Imagination and the Customer

I was watching a documentary about the sun and space and started drifting in the different thoughts that the program evoked in me. While imagining what was happening “out there” in space, I realized that I visually represent it in my mind, and I know that it is not just visual. I know that these are just impressions that happen on our eyes. The sounds the phenomena create (and they are quite noisy) are reverberations of the medium they are in, and what we call sound is just the impression left on our minds. So, to be able to start understanding these phenomena, I realized there should be other ways to “imagine” them.
When you talk about your customer, what do you imagine? Do you imagine a person buying your product, or do you just have a conceptual thing in your mind, or is it just a number?
What is the best way to imagine the customer you are targeting and communicating with?
The method I prefer is recreating and living the experience that person goes through when they are encountered with my message or experiencing a product I’m involved in. This is actually a personal passion of living as vividly as possible the experiences of other people, and understanding them as fully as possible. But I also think this is a sound business strategy, since you really need to understand that person you are motivating to have a good experience with your product.
This is of course different from imagining what you would do when in your customer’s place. This is totally different. I also don’t think it is a good thing, to imagine how you would react, since this throws the exercise off balance. I think we need to develop enough empathy to be able to somehow re-experience what our end users are going through with our products, and how they are reacting to them.

Location and Cross Functional Work

Team WorkIf "Location, Location, Location" is the mantra in the real estate world, I'm starting to believe that it should also be the mantra of cross functional teams as well. After a heated debate over whether or not location is important in producing quality work, I decided to watch.
Then I traveled to our office in another country.
Before long, I was asked by a colleague about a certain product we are working on. We decided to have a ten minute meeting out in the sun and talk about it. I shared some simple facts about that product, and I was very happy to know the next day that this gave him a good edge in his offering to the client, and the order more than doubled just because of that addition! The same day, we shared another product with another colleague, and with one simple recommendation, we were able to eliminate a lot of frustration about that product with a very small modification. These same colleagues were able to assist me in some partnerships I was trying to make, and we decided on several steps to get these things done.
I became a believer.
Had I not traveled on this trip, would we have not been able to "get our jobs done". Yes we would. But it's not about just getting the work done. It's about jumping to new places, and levels. It's about creating a harmony in the team, that would almost automate the process of innovation and creation. It's about being in a vibrant group that is more like an orchestra than a "business unit".
I am just remembering the way "friendships" were formed during my college years. They were based on a very simple and pure criterion: whether or not you attended the same elective classes together! We used to become close friends, share intimate information with each other, and they become special people in our lives. Of course much of this expires when the course ends and we acquire new friends.
An important psychological factor in this is that people start to view the world in a similar manner when they spend enough time with each other. A closer look shows that we start to adopt the positions of the people we work / live with, in the same place. My reasoning is that although there are logical reasons that push us to think similarly with close people, there is another hidden reason why we tend to take similar positions. We don't want to break whatever harmony there is, and we find it difficult to reject these people when they are expressing strong emotions. Of course, this is an investment we do, so that eventually we are given the chance to freely express our feelings.
Imagine what can happen when people with opposing points of view (sales and production or marketing and finance) sit together and start seeing the world from a similar perspective, and start sympathizing with one another! You get harmony. You get great results.

The Product: Some Questions to Ask

After getting my hands over my new computer, I was engaged in my typical childish excitement, that I always had whenever I got something new in my life. I would wake up feeling that there is a certain addition to my life, and that I'm surprisingly just a bit happier that day. What makes this more interesting, are the five minutes of meaningless happiness that I feel trying to remember why I'm happy in the first place. And I become happier when I remember what that “something” is.
So I started wondering how far this computer can take me, and how far I can take it. Can it give my life a new boost, in terms of productivity and speed? How different would my life be after I start using it?
And so I started thinking about this new gift. Some other questions popped up in my mind also; do the products that I work on provoke similar questions in the minds of end users? Scary! Do they anticipate the changes that we make as intensely and as happily as I was anticipating the features of my new computer? Scarier!
Other scary questions also started crawling into my mind, “Do people who work with me have these anticipations about working with me?” Very scary! “Do they think that working with me is an “addition” to their work and life?”
It’s can really get fun to ask yourself these questions and move away from the stupid daily mundane questions and wonderings. Just for a change. It’s also a healthy approach. Try it!

Take 2000 and Give Me 8

I want this year to be about what I want, after all these are my resolutions. Last year, although I experienced an unexpected shift in direction in my work, was a stable year in general, preparing for the jump I started in work in the last two months. Since this is also confirmed by my horoscope for 2008, I'd like to believe that this will be the year of the jump. Thus, I am following eight main points this year, to transcend the linear and dance in the exponential.

One: Don't wait, let them wait. As self-helpish as this might sound, it is just a positive approach to be taken. The more you wait, the more you are telling them to make decisions on your behalf. As a "waiter" by nature, i was very surprised to discover that when I clearly show my intentions, people can (and many times want to) accommodate to my decisions. This is regarding daily stuff. When it comes to decisions for long term and "big" stuff, they just tend to back off! So... go for it!

Two: As I am finally believing in the natural tendency of things to atrophy, and also starting to believe that the antidote to this is pure and simple intentions directed by the inner forces of our nature, I shall intend, more frequently, purely, and decidedly. At the same time, I shall keep my ability to be flexible in the process.

Three: Get to know a thousand people! It is very invigorating for me to meet new people and discover certain things about them. It just satisfies me to explore people. The thing stopping me is usually the inertia to which I surrender. I will not fight this inertia, but I will embrace the daily adventure of taking the initial steps of starting the talk.
Four: Go for the best. Being, doing, thinking, dreaming, and living with the best. No more mediocrity.
Five: One new thing. Totally new, one of those typical things that I usually engage in, every now and then. Let's just anticipate what it is going to be this year.
Six: Read and write. Much more effectively, often, and artistically. It always surprises me when I come back to see what I have written. It's not about good or bad, it's about the difference in perspective gained by having crystallized some random thoughts into text, and then coming back to see how they have evolved.
Seven: On the seventh day, God rested. Enjoy this year much more than the last one. In new ways, and with more interesting people.

Eight: The last one is about the very special unique stuff that I have, which is usually hidden under two million layers of decadent psychological and intellectual algorithms. Knowing that when left alone, these things can perform wonders, I am to just set them free.

Happy new year! Happy interesting year.

How a Bit More Content Means Much More Website Traffic

Let's explore whether or not we can get more website traffic by adding more content to our website. I'll try to make it scientific and later we will tackle the issue from a human perspective.

Create in your imagination a world with the following characteristics:

  • The internet has only two sites: and
  • Pages indexed on search engines are two hundred pages, split in half between these two sites.
  • Each page talks about on of the only two topics; marketing or advertising.
  • All pages are ranked equally on search engines, meaning they have the same degree of optimization, and therefore, they are all equally likely to show up as the first search result for their respective keywords.
  • 123 has 80 pages about marketing and 20 about advertising. On the other hand ABC has 20 pages about marketing and 80 pages about advertising.

The table below hopefully simplifies the whole story:

                             Marketing         Advertising        Totals:

123marketing             80                     20                  100

ABCmarketing             20                     80                  100

Totals:                       100                    100                 200

As we assumed above since all pages are ranked and optimized equally, they are all equally likely to show up on search results and assuming the first result will always be clicked on, we can say that for the query “marketing” has a 80% chance of getting that visitor, while has a 20% chance. The same applies to the query “advertising” with the opposite results.

We can now easily see that for every 1000 queries of “marketing” will be very happy that day, while will feel a bit frustrated. This means that, with all factors held equal, the more pages you have about a certain topic or keyword the more likely you are to get traffic from search engines.

Another way of looking at is by considering that all the pages that contain the keywords you are writing about, are competing with you on that same visitor. The more pages you have about a certain topic (the bigger market share you have of that little universe) the easier it will be for you to get visitors.

That was simple math. Let's take a human look on the issue, and take a more realistic approach where not all pages are ranked equally, and many webmasters are trying to manipulate the search results. We will also consider that an intelligent human being is searching and she knows what she needs really useful information that will help her in her work or life in general.

First of all, there are many variations of one keyword, and it can be combined with a lot of other words, to form phrases. This means that people will not only be searching for “marketing”, they will search for “internet marketing”, “advertising and marketing”, “radio marketing” etc...

If you have 100 different articles about marketing, then you will qualify to satisfying 100 different people when they are searching. Each will be satisfied differently because they will probably have a certain aspect of marketing in their minds. Remember, the longer the keyword, the more the searcher knows what they are looking for, the happier they will be to find an article just about that niche of the subject.

What about the smart SEOs that can get to the top of the search results of a hot keyword? They will sure get tons of traffic!
But, if they lead users to a site that contains 3-4 pages about a certain query, those users will finish reading those pages, still be hungry for more and never come back. They will keep searching until they find a site that really has enough content to cater for a huge number of search queries, and a huge number of people.
Why does a bit more content mean a lot more traffic?

Simply because pages have more than one keyword in them, and because people search for keywords, and combinations of them.
You will be getting traffic for people searching for the article's main topic, and for all the related topics in that article.
One last reminder. Search engines are becoming much more efficient and accurate in directing you to the best available site. So, if you are like me, by the time you figure out how to manipulate your way to the top of search results that “algorithm” will have improved and you will be thrown away from the arena.
My simple advice: just try to be useful, write about it, and they will come.

More Choice: Is It a Good Thing?

decision treeToday, while I was trying to decide which channel to watch on TV, I came across a choice of 1273 different options. Funnily, I wanted to explore them. Discovering that I was on the middle of the list, I decided to go to the top of the list, and start with the letter "A". It wasn't long before I discovered how absurd this decision was since there was no logic in the arrangement of channels, and the alphabetical order had nothing to with my preferences.
Although my decision was indeed absurd, it was the only logical thing to do. There is no other classification through which the viewer can make their choice.
A famous study outlines how bad it is to give consumers a lot of choices. They are more likely to buy when given few choices, and they are more likely to be satisfied with their choice. Of course choosing from six choices is much easier, safer, and more comfortable than choosing from 24 or 30.
While this makes sense, the validity of these findings loose their power when faced with the virtual world of, not only more, but infinite choice.
This is demonstrated thoroughly in The Long Tail, which shows how infinite choice leads to more sales, and more satisfaction, if and only if coupled with a mechanism of filtering and ranking.
Amazon was taken as an example in which customers are faced with literally millions of products, but they have the power to filter according to their taste, they can read other people's reviews, and they can see the best sellers in the tiniest of categories.
If you want to present your customers with a decision tree, make sure they are faced with a limited number of choices in each stage, and make it easier to navigate through your store, website, or company.
Keeping in mind the streets we drive in could be a good metaphor. Although there are a million different possible way to go to a certain place, you only have three or four choice to choose from on each crossroads. This is how you should plan your website navigation and make use of the infinite choice presented to your users.

Google Website Optimizer: The Butterfly Effect of Advertising

Butterfly EffecgtThis movie, which popularizes a concept in Chaos Theory clearly shows how making a small change in a key event in a person's life makes a huge tangible difference in the lives of other around them. It makes me think about how fragile the perception of communications by consumers can be, and how delicate changes can get you huge results (good or bad) in your advertising.
David Ogilvy,in Ogilvy on Advertising reports how a simple change as changing the background from black to whit tripled the amount of funds raised by a certain ad!
Google allows you to use several ads and they can automatically optimize them for you. That is, their system will show the better performing ads more often. This way you don't have to worry about months of research to finding the best copy. You put the different copies you have, and people tell you which ones they find appealing.
Now with their Website Optimizer, you can do the same for your website! If you have a page that is designed to convince visitors to take certain actions, this landing page has several elements in it usually. You definitely have a header, probably a picture, and text to explain what the product / service is. website optimizer
If you are not sure, which header is the most attractive and persuasive for your visitors, you can put several headers, and they will rotate, until you feel confident that there is a certain pattern that attracts people to one particular text. The same can be done for the other elements of the page. Moreover, the Optimizer also tells you which combination of text, header and picture is the best. Grokdotcom has some useful resources about this product.
The movie seemed too good to be true, especially with the new features, and many people would love to have the access to change the destiny in different ways. In the advertising world, this is not a dream, but a real wish that can now be achieved through Website Optimizer.

Website Navigation: You Lead the Way

Imagine you have a sports club, and from experience, you know that people come to do mainly two things; either to play, or to watch sports.
So you make it a policy that every visitor be greeted on the door, before entering the club, and they should be asked the golden question, "Would you like to PLAY or to WATCH sports today?"
The first visitor says that he wants to play. He is taken to the playing area, and asked a more specific question, "What type of sports do you prefer to play? Group or individual sports?" According to the answer he is then taken to the relevant place. After that suppose they choose to play basketball, you can then take them to the next game you have on schedule.
Then, and only then, will this customer be really happy to know what basketball shoes, balls shirts etc. you have to sell or rent! After you knew what he really wants, and after he clearly saw that he can participate in his favorite sport. The freezing water you give him during the game is worth thousands because it would be really well-timed and in need.
The second visitor that day answers your golden question with, "I would like to WATCH." You then lead them to the places from which she can watch her favorite sport. You ask a more detailed question such as, "Would you prefer to watch from the restaurant, the terrace, or directly from the court?" According to that answer you lead her to the most suitable place from which she likes to watch. Then, and only then will she really appreciate your presenting her with the menu. She was asked what she would like to do, connected with herself, decided the type and location of the watching experience, and is totally ready for what relevant things you want to sell her.
This is the power of proper targeting, and guiding the visitor to the place they really want to be in at this moment.
The same process should be done by the website. On each page, there should be two, or a maximum of three big buttons that clearly show the available choices to the user. A news site should probably have three buttons for example: Read, Write, and Discuss news. This is particularly relevant to sites with dynamic, and huge amounts of content. The user is typically faced with tens of links, from which they have to choose. You, as the website owner should categorize all these links and put each of them in one of the three predefined choices when they enter your home page, or any other page. The following page should give the user some further choices regarding their preferences, and then they can enjoy endless browsing when they find the type of content / activity they want.

Adwords: The Nearest Thing to a Perfect Market

It took Google some time to figure out how to make money with their innovative search algorithm. When they figured it out it was one hell of a model. Although they didn't invent search advertising, but they are the ones the most famous for superbly helping advertisers, and later on publishers to make great profits.
One of the biggest challenges in advertising is reaching your message to the right audience at the right time, which is something quite difficult to achieve with the traditional advertising methods. With AdWords, your ad appears next to search results exactly when people are interested in what you have to sell.
Some of the things that make it a great system, is that there is no fixed price for ad placement, and you don't have to negotiate for prices (you can't even if you wanted). The self-regulating system makes you pay only when people click on your ad and visit your website, so you only pay for visitors coming to your site.
The really cool thing is how the pricing is determined. First you decide the maximum amount of money you are ready to pay for a click, and they never charge you more than that amount. Second, Google's discounter makes sure to let you pay less than the maximum amount you are willing to pay, thus rewarding good and relevant advertising instead of just deep pockets.
Here is the main advantage for advertisers who have relevant interesting stuff to perform better than their high-budget counter parts.
What's more is that if your ads don't achieve a certain click-through ratio they will stop showing since this means that they are not relevant for searchers. How many companies will not allow you to advertise because you are not creating good enough stuff?!
What makes AdWords resemble a perfect market, is that prices are determined naturally, and vary according to the hidden forces of supply and demand. More importantly the most adaptive and relevant advertiser wins at the end, and not the most powerful.
Strict editorial rules are applied to acceptable ads. They give a first impression of a tough system, but a second look proves that these standards are for the advertiser's benefit.
For example, the use of superlatives is prohibited, you cannot say the word "best" in your ad copy. This only shows that you are boasting and it doesn't actually convey information for the readers. "Award-winning" on the other hand is acceptable and allows the reader to decide for themselves whether or not to trust your ad.
Another example is prohibiting advertisers from using the exclamation mark more than once in each ad, and it is not accepted in the headline of the ad. Studies show that using the exclamation mark in real estate ads, gives the impression that the house on sale is not as valuable as the seller is claiming. "Why is he stressing the facts so strongly, I can read the information myself!"
A new feature was recently launched allows advertisers to use AdWords for market research. The search queries report gives you a list of all the queries that have triggered your ads, and got you clicks. Two main benefits of this; first, you get to know what keywords are triggering your ads (when you set your keywords to broad match, related words can also trigger your ads to show). Second, you get to know what people are really looking for, and what percentage of them is looking for a certain keyword(s), or product.
I have used this tool with on account, and got more than 900,000 queries after spending around $5,000 for the website I was working on. This is a huge number and the insights it gave us were invaluable.

Family Business Conference

 While learning a new language (Turkish), and deeply getting involved in understanding the whole culture, I had some great realizations.
First of all, learning a language is not only about learning its words, and knowing how to formulate sentences. There is a deeper understanding of culture and values that is necessary to be able to really speak and interact in a certain language. During learning, and while developing an understanding for that culture, it struck me that a new person is also developing inside me. That new person was born the day I started my quest, and just as a native baby would be, I started mingling in that culture and a "Turkish personality" somehow evolved in me. When you go deep in a certain culture, you not only assimilate with them, but the words, phrases, values and norms set forth a certain way of functioning that you don't use while speaking other languages. You can observe this with people who lived abroad and are really familiar with that country. The funny thing is that you become German when speak German, and you become Japanese when you speak Japanese! Of course this depends on how deeply you understand the language/culture.
The learning could also be applied to learning in general, and we can also see that the more one spends time on a certain activity or trade, the better they are at it. I also realized the importance of family businesses and the inherited knowledge that comes with it, based on decades and generations of experience. 
Being in the third generation of a family business, I can immediately identify with this. I have naturally learned the trade, and was able to slowly grasp the values under which our business is run. I didn't need excessive training, I just went there whenever I had the time, and was able to make my own mistakes, and learn in a safe environment. The discussions at home and the general outlook on work was also teaching me how to run the business. But since our industry as a whole is not developing, I'm not involved in it any more. But I can immediately go and start working tomorrow if needed.
Although I still beleive in the importance of stability in a person's life, and its role in hard-wiring all the things he has to learn, I'm starting to question the validity of this thought. At least in some situations.
The Family Business Conference has validated my idea through the different speakers an dspecialists who showed how relevant this type of business still is. One of the charts proved the effectiveness of family businesses by showing the superior performance of family-owned businesses over other ones, which was depicted on a graph that showed that the former out-performed the S&P ratings in the last decades. This is the result of the long-term focus, ownership, and the deep learning and lifelong understanding that came with being raised in a specialist family. By the way, Beethoven and Strauss came from musical families, and Picasso's father was an artist too.
The conference that was attended by Jordan's prime minister Dr. Maarouf Bakhit, had several international contributors who specialized in this field. Several were actually spending years with certain families and their businesses working on how best to devise the structure, how to deal with the technical and legal issues, and most importantly how to make a smooth transition from one generation to the next.
It was really surprising to me how relevant and timely these issues still were. Some speakers stressed the fact that the issues faced by family businesses are universal in nature, and are almost the same across cultures. Haluk Alacaklioglu made a good comparison between the general practices in different cultures.
Two very interesting consecutive speakers gave us an in-depth view of Gezairi, a second generation company transitioning to the third generation. The first was by Dr. Renee Ghattas, outlining her scientific study of the company's different struggles and challenges throughout the years, and it was great that we had the director of that company, Mona Bou Azza Bawarshi, to give us the personal side of the company and how she manages it.
To me the general discussion was about familiar things, but the approach of dealing with the different challenges was totally new to me, not to mention the legal aspects of family businesses!