that email or do I want to kill off the email?  The choice is pretty simple.

This scenario makes me pity people who only have a single email address, like @gmail.com or @outlook.com or @yahoo.com.  They don’t have the option of closing their account or changing their address.  Consider how easy it is for me, every email (except my personal email) is known to exactly one company.  Email gets compromised, only one place to change it.

The Way Things Used To Be

Today at work, I was CC’d on an email for an upcoming project involving some work with some company or other.  Someone on their side had a bunch of “technical” questions that didn’t make a lot of sense to me.  I don’t doubt that they were relevant questions, but they seemed to be in another language.  It reminded me of a time long ago at an old job when I sometimes had to work with pharmaceutical companies who were in regulated environments.  They used words and phrases in a way that meant something very specific.  If you weren’t in the industry, you wouldn’t understand, and they would use that against you.  You wouldn’t get to work with them unless you spoke their language.

So that I could try and understand this company, I visited their website.  They are a multi-national finance company, and as such, you can imagine they are the least Internet-savvy company ever.  They may actually be the least marketing-savvy company ever.  But, I remember these days.  I remember when sites like this were normal.

Back in those days, the metric for a good site was how much information you could get online.  Well, that is still the metric, sort of, but today, that information is the customer-useful type, like inventory, pricing, technical manuals, warranty status, you know, exposing your internal data to the world.  But, when you don’t have that type of data, like if you’re a bank and not a retailer or manufacturer, you still want your site to look huge.  What do you do?  You fill it with bullshit – lots and lots of bullshit.  And this site delivered.

I was amazed at the volume of verbiage on the site and how vapid it all was.  It was more than I could enumerate myself, with links going all over the place and a navigation menu so large, it had its own close button.  I downloaded a website copier and set it to work on their site.  It found 95 pages!  And that was just on their home domain.  They had a couple of other subdomains, too.  One was 65 pages and the other was a WordPress site, so the site downloader downloaded author pages, archive pages, individual pages, etc, so the pagecount was unusable.  Still, being a webmaster for 150 pages of content has to be a nightmare.

And all of these pages said nothing.  And some pages said even less than that because they were grammatically incorrect.  Maybe I can give a pass on that because the site is multi-lingual.  Anyway, my original reason for going to the website was to find out what they do.  On one of the four (FOUR!) pages of the About Us section, one of the paragraphs reads:

The goal we have proposed is that in each of the many contacts we have with our stakeholders a differential experience to provide sustainable value is conveyed. So we have established our vision as a company and some guiding principles defining our commitment towards those stakeholders.

That is what the entire site is like.  What kind of zombie composes page after page of meaningless, worthless garbage?  Well, a long time ago in another job, that might have been me.  Not likely, though.  That old company got some decent contracts, but not big enough to write hundreds of pages of dreck.

I also remember when I could think and write in that nebulous language.  My early websites for my own consulting work may have been like that, trying to make my one-man shop sound like a large company (it didn’t work).  But everyone’s grown up now.  Being a lone consultant doesn’t have a stigma and businesses can be proud to be whatever size they are.  But some companies still seem to be stuck in the past.

How Staples Is Enticing Me

I get emails from Staples because sometimes they’re pretty good with coupons and whatnot.  They show up just about every day.  What isn’t very good about them (aside from the frequency) – and this is a rapidly deteriorating condition – is their subject lines.  I have a pretty deep-seated hatred for click-bait headlines, and running close behind that is a distaste for pointless headlines.  Here’s a bunch of recent examples:

  • ⌛ You hit it big! Open asap for a COUPON!
  • We need your attention! 20% off toner
  • Access: GRANTED.  Buy 1, get the 2nd 50% off!
  • Don’t waste this ☞ You’re first in line to get this COUPON for 20% off…
  • We dare you to miss out: Your sneak peek is here.
  • You’ve unlocked it! It’s official, you’re in. >>Save 60%<<
  • You were chosen: Last-minute gifts inside.
  • You checked your inbox just in time: Get up to $280 off.
  • Let’s see you resist this: COUPONS inside! You hit it big.
  • You rock! You checked your inbox just in time: Get up to $300 off laptops!
  • 🙂 Yes, it’s true! What are you waiting for?

This goes on and on.  Each time I think I have enough examples, they just keep coming…  Who the hell is writing this garbage?  Are they speaking to children?  Is anyone going to be fooled into thinking that they are getting some sort of exclusive offers?  So many questions.

You know when this started?  10/16/2015.  And it was identifiable by the first emoji ever used in the subject line of their emails.  This suggests that the marketing person is young and hip.  Young and hip doesn’t always mean smart.  Just as the younger generation is failing to learn proper composition in its many forms, they are woefully ignorant about business communications.  Staples is a business supply company and primarily communicates with professionals.

Regardless of the target audience, which is being completely ignored here, there are some simple rules with regard to correspondence, whether electronic or physical.  The rule being shat upon here is: “The subject line identifies the context of the letter”, as in “This letter is regarding…”  This is not achieved with “You were chosen” or “We dare you to miss out”.  Seriously, you, a company, are extending a challenge to me, a potential customer, to not purchase something from you.  I don’t think you realize just how easy that is to do.

Ok, I’ll admit, I don’t know if the marketing person/people are “young”.  But they definitely seem to be “young” in experience.  To be honest, the subjects really seem like they were written “offshore” by spam/scam professionals.  I can say that Staples trying to portray itself in this fashion is definitely a turn-off.  If I want to shop at a goofy store, I’ll go to Ollie’s Bargain Outlet.  Not even Big Lots has such corny emails.

Balancing On A Fence

One of the bigger time-sucks in my life is the image sharing community, imgur.  Recently, there has been a growing dissatisfaction with the method in which imgur handles advertisements.  I honestly can’t remember what it was like before the latest implementation, which I guess is a pretty good endorsement for “the old way.”  But the new way is certainly ruffling a lot of feathers.

Imgur has chosen to go the route of “Native Advertisements” in which ads look like normal content.  It’s a dangerous game because it risks having your users feel deceived once they realize they were just fed an advertisement and didn’t realize it.  Imgur has worked harder to make ads more identifiable while at the same time, tried to make the ad look more like regular content.  It’s not working out too well.

image

I understand the need for advertisements from all three sides of the fence: the seller, the advertising host, and the consumer.  Each party has priorities that can hinder the effectiveness of advertising.  Understanding these needs and balancing them can make advertising better for everyone.  Come to think of it, there are actually only two sides of the fence: seller and consumer.  The host is the fence.

The seller has a product or service that they need to sell in order to stay in business.  With the assumption that the business is legitimate and their intentions are noble – that they really believe in their offering – there shouldn’t be any problem with seeing their advertising and hearing their sales pitch.  The problem is, the product may not be applicable for everyone, like selling cattle fencing to a wall street banker.  But – and this is a valid argument for the seller – that banker may know a rancher and may comment to them that they saw an interesting product recently.  That’s what ads are supposed to do, inform. 

Now, the seller can be blinded by this natural benefit and may insist on everyone seeing their ads as many times as possible, because people have naturally short memories (“I saw this thing; no idea who made it or what it was called…”).  This results in fatigue and resentment for the consumer.

The advertising host has a bunch of potential consumers to whom advertisements can be shown.  In return, the host gets paid by the seller.  This helps pay the bills so the host can continue business.  The host has competing objectives: to keep the consumers happy and to keep the sellers happy.  Being in this position is not easy because pleasing one too much will upset the other.

The consumer, when visiting a host, gets served ads from a seller.  If they are shown too many ads or unusable ads, they will rebel against the host and maybe the seller.  I do believe that if an ad is relevant and presented in the correct manner, the consumer will not be offended.  If the ad can’t inform or educate, at least it should entertain.  Later ads on Imgur, from Old Spice and Ebay proved this to be true.

So, with the early uprising at imgur about ineffective advertisements, I thought I’d spend a few brain cycles on how I would implement an advertising mechanism into a website.  The primary thing I would want to ensure is that my users had a level of control without being able to completely eliminate advertisement.  That’s the balance every advertising host must maintain.

I came up with the following design.  It’s greatly simplified to just illustrate some talking points.

image

The Campaigns and CampaignPosts are structures for ads and a means to group them.  For example, on imgur, there were ads for the upcoming movie Ted 2 (which were universally hated).  I’ve seen at least 3 different ads.  So the Campaign would be “Ted 2 Movie” and there would be 3 or more CampaignPosts under it.

Now, how does the user have control over this?  There are two ways: at the post level and at the campaign level.  When an ad is shown, the ImpressionCount of the UserCampaignPosts is incremented.  Imgur has voting arrows, so the downvote arrow would operate like my hypothetical website’s “Do not show again” button.  This would set a negative rating for the CampaignPost and it would not be shown to the user again.

The great part of this design is the advertising dashboard for the user to allow them to disable entire campaigns.  Why would you let a user do that?  Well, there are some things that people are opposed to on principle and it is futile to convince them otherwise.  In fact, displaying more ads to them would hurt your cause.  Just think of pro-life/pro-choice ads, or anything political, or Mac/PC.

On this advertising dashboard, a user would see all the active campaigns for the website and could opt out of them.  The CampaignPosts within each Campaign would not be shown to that user anymore.  Sounds really simple.  But! An advertiser has paid for these ads to be seen and as the host, you need to show them.  If it was just as easy as unchecking all the checkboxes, no one (who was registered on the website) would ever see any ads.

So, in order to opt out of a Campaign, all of the CampaignPosts need to have an ImpressionCount greater than zero.  That means a user has to see every ad for a campaign at least once.  Is that fair?  I think it is.  I envision it being similar to this conversation:

Seller: “Eat at Joes, please.”
Consumer: “No.”
Seller: “Joe’s has good food.”
Consumer: “I do not eat at Joe’s and never will.”
Seller: “Ok, just hear me out and I won’t bug you anymore.”
Consumer: “Fine, go ahead.”
Seller: “Joe’s has healthy lunch options.”
Seller: “Joe’s is open late on weekends for after-party recharging.”
Seller: “Joe’s is also active in the community, sponsoring children’s sports programs.”
Seller: “That’s all I got.  Thanks for listening.”
Consumer: “Still not convinced. No thank you.”

The seller gets all the views and the consumer, even if they just pass over them and don’t pay attention, still gave an effort.  So to mimic that sort of offer to opt out of future ads by viewing all current ads in one batch, that same functionality would be in the dashboard – to view all ads for a campaign.  And they would remain there just in case a consumer had a partial memory of one and wanted to get more info for someone else.  But, once all the current ads are shown, the option to opt out would be enabled.  Once the Campaign is opted-out, future ads won’t be shown.

If you’re thinking ahead or you’ve got a scheming mindset like I do, you might wonder why a seller wouldn’t just launch a bunch of campaigns with one ad each, so consumers would constantly have to visit the dashboard to opt out of each campaign.  That onus is on the host and it’s managed very easily – via cost.  Campaigns should cost more to start up, but adding more ads to an existing campaign is more cost-effective.  Or maybe it’s a sliding scale that the more active campaigns you have going, the more it costs.  In that way, the host protects its users and can balance risk vs. reward.

The host also gets the benefit of an incentive for people to register for the website.  Registering would give a user the ability to manage the advertisements.  Non-logged-in users would get ads from all active campaigns.

In this case, everyone compromises and everyone gets some benefits.  The seller can’t spam the consumers if they choose to opt out, but they do get the opportunity to “speak their piece” in its entirety at least once.  The host may not get as much money (if they are paid per impression), but they will have a happier user base.  The consumer has the opportunity to control what ads they want to see, but in order to block a campaign, they have to see all the ads in it first.

It’s not all bad for the consumer.  I can imagine there could be some compelling ads, or some from a company they respect that the consumer may choose to keep active.  The host’s logic needs to be dynamic enough to not show the same ads over and over and to possibly reduce the number of ads to the most engaged users.  Maybe try to hit a target number of impressions per week per user.  Once a user is nearing that number, back off on the ads.

A lot of times, I find that my ideas are too altruistic and give people the benefit of the doubt too much.  Fortunately, my default is not to be jaded and cynical, despite the number of posts in the Rant category.  The problem with dealing with people is that compromise is always a last resort.  So this idea would probably never be accepted because no one wins.

Door-To-Door Windshield Replacement

Yup, that’s right.  I had two people in my neighborhood going door to door telling people they would replace their windshield for free by submitting claims to their insurance.  Oh, this is right up my alley.  First, a story from my past.

Somewhere around 5 years ago, when I had my Acura, I had a small crack develop on my windshield.  Here where I live, there’s some deal that insurance companies have to fix cracked windshields for free.  So, I call my insurance company and say I need my windshield fixed because there is a crack.  They say no problem and send a company out for the repair.

The repair company looks at my car and calls me outside.  They say I need to replace my windshield.  The Acura is at least 8 years old and has like 150k miles on it.  I say, you can patch that, the technology will handle this.  They say they’ll check it again and I go back inside.  They call me back and say that I need my windshield replaced.  I tell them I want a second opinion and I’ll call my insurance company again.  They weren’t happy, but what could they do?

I call the insurance company and explain to them that I felt they were being ripped off by the company they sent first and I wanted someone who would come out and patch my windshield.  They obliged me and when I went out to meet the new repair people, I went to show them the small crack I wanted patched.  The crack wasn’t small anymore.  The previous company had pressed on the crack and expanded it before I dismissed them.  I was furious.

Despite that, the new company was able to patch the larger crack and it never grew for as long as I had the car.  So you can say I am a fan of patching whenever possible.

Jump forward to today and I have this hyper dude telling me that yeah, I have some chips in my windshield and they can replace it for free just by getting my insurance information.  I start my objection by saying I am a fan of patching, not replacing.  He makes some claim that if you have more than 6 chips (and he’s sure there’s at least that many), your insurance will recommend you replace.  I think that’s bullshit, so I just say that replacement is unnecessary.

He says that I don’t pay for anything.  The insurance company pays for it.  I hold up my finger like the educated man I am and reply, “Ah, but I do.  The cost of replacements is reflected in everyone’s insurance cost.”  Deftly countering that argument he says, “You realize you’ve paid for this many times over already, right?”  So I don’t have to pay for this but I’ve already paid for it many times over.  This guy is an uber-salesman.  I just shrug and say, “Hey, I’m just doing my part to keep costs down for everyone.”

I explained to him my glass has already been replaced once and I like the one I have because it’s a little more tinted than the factory glass.  Somehow he still thinks he has a sale, so he says he can put a tint strip along the top.  That’s fucking ugly.  He throws out another option.  No.  Not interested.  So that starts a whole new argument about how this isn’t the right windshield for my car.  What?  Then he says the manufacturer of my glass isn’t that good of quality.  He will guarantee his glass with a lifetime warranty.  Eye-roll.

So I educate him that the car is 5 years old, has been through a flood, is on its second engine, has 190k miles, and just got repaired from a rear-end accident.  The windshield is really the least of my concerns.  At this point he is laughing at me.  Not the kind of laugh that I’m out-arguing him, but more of a mocking laugh.  Fuck this guy.

He shakes my hand and thanks me for my time.  I decided to give him an honest offer that I would call them if I did choose to have my windshield replaced.  I asked for a business card.

“I don’t have any cards.  All I have are invoices.  Invoices for people who are getting windshield replacements.”  Well then.  You can go fuck yourself and your fly-by-night scam business.  Boy, I wish I paid more attention when he talked about his company so I could report them for fraud.

Getting Your Due

I mentioned in a previous post about a blogger who had posted something that didn’t really sit right with me.  When I went to confirm some details in that prior post, I saw that I used this post’s title in that post.  So, I guess I still have the same issues.

In the previous post, I was saying how the entrepreneurial lifestyle isn’t for everyone, and certainly not me.  Aside from the level of effort it takes to start it up and keep it going, I also have significant issues with a practice I have been seeing more frequently.  That practice is the monetization of information.  One blog that I follow has reviews on random products that are interesting.  Recently, that blogger started linking to those products using affiliate links so they get a slight reimbursement for their referrals.  That was never the case before.  And this other blogger recently made a post expressing the same thing, that he needs to start using affiliate links whenever he is giving advice or recommendations.

This bothers me for so many reasons.  First and foremost is the WIIFM aspect (What’s In It For Me?).  WIIFM isn’t always bad, but when the only thing you are interested in is money, I think it is.  Why should someone promote another’s website/product/service?  Well, you could because you want to see the company succeed or because you want your readers to benefit from a great product/service.  Or, somewhat selfishly, you want the company to stay in business because you use that company too and you need them to stick around.  Or, as I see these affiliate links, you don’t particularly care about the company or your readers and just want some money. 

Affiliate links are a scourge on the Internet.  Once you start down that path, it’s a very short walk until you get to entire websites that trick people who have misspelled a domain name.  What “entrepreneur” had the idea of “Oh you misspelled macys.com as macies.com.  Here’s a link to the real site you were looking for.  By the way, anything you purchase after clicking on that link will give me a small payout.  It won’t affect anything you do, but it’s just a way for you to pay me back for this helpful site I created to correct your misspelling.  You’re welcome.”

Along with the WIIFM issue is the viewpoint that information is not free.  Something like “I could tell you what you want to know, but I need a small payment first.”  Some people could argue that it’s a fair exchange.  The information is there for free if you can find it, but if you want a shortcut over the bridge, you need to pay the toll operator.  It sounds like a “victim of success” complaint.  You want to be an authority, but once you are an authority, you’re in too much demand and so you have to employ discouragements.

Before I make this too long of a rant, here’s an example of linking to something just because you want to:

This Kickstarter is a book of comics.  It’s organized by Matt Bors, who is a comic writer I’ve followed for quite a while.  He went to a paid website and let his personal website die, and I didn’t follow him to his new home.  However, I try to support him when I can, and this is one of those times.  If you like to get world perspectives through visual media, like comics and illustrations, this book would suit you well.

Maker Shack

Radio Shack has been on the decline for a very long time and now is bankrupt.  The sad thing is that Radio Shack is missed out on a new and upcoming market.  I’m not the brightest and most visionary person out there, so I’m amazed that no one else has really considered this.

I think most people agree that Radio Shack lost its way when it started focusing on cheap consumer electronics because its sales of raw electronic parts was declining.  Then it got into mobile phones, like every other electronic retailer.  And then it lost whatever it was that made it different.

My proposal would be for Radio Shack to return to its roots as a hobbyist store.  Yes, it’s entirely likely that being in that market space means a number of stores will have to close.  But, if you want to be successful, you need to stand out.

The stores should stock all manner of hobbyist, DIY, build/maker gear.  There’s no shortage of it now.  You have Raspberry Pi, Arduino, Makey Makey, LittleBits, and more.  Plus, 3d printers are talked about a lot, but no one really talks about where to buy them.  Have an advertising blitz that establishes Radio Shack as a source of 3d printers and DIY kits and you have brand recognition.  3d printing=Radio Shack.  The old logic was that if you wanted to build something electronic, you go to Radio Shack.  That thought can be brought back.

Of course, you can keep the electronic parts around.  Actually, there needs to be another competitor in the PC parts arena.  Best Buy is everywhere and their prices suck.  Tiger Direct is much better, but has far fewer stores.  In fact, Tiger Direct has exited the retail space.

The next thing that needs to be done is something that I’ve been hearing about with stores like Macy’s.  Turn the retail stores into warehouses and distribution centers.  Ship online orders to customers and replenish nearby stores from other stores.  Stock levels can immediately be determined, so why not?  It will keep your staff busy, too.

There needs to be an easy way for a customer to find something, whether it is in the store, a nearby store, or further away.  Then the customer can choose to go to the other store to buy it, or have it shipped.

And although this isn’t really part of the plan, why aren’t companies, especially tech companies, doing something with youth to promote build/make?  Home Depot has children workshops, why can’t Radio Shack?  Why can’t a representative visit schools and give a talk or presentation involving building and creating your own things?

But, aside from the company now essentially out of business, I recently read an article (and article comments) that indicated Radio Shack had a toxic corporate culture that would not be easily fixed.  So I doubt my idea would work right out of the gate.  There would have to be massive house-cleaning, then the rebuilding of employee trust. 

All Things Considered

Since I’ve been working on my CD collection, I’ve been thinking about CDs a lot lately. There’s a lot of talk on the death of the CD format, with it being replaced by digital downloads. On top of that, there’s talk about the music industry not making any money anymore. On top of that, there’s the discussion of digital piracy and how to get people to pay for music again.

All these issues are intertwined.  The industry is losing money in some areas, but not in all.  Part of it is because of the third point, piracy, but another good part of it is that there are now multiple, durable playback mediums.  CDs are very durable, and where they may fail, digital copies and CDRs fill in the gaps.  So the industry doesn’t have the opportunities to resell an entire collection to a consumer in a new format, and the instances where the industry has to sell replacements has decreased, too.  You can see the industry trying to adapt by selling special editions and remastered versions.  It’s not working out all that well.

Some say the CD is dead for the same reason “books are dead” – because the physical media takes up space.  I recently read about a company whose purpose is to license out-of-print classical music and create CDs on-demand.  It made me wonder if the entire music business could be like this.  (I’ve also wondered if automobile sales could be like this, too.)

My issue with that concept is that CDRs do have a limited shelf life.  Supposedly, aluminum CDs also have a shelf life, but that is yet widely proven.  Also, for me, buying a CDR is no different than downloading the music and making the CDR myself.  So, unless someone is willing to archive the glass masters and one-off actual CDs, I’ll stick with my originals.

So, let’s think of the future where manufacturing CDs is obsolete and digital or CDR is pretty commonplace.  In that time, real CDs have value – they are elevated to collectables.  So, why can’t the industry make that happen a little sooner?  Just manufacture less CDs and let the market decide who wants to pay to own a physical copy of the music instead of owning a license to a digital copy.  The CD becomes the collectable.  The industry saves money from having a lower on-hand inventory.  CDs gain a marketing edge as “limited quantity”.

In some of my daydreams where I am a famous musician or maybe the owner of a record label company, I would brainstorm how to make my albums valuable and how to get people to buy instead of steal.  A long time ago, I thought including a video with the album would be a nice value-add.  Back then, digitally copying a DVD was prohibitive in storage and bandwidth.  Not so much anymore.  And now today, lots of special edition albums include a behind-the-scenes DVD.  So then what?  I also thought about books.  Books are more difficult to reproduce digitally and don’t hold the same allure when seen on a screen.  A recent album I purchased was being sold direct by the record label as a bundle with a DVD, a shirt and a poster.  It was 3x what I paid for it, but I think that’s a nice option.  Whatever the solution is, it has to be physical, because digital has no value.

And maybe in the future, the only physical thing needed to make the album special will be the CD itself.