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TECHNOLOGY
How I Fell Into the Uncanny Valley of Digital Marketing
Posted by David Rosenbaum | CFO.com | US
August 10, 2012 3:18 PM ET
I downloaded a white paper on Voice over Internet Protocol. As I was reading it, my phone rang. "Hello, David," a voice said. "I see you've downloaded our research. If you're considering buying a VoIP system, perhaps I can . . .?

For an instant, I was shocked. Who was this guy? How did he know my name? How could he see what I was doing right this very instant in what I quaintly thought was the privacy of my cubicle? I was shaken. I had fallen into the Uncanny Valley. It's a truth universally acknowledged that potential buyers are best approached when they're most ready to buy. Marketing automation tools, using the transparency into customer actions, interests, and even physical presence afforded by cookies, geolocation applications, and the personal information we willingly hand over to Facebook, Google, Apple, and others, have made it possible to collapse the time between when someone expresses interest in something (by searching, visiting a website, liking, or downloading a white paper) and when a salesperson makes contact. That's what happened when the VoIP guy called me. To access the white paper, I'd entered my information. When I did, maybe a light lit up on his screen. A window may have opened with my name and phone number. Perhaps his system dialed me automatically. But even though I understood the mechanics behind the call, it still felt wrong. The swiftness of the response, a stranger, calling me by name, suddenly intruding on my life, it creeped me out. That's the Uncanny Valley phenomenon. Japanese robotics professor Masahiro Mori noted decades ago that although humans get more comfortable with robots as the robots get more human-like, at a certain point, just before the robot becomes almost, but not quite indistinguishable from a real person, real people are suddenly repelled. They get creeped out. (The line showing that drop in comfort is the valley in the Uncanny Valley.) Many believe that creepiness is what led to the flop of the 2004 CGI move Polar Express, based on a beloved children's book and starring the beloved Tom Hanks . . . or something that seemed like Tom Hanks but wasn't. Something with dead, joyless eyes and waxy, cemetery skin. It was mysteriously horrible. It was a truckload of awful. It was the Uncanny Valley, realized. Just as the movie's makers didn't intend to disgust their audience, the VoIP salesperson didn?t mean to freak me out. Indeed, it's a truism in sales that the longer it takes to contact a lead the less likely it is that the lead will turn into a sale. That's why businesses are buying automation tools: to follow up on leads as quickly as possible. According to recent research, "firms that tried to contact potential customers within an hour of receiving a query were nearly seven times as likely to qualify the lead . . . as those that tried to contact the customer even an hour later." But maximizing the efficiency of sales through technology, over-leveraging the information about customers that has become so easy to collect, aggregate, and analyze, risks toppling into the Uncanny Valley of Creepy Marketing and, what's more important, risks losing the sale. I'm not so naive to imagine that businesses will ever stop trying to optimize marketing. But perhaps CFOs should ask how much is too much, how fast is too fast? Even as businesses climb the mountain of improved lead conversion, the Uncanny Valley lurks just beyond the next peak. And it's a real turn-off.

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TECHNOLOGY
Gold Medal Whining
Posted by David Rosenbaum | CFO.com | US
August 6, 2012 2:59 PM ET
The Olympic Games have already produced some great entertainment. The first week ended with Andy Murray, a Brit (actually, a Scot, but the English can't be choosey about their sporting heroes), finally beating Roger Federer. On Sunday, Usain Bolt cemented his claim as the world's fastest human, winning the 100-meter dash. If you like tales of people overcoming towering odds, you have Oscar Pistorius competing on prosthetic legs. And if you're a U-S-A.-chanting fan, I give you Michael Phelps. But a significant slice of the good feelings generated by the Olympics is being twisted by Twitter as a massive storm of whining — magnified by technology ? has created an Olympics of complaint in which participants compete for tin medals of negativity. Check out Monday morning's tweets on #nbcfail: "It's a shame @nbcolympics won't be held accountable for stealing the magic of the Olympics." "Serena Williams coming up on #NBCSN. Time to change the channel. No interest in watching that arrogant diva." ?Images of Mars arrive faster than Olympics from London.? The last is a common complaint about NBC showing events on tape delay. Presumably, this fan wanted to watch Bolt run at 5 a.m. ET. The athletes are also competing for medals in whining. A Swiss athlete slurred South Koreans. A Greek athlete attacked Africans. American soccer goalie Hope Solo tweeted that Brandi Chastain, who scored the goal that gave the U.S. the 1999 FIFA Women?s World Cup, didn?t know much about soccer. Negative sentiment overwhelms positive. A 2011 Wharton School study looking at 7,000 New York Times articles discovered that an article that aroused anger (as opposed to satisfaction) increased its chances of appearing on the most e-mailed list by 34%. More recently, an article from the Korean Institute of Science and Technology reported that social media creates ?an exponential increase in bad news,? and suggested that this is a problem for companies struggling to protect their brands against tsunamis of negativity. In the past, only journalists could produce bad news. Now, anyone can do it. And everyone does. Which, if you believe Sturgeon?s law (90% of everything is crap), means that the world?s psyche is being crammed with new and enormously large quantities of the stuff. And yet, it?s hard for CFOs to opt out of the social technology game, even though (by Sturgeon?s law) they will be investing to analyze inputs that will be largely worthless. According to the Gartner 2012 ?Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies? report, social analytics is still approaching the ?Peak of Inflated Expectations,? and hasn?t yet dipped into the ?Trough of Disillusionment.? But even though 90% of the tweets and blogs one encounters are crap, social technologies do, in fact, have a real ROI. A recent McKinsey Global Institute study suggests that the deployment of social tech could ?contribute $900 billion to $1.3 trillion in annual value? across a wide swath of businesses, primarily by improving ?collaboration and communication within and across enterprises." This is social media as a knowledge management solution, and that value add has been saluted by CFOs. If collaboration and communication can be enhanced by social media, I'm all for it. We need more of both. But businesses banking on using social media inputs to create or tweak products for consumers are, I believe, chasing a fantasy. If you sift through crap, any gold you find will be fool's
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TECHNOLOGY
Happy Birthday, iPhone; Bye, Bye BlackBerry
Posted by David Rosenbaum | CFO.com | US
June 29, 2012 7:54 AM ET
Yesterday's Research in Motion fourth quarter earnings call could hardly have been worse. The Canadian company that makes the once-iconic BlackBerry posted a $518 million loss. Revenue fell 33% in the quarter. RIM said it was planning to eliminate about a third of its workforce, and announced that its new phone wouldn't launch until next year, which would cause it to miss the holiday shopping season. That's very, very bad. It also shipped about two million fewer BlackBerries than it did in the third quarter, and about four million fewer than it did in the last quarter of 2011. That's not an encouraging trend. Finally, the company admitted that the next several quarters would "continue to be very challenging," and RIM CFO Brian Bidulka confessed that the layoffs and restructuring costs would impact the company's cash position, and not in a good way. Oh, yeah. RIM stock fell 15%. Coincidentally, the iPhone is five years old today. (You can download one of the many free virtual candle or lighter apps from the App Store to celebrate.) Back then, at the beginning, even as the hype was building, former RIM co-CEO Jim Balsillie dismissed the new Apple phone as "one more entrant into an already very busy space with lots of choice for consumers." A threat to RIM? "I would think that's overstating it," he said, understating it. Well, it's easy to take shots now. But back then, who knew? When the iPhone launched on June 29, 2007, the BlackBerry was the berries. It was the CrackBerry, an unrivaled status symbol. Carrying a BlackBerry meant you were a mover and shaker, a master of the universe. And the iPhone? It was a cool-looking toy that was, by the way, really expensive, slated to cost $499 compared to the BlackBerry Pearl?s $149.99. Basillie was hardly alone in dissing the iPhone. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer laughed at it, as is his won't. He predicted that it wouldn't appeal to business users because "it doesn't have a keyboard which makes it not a very good e-mail machine." Predicting the tech future is a mug's game. It demonstrates a lack of humility. iPhones and Androids now have over 80% of the smartphone market; Blackberry has 6%. On the other hand, businesspeople still salute their beloved BlackBerries and corporate IT still loves the proprietary RIM platform and operating system with its native and secure support for corporate e-mail. Is the BlackBerry dead? Probably. You don't have to be Nostradamus to predict that it's going the way of the Palm, the Treo, the Walkman, the Zune, typewriters, record players, and the jukebox. Yes, the jukebox. At this week's CFO Corporate Financial Excellence conference, I went to a bar one night and decided to invest a buck or two in the jukebox to hear some tunes. Only it wasn't a jukebox. It was an Internet-connected gadget that hung on the wall and streamed music. It had a touch screen. You identified your preferred genre (classic rock, alt rock, pop, opera bouffe), and it would begin playing. It also had a built-in camera that would upload to my Facebook page a shot of me rocking out if I wanted to frighten my friends and relatives. Or, at least, it would have if I could have figured out how it worked and wasn't too embarrassed to ask. So if I can't operate a jukebox, who am I to mock Balsillie or Ballmer or anyone else for failing to recognize the next new thing? If nothing else, the tech beat teaches humility. Humility, at least, is reliable.
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TECHNOLOGY
Happy Birthday, iPhone; Bye, Bye BlackBerry
Posted by David Rosenbaum | CFO.com | US
June 29, 2012 7:51 AM ET
Yesterday?s Research in Motion fourth quarter earnings call could hardly have been worse. The Canadian company that makes the once-iconic BlackBerry posted a $518 million loss. Revenue fell 33% in the quarter. RIM said it was planning to eliminate about a third of its workforce, and announced that its new phone wouldn?t launch until next year, which would cause it to miss the holiday shopping season. That?s very, very bad. It also shipped about two million fewer BlackBerries than it did in the third quarter, and about four million fewer than it did in the last quarter of 2011. That?s not an encouraging trend. Finally, the company admitted that the next several quarters would ?continue to be very challenging,? and RIM CFO Brian Bidulka confessed that the layoffs and restructuring costs would impact the company?s cash position, and not in a good way. Oh, yeah. RIM stock fell 15%. Coincidentally, the iPhone is five years old today. (You can download one of the many free virtual candle or lighter apps from the App Store to celebrate.) Back then, at the beginning, even as the hype was building, former RIM co-CEO Jim Balsillie dismissed the new Apple phone as ?one more entrant into an already very busy space with lots of choice for consumers.? A threat to RIM? ?I would think that?s overstating it,? he said, understating it. Well, it?s easy to take shots now. But back then, who knew? When the iPhone launched on June 29, 2007, the BlackBerry was the berries. It was the CrackBerry, an unrivaled status symbol. Carrying a BlackBerry meant you were a mover and shaker, a master of the universe. And the iPhone? It was a cool-looking toy that was, by the way, really expensive, slated to cost $499 compared to the BlackBerry Pearl?s $149.99. Basillie was hardly alone in dissing the iPhone. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer laughed at it, as is his wont. He predicted that it wouldn?t appeal to business users because ?it doesn?t have a keyboard which makes it not a very good e-mail machine.? Predicting the tech future is a mug?s game. It demonstrates a lack of humility. iPhones and Androids now have over 80% of the smartphone market; Blackberry has 6%. On the other hand, businesspeople still salute their beloved BlackBerries and corporate IT still loves the proprietary RIM platform and operating system with its native and secure support for corporate e-mail. Is the BlackBerry dead? Probably. You don?t have to be Nostradamus to predict that it?s going the way of the Palm, the Treo, the Walkman, the Zune, typewriters, record players, and the jukebox. Yes, the jukebox. At this week?s CFO Corporate Financial Excellence conference, I went to a bar one night and decided to invest a buck or two in the jukebox to hear some tunes. Only it wasn?t a jukebox. It was an Internet-connected gadget that hung on the wall and streamed music. It had a touch screen. You identified your preferred genre (classic rock, alt rock, pop, opera bouffe), and it would begin playing. It also had a built-in camera that would upload to my Facebook page a shot of me rocking out if I wanted to frighten my friends and relatives. Or, at least, it would have if I could have figured out how it worked and wasn?t too embarrassed to ask. So if I can?t operate a jukebox, who am I to mock Balsillie or Ballmer or anyone else for failing to recognize the next new thing? If nothing else, the tech beat teaches humility. Humility, at least, is reliable.
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TECHNOLOGY
Posted by David Rosenbaum | CFO.com | US
June 4, 2012 11:47 AM ET
According to "What Makes Online Content Viral?" a 2011 study by Wharton School assistant professors Jonah Berger and Katherine L. Milkman, the primary factors that drive people to share content online are anger, and content that is "positive" and "activating" (that is, things that make people feel good) as opposed to "negative" content that elicits emotions such as sadness, which the authors found de-activating. Berger and Milkman came to their conclusions by studying about 7,000 New York Times articles and how they performed on the list of most e-mailed stories. They controlled for factors such as story placement, the length of articles, the relative fame of the author, and a host of other variables. They discovered that an article that aroused anger increased that story's chance of making the list by 34% above the mean, while an article that engendered sadness decreased its chances by 16%. An article's practical value increased the odds by 30%. Obviously, these insights are of great interest to marketers, who these days seem entirely obsessed with piling up tweets, posts, and links, but just as obviously they address the concerns of journalists like me, the success of whose stories, thanks to web analytics, can now be calculated objectively. So, taking a cue from Berger and Milkman, this will be an angry but positive blog, designed to resonate with their conclusion that "virality is partially driven by physiological arousal." Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal reported that Facebook is trying to figure out how to "allow children under 13 years old" to use the site. Under parental supervision, of course. Well, naturally. Facebook's IPO flop, among many, many other things, underscored its problem of how it's going to grow ad revenue in an increasingly mobile environment, so why not try to expand its pool of users in order to sell them to advertisers. In other words, Facebook wants to sell children. Doesn't that make you angry? Isn't selling children a bad thing? Don't you want to alert others to this looming danger? At the same time, according to Consumer Reports, in 2011 there were already 7.5 million kids under 13 using Facebook. So if Facebook developed a way to make sure their parents knew what they were doing on Facebook, who they were friending and (more importantly) who was friending them, that would be a good, positive thing. Maybe the only way to make sure that Facebook does the right thing is to forward this angry, but positive blog. On a related front, Microsoft announced last week that its next version of the Explorer browser, IE10, in Windows 8, will have "Do not track" as its default setting. This means that users will have to opt-in to get targeted ads. Naturally, this has made advertisers very angry. Privacy advocates, on the other hand, were positively awe-struck by Microsoft's announcement, seeing it as a great step forward in returning control over their personal information to users, as well as a move that will put pressure on other browsers, such as Google's and Mozilla's, to follow suit. Microsoft's decision certainly doesn't make me sad; it activates me and gives me positive hope that some small shred of personal privacy is still possible in the digital age. Finally, a bit of practical advice: Don't skip breakfast. It's the most important meal of the day.
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How I Fell Into the Uncanny Valley of Digital Marketing
Gold Medal Whining
Happy Birthday, iPhone; Bye, Bye BlackBerry
Happy Birthday, iPhone; Bye, Bye BlackBerry
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