A content explosion is helping to drive mobile media adoption

Which came first: The mass production of the first home radios or the programming broadcasted to them? The answer is both. Radios spread like a contagion as consumers heard a distant studio’s music, news and laughter coming from their neighbors’ open windows. It seemed to promise something for everyone.

We’re seeing the same push-pull with mobile media. Take podcasts.

According to a survey of nearly 3,000 adults, conducted by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, the number of Internet users who are listening to podcasts has nearly doubled in six months. Since the spring of this year, podcast listeners have grown from 7% to 12% (of all adults who use the web).

To understand this surge in popularity you need to look at two trends. First, the prevelance of portable music players. By some estimates, one out of every four Internet users now owns an iPod or other music player. True, you can own one and never listen to a podcast, just as car ownership in the middle of the last century didn’t mean you automatically went to drive-in movies. But the growth of one fueled growth of the other.

Then there is the vast depth and breadth of content. The report cites as an example Podcast Alley, a podcast directory. In two years its listings shot up from 1,000 to over 26,000. This content is also easier to access. It also doesn’t hurt that the popular iTunes system has provided even more content on its iPod-friendly download service.

Are pocket videos the next podcasts?

It appears that podcasts have hit a critical mass, and are well on their way to becoming mainstream. Will the same two trends — hardware and content — fuel a cell phone video explosion? This week I may have experienced a taste of things to come. First, I was genuinely surprised at what a hit my video-recording cell phone was.

My mobile device, The V from LG, was small enough to unobtrusively record the fun around the Thanksgiving dinner table (with my family’s consent, of course). Well after dessert was served, we were playing a guessing game called Taboo. The next morning I could show the 15-second segments on my notebook computer. Here’s an example. It was a surprisingly fun way to use this gizmo, and one that enhanced the get-together.

Not that it’s always Amateur Hour on my phone. There is also a modest selection of professionally-produced streaming video available on it. But the ability to make homegrown videos that can be played and shared with friends will only accelerate adoption of the mobile medium as a whole — especially with today’s news.

Very soon, V CAST-equipped mobile phones will become a two-way conduit to amateur videos on a massive scale. YouTube made it official today that they will be providing content to Verizon phones. In addition to user-generated content, YouTube offers brief videos that are professionally produced and categorized for easy search and retrieval. These myriad videos, appealing to nearly any taste, are likely to further fan the flames of demand for entertainment that follows you wherever you have a cell phone signal.

Hey, come here. Take a look at this miraculous, pocket-sized video screen. Let’s watch what happens next.

Have some fresh Carnival of Marketing with that turkey sandwich

It’s a holiday weekend and, not surprisingly, this Carnival of Marketing installment has a little less to chew on. But there’s good stuff nonetheless. It’s been a pleasure hosting it these past two weeks, and I look forward to doing it again. If you can’t get your fill of actionable marketing news and advice from this batch, check out the leftovers — last week’s Carnival!

I’m starting off with a very personal recommendation, written in the spirit of gratitude that this holiday week engenders.

I grew up in a small town in the wooded, remote Upper Peninsula of Michigan (the “U.P.”), at a time when we were so cut off from the rest of the state — and the country — that many U.S. maps didn’t bother to include us. We were depicted as part of Canada. As a boy I was a bit of a runt, and not interested in sports or hunting. Instead I gravitated toward books, and they became beloved teachers and companions.

But the U.P. was a poor part of the country. Books didn’t figure prominently in a typical household. Luckily I could still feed my passion, thanks to my town’s Carnegie Public Library. Astonishingly, Andrew Carnegie’s philanthropy reached deep into the mining and logging outposts of the Northwoods.

I am convinced that Mr. Carnegie’s library saved my life (if only by keeping me indoors, lest I get the tar beaten out of me). So when I was driving through my hometown on Friday, midway through a nine-hour drive to my Milwaukee home from a family celebration in Lower Michigan, there was only one boyhood landmark I couldn’t drive by without taking pause.

I pulled the car in front of the building wistfully. Long ago sold to private owners, to God knows what purpose, it has been usurped by a newer library down on Main Street. But this classically designed stone landmark still looks the same, regal and welcoming. Perhaps what’s keeping it looking so good is the psychic force of fond memories, from hopeless dorks like me, now well into middle age.

Which leads me to my first Carnival entry.

In her debut to the blog 800-CEO-Read, Rebecca Schlei recommends a business biography of this great man by David Nasaw. You’ll find it in her The Other Side entry:

[The book] Andrew Carnegie is a cross-genre event, much like the man himself. While Carnegie’s lifelong philanthropy is a major thread in the story, Nasaw also focuses on his early scoot up the corporate ladder and aggressive business practices. An advocate for disarmament, a champion of free and public libraries, a writer and a visionary, Carnegie towers — in spite of his small build — as one of the most fascinating characters in U.S. history.

Hey! He was even short like me. I like this guy more all the time.

Is trust scalable through social networking sites? Or is business guru Charles Handy right when he says that trust is too personal to be replicated through bits and bytes? Charles H. Green examines that question, along with presenting some interesting definitions of what trust is as it pertains to sales and marketing, in Charles Handy vs. Web 2.0 posted at Trust Matters.

You don’t have to be a hardcore sports fan like me [wink] to enjoy End It Like Beckham posted by Starling David Hunter at The Business of America is Business. Major League Soccer (MLS) is changing a rule about who gets to play on a team.

Nicknamed the Beckham Rule, because it would allow a team to hire such a superstar (without giving away its ability to afford to hire other players to join him on the field), this change is ultimately about getting the sport in front of more fans, and on more television sets. But will it work? Mr. Hunter is skeptical.

When it comes to feature / benefit selling, which should come first in today’s time-pressed sales environment: the features or the benefits? Jim Logan explores this in The Role of Features and Functionality posted at his company’s blog.

Using an interesting metaphor, Barry Welford suggests in Walled Gardens – The Walls Keep Tumbling Down that although some companies have adopted the Walled Garden approach to their mobile technologies and services, others are dropping this closed approach when they see the advantages of more open system. It’s posted at StayGoLinks.

Customer service is more important today than ever. So Juuso Hietalahti poses the question Is Bad Support Better Than No Support at All?, as it relates to the development of interactive games. You’ll find it on his GameProducer.Net.

Mike Murray presents The Decline of Hardball posted at Episteme: Belief. Knowledge. Wisdom. He’s referring to a book on how women can learn to compete in business using zero-sum tactics. Its revised edition recognizes that the rules of business (and Mike suggests marketing as well) have changed quite a bit since the book first came out.

Using blogging as an example, he explains, “Rather than learning to play hardball, we all need to spend more time learning to play softball – to build relationships and create connections that allow us to collaborate rather than to compete. The benefits of a relationship-based, collaborative strategy have never been more clear to me as they have been since I have started blogging … I am developing friendships with those out there who, in an age of hardball would have likely been viewed as competition.” It’s a thoughtful piece by an interesting writer.

Last but not least, Priya Jestin offers up Customer Satisfaction Online: Simple & Tough (as in difficult) posted at CRM Lowdown.

Leaping the chasm to a plugged-in construction site

In the past I’ve had chances to help clients market to the construction trades. These include carpentry, plumbing, masonry and others that send their practitioners home with stiff joints and calloused hands. These occupations account for a surprising amount of spending. So the prospect of segmenting the groups and reaching them online is tantalizing. There’s just one problem. You won’t find them there. Probably not after work, and certainly not while they’re plying their craft. No way.

I was talking about this with my cousin, who at one time made his living as a high-end carpenter and continues to keep his hand in it. My theory is it’s the user interface keeping these craftspeople off-line, and that made sense to him.

Computers and network connections have become easier and faster, but when you’re on a construction site trying to decide how to negotiate an oddly angled room, so you can cut and install crown molding, a keyboard and mouse are not among the tools you reach for. Which is a pity. Although there is little content out there now to assist the construction trades, there could be.

Think of the digital craftspeople. If you develop software, you can find a galaxy of computer expertise online, through user forums and help sites.

The complexity of building in the real world cries out for similar networked knowledge, but for the most part, all this knowledge remains trapped at individual building sites because it’s not easy to contribute, or access the tips when you need them. The rest can be solved by the need for knowledge-sharing. The real chasm to traverse is the last 10 feet leading to the construction site.

What sort of tips can be shared? I mentioned earlier the challenge of cutting crown molding that negotiates tough corners. This requires a skill that most carpenters choose not to master. My cousin explained, “Most carpenters know that to make the angled cuts properly, they need a way to calculate the angle perfectly or they need to guess.”

Most job sites won’t tolerate the waste of guesswork, so the guys who have these angles down cold make a lot of extra money. My cousin is one of those wizards. “I’ve literally earned thousands of dollars more from this one skill,” he said. He learned it online.

He told me that the absence of online carpentry resources struck him every time he went online, which for him was often (he’s an extraordinary person, in this and many other ways). But he did luck out with this skill. His Net search returned a set of calculations that a professor somewhere made available. The formulas allowed my cousin to do the math on-site with a science calculator. It was that easy to become the crown molding go-to guy.

That was proof enough to me that valuable knowledge can be shared digitally. But how to cross the chasm? I told my cousin, probably sounding more confident than I should, that it’s the next generations of cell phones.

I base this on the phenomenon we’re seeing today of large portions of the world that are skipping PCs completely and doing business in fields and other outdoor settings using cell phones. Text messaging to central databases is allowing for the trade of crops and livestock in a virtual auction, all financed with microcredit loans. But this doesn’t eliminate a keyboard. It just shrinks it to the 10 keys of a cell phone. That’s nowhere near an interface a builder can live with on the job.

Calling For Help

I’m imagining a time when the next generations of cell phones will allow for voice-to-text conversions, so online forums of knowledge and advice can be accessed remotely. Insights can be traded like wares in a marketplace similar to today’s developing world swap meets. All by talking into a cell phone.

(The skilled trade that would lead the way in the use of this new user interface would also be the most meticulous. I’m thinking of surgeons. Today surgeons and other physicians are sharing a tremendous amount of data as they consult across geographic and time boundaries. But an interface that allows for accessing this knowledge through speech instead of keystrokes could be a tremendous boon for someone whose hands are otherwise occupied.)

Advances in a cell phone’s camera and display capabilities would also accelerate this type of mobile consulting. When you’re facing a tough construction problem, often a picture really is worth a thousand words.

These are all my own speculations, based on watching the technology evolve and the demands of users. I look forward to seeing how things progress, and invite any reader insights on the matter. One thing I know for sure. It will take a some major changes in technology before we see the most unlikely of working stiffs: The plugged-in plumber and the digital drywaller.

This week’s Carnival of Marketing

Welcome to this week’s edition of Carnival of Marketing. It’s my first time as host, and I’ve sifted through the many submissions to find those that offer actionable news, perspectives and advice. Those that didn’t make the cut? Let’s just say I’ve tried to leave the carnival pitchmen and women out on the midway. So, step into the tent, watch where you step, and let the carnival begin!

Do you want to market to twenty-somethings? Start by reading The Many Lessons of Scion, by ThirdWayBlog. David Vinjamuri is adjunct Professor of Marketing at NYU, and President of ThirdWay, Inc. He offers a dissection of the success of Scion, a car that most people my age think of less as a vehicle than the packing crate it came in. “Scion has excellent lessons for the modern marketer. More than many other brands targeting young adults today, Scion has understood that ubiquity and brand strength are not complementary goals and has been willing to forgo the former to gain the latter. The very brave decision to scale back manufacturing to avoid over-saturating the brand shows both the intelligence of Scion marketers as well as the commitment of Toyota executives to the brand promise.” Read on for other lessons, including one of David’s latest posts, about why Microsoft’s Zune will deservedly get creamed by the iPod. Good stuff.

Ever wondered how social causes get showcased in weekly television programs? Nedra Weinreich reports that “Getting your issue on TV is not as simple as sending a fact sheet to the producer of a show. People who are working in this field have developed relationships over time with writers, researchers, producers and others in the entertainment industry. They are trusted not to push an agenda or a specific plot line, but to provide accurate facts and ideas that writers can then weave into their storytelling.” Read about it in Social Marketing Product Placement, from her Spare Change blog.

Charles H. Green presents Advertising, Borat, Fairy Tales and Trust posted at Trust Matters, saying, “Once upon a time there was a ‘Chinese Wall’ that provided some sort of ethical boundary between marketers/advertisers and media content itself.” This excellent blog lists recent examples of where this wall has been breached, and how this trend has eroded our trust in both the storytellers and their sponsors. This is a new blog to me, and one I will be returning to often.

Here’s one that is already a favorite of mine. Kevin Hillstrom presents Williams Sonoma: Incremental Online Sales and Matchback Analysis posted at The MineThatData Blog. Marketers struggle with how best to allocate sales from one advertising channel to another. Kevin describes two popular methods.

Noah Kagan, founder of this Carnival, wonders WWSGS: What would Seth Godin say? What are the mistakes of this ad? Guess what they are, and then, buried in the comments, you’ll find what errors Noah found.

This carnival has several entries about blogging. Personally, I try not to write about the subject myself, on the grounds that my readers are mostly non-bloggers who want information without pondering how the content is delivered. Ironically, Jim Cronin’s is the best of the blog-related entries this week, with his Who Are You Blogging For? In it he offers that most fundamental marketing advice, Know your audience. It’s advice worth repeating.

Barry Welford has an interesting and carefully reasoned blog on mobile computing called StayGoLinks. In it he writes that the theme for XTech 2007 Conference, to be held in Paris in May, is The Ubiquitous Web. That is also the title of his blog entry. He explains, “The Ubiquitous Web describes efforts to ensure that all can be in touch and stay in contact with the Internet whatever device they are using, whether it be cell phone or desktop PC.” The problem in his view is there are no common standards, and his blog proposes a temporary solution, the Multi-web Practice.

Benjamin Yoskovitz has gotten several PR groups approaching him recently about endorsing books, and other products and services, in the pages of his Instigator Blog. That caused him to post this advice to bloggers: When Your Blog Gets Pitched, Pitch Back. He stresses there that, “It’s absolutely essential that you maintain the integrity of your blog and keep separate what you do for money and what you do voluntarily.”

A neighbor of mine to the south, whose name is simply Praveen, reports in his Branded Interactive Features Coming to DVDs about the use of new DVD formats to carry branded interactive games and calculators. This prolific Chicago blogger cites how Progressive Direct, the auto insurance company, has teamed up with Universal to create a “crash calculator” for the HD DVD version of “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift.” Although Praveen contributes to more blogs than I have clean shirts, he chose to post this particular news at his My Simple Trading System. Thank you, Praveen. Your many blogs are interesting and full of helpful content.

Pushpa Sathish writes that it is, “Simple logic that the person who uses the product the most [is] the best to offer suggestions for its improvement.” Is this the case with major CRM systems? CRM Lowdown: Collaborating with Your Customer to Drive Innovation posted at CRM Lowdown, explores this question.

Finally, Mister Juggles, making his parents the Juggleses proud, presents How successful has Domino’s been in bringing pooplets to market? posted at Long or Short Capital. In what may be an attempt to drive down Domino’s Pizza’s stock price, Mr. J. suggests that the pizza delivery chain is selling something that even the makers of Soylent Green would find unappetizing, “To the Drunk/Stoned market, which is known to be both price and taste insensitive.” They also laugh at anything.

That concludes this edition. I’m doing next week as well. Submit your blog article to the next edition of Carnival of Marketing using this submission form. Past posts and future hosts, can be found on the blog carnival index page.

In online video as well, Mom and Dad hog the remote

Forbes reports that, contrary to popular opinion, online video is being viewed by someone who is typically older. Online video for the post-pubescent set even has its own nearly octogenarian poster child: geriatric1927. This chap has been posting video blogs for three months and has over 30,000 subscribers to his ongoing narratives (as well as hundreds of thousands of occasional viewers).

The marketing implications of this trend are considerable, because consumers well out of college have more disposable income. They also have many more consumer needs. Insurance. Healthcare. Luxury items. All of these and many more are the domain of grown-ups.

As marketers follow these consumers online, streaming video content will continue to expand and fragment. Soon there may not be a single consumer category that cannot be supported with simple and often inexpensive narrow-cast video messages. These messages may not — and some would say should not — be commercials as we know them. Instead, think sponsorships, product placements and even interactive demos that take full advantage of the burgeoning online medium.

The often low cost of this content, and the ability to find and cater to thinly sliced niches, is particularly exciting. Once again marketers will be given the opportunity and the challenge of mastering a long tail strategy for attracting and wooing narrow segments. 

Move over, Son.

I was vegging in front of a glowing screen long before you were even born.

Postscript: Here’s a study that speculates on online video advertising growth over the next several years.