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Job Creation Hoax

Steve —  3.19.2010 — Leave a comment

Our president and elected officials have stated their number one job is to bring this country’s recession to an end as soon as possible.

I DON’T BELIEVE THEM!

I know…shocker, right? What you may not understand are all the reasons. Some probably assume that it is simply because the majority are Democrats and I’m a conservative and the two shall not mix…ever. That assumption, while true, isn’t why I’m writing – I think I can prove it without focusing on politics. It is simple logic and a slight understanding of how business works.

What do we need for more jobs to be created? A simple examination of why jobs are being eliminated should provide us the answers. A company, especially a publicly-traded company, is not owned by the business leadership, but rather by shareholders. People buy stock because they want to see a return (more money) from the money they use to buy the stock.

That return is realized when the company is able to make more money (net revenue) than they expected, which is one component of what drives stock prices up. There are two components to net revenue – profit and loss (income and costs). If a company says that they think they can produce a net revenue of $100K and are able to actually do $105K for a given time period, then people would buy the stock because the current price reflects the anticipated $100K and therefore undervalued and should go up. Make sense? If not, just know that doing what you say you are going to do in the stock market is good, and exceeding it is better.

All that to say is that the owners (shareholders) expect to be making money and therefore expect profits to be at least what you projected. To achieve this, in a recession, the focus gets put on the costs a company incurs. The most expensive line item on a company’s balance sheet is payroll and consequently the place where the biggest impact to the bottom line can be made. Eliminate jobs and you cut costs and directly affect net revenue.

So, if jobs are cut to help companies maintain net revenue and shareholder expectations and we want to stop that trend, what can be done help net revenue. The second largest cost on a company’s ledger is taxes and this is where we get to the meat of the issue. If you receive a paycheck and ever ventured to look at the amount of taxes that are taken out – you’d immediately get red in the face. What you need to know is that is nothing compared to what the business must pay.

There is a tie to payroll taxes and the overall picture for a company – if you have an employee that you hire at $50K, their take-home pay is affected by the taxes that are required to be taken out. A lower tax rate means that an employer might be able to hire the same person for $48K if the tax rates were lower. If you add that up over 1,000 employees, all of a sudden you’ve just found $200K of income that you can put into something else – like new jobs.

So, if you want to create jobs in America, the first place the government should be looking is to lower the federal taxes levied against employers. Decreasing the tax rate means more money stays with the company and can be reinvested immediately to stabilize and grow the business.

But this wasn’t even considered for more than a second in Washington. Reagan implemented this very tactic to successfully bring inflation under control and it has been successfully used time and time again to help stimulate the economy. There’s a proven track record and tons of evidence…so why haven’t we seen this as a proposed solution?

If you really want to know the full reason, read the next post. It is political…so be warned.

The short answer is that job creation, at least where most of us live (private sector), hasn’t been the goal at all. If it was, we would be seeing more money in our pockets each paycheck, which would allow us to go spend it on goods and services and really “stimulate” the economy.

All this to say, any talk about job creation coming out of Washington these days should be interpreted as creating federal jobs to support new programs intended to “fix” our country. Don’t be fooled for another second because now you know.

Make it FitLast night I was invited to join a conversation about an idea for a product that has the potential to brighten the future of high school students EVERYWHERE. The niche this product will serve is completely devoid of any other solution, which makes it very exciting.

During our 2 1/2 hour conversation, I found myself using examples from some of the most innovative companies around to help add understanding to some marketing concepts. I thought it would be fun to get these thoughts down on “paper”  and let you take a whack at them.

DISCLAIMER: What I’m about to share in no way tells the entire story about either the company or the product/service in question. In the tech arena in particular, I know more than most about the “whole” story behind these situations, but for obvious reasons chose to pull out small bits and pieces to bring clarity to this particular conversation.

MICROSOFT
We started talking about how to package the different parts of this particular product – whether or not we should tailor the solution to specific audiences and pre-choose the options available. The thinking is that this helps show how all of the product brings value and there is very little irrelevant options, which would in turn increase the perceived value and allow you to customize pricing to fit the situation.

I thought about MS’ Office suite of products. For any given user, they probably use no more than 20% (generous) of the features of Word or Excel or PowerPoint. But if you look at all of the users that use the product, I bet the feature utilization is near 100%. Someone somewhere is using each and every feature in each of the products in Office and are not shy about asking for new features to be included in the next release.

THE POINT: Today’s users want to have both the choice and freedom to use the product according to how they operate. In other words, they want the product to fit them, not having to fit the product and deciding which options ahead of time is too limiting. Tailoring solutions to niche groups is a bad idea for another reason. It’s expensive. Think of the time and energy it takes to bundle, sell and maintain 20 product versions for 20 different user groups versus one large suite of products that get’s 20% utilization per customer, but 100% utilization across all customers.

APPLE (Yes – I’m an equal opportunity geek)
Yesterday’s release of the iPad was another stunning example of why Apple’s stock hasn’t taken a nosedive like everyone else’s. While the product lacks some very key elements, there is no denying the emotional draw to own one from the minute I laid eyes on it. After watching the promo video, I started to scheme about how to pay for it. About an hour later, I came to my senses and wondered how it would really make life better.

In the part of our discussion about what stage of the game to reveal your product, I was reminded of just how polished everything Apple seems to be at launch. They work out the kinks, test the user interfaces and even design packaging BEFORE we ever see it. I’m sure they have a secret society of product testers, but the rumor mill is always buzzing and nobody ever actually knows enough details until Apple wants them to.

There is a healthy amount of paranoia that Apple has learned to integrate into their product development cycle. By being the king of the hill (by most accounts) on product design, the world is ready and waiting to knock Apple off their perch. Apple doesn’t give them much of a chance to get to market with a competitive product because nobody knows what to fight against.

THE POINT: If you believe you have a great product that is unique in the marketplace, don’t show your cards too soon. Gather feedback and do proper product testing and market research, but be smart about it. Underpromise and overdeliver. Tout your strengths and don’t apologize for what’s missing.

ADOBE
At one point, the conversation came around to how to acquire customers – how do you get your foot in the door to a group of people that don’t even know they necessarily need your product? Adobe instantly came to mind. In my opinion, they are the most innovative company out there because they build the tools that everyone else uses to build theirs.

I had a chance to attend their annual geek conference called MAX one year and I was blown away with their vision for the future of their role in the way people communicate, relate and conduct business going forward. They are a crucial key player in making our dreams become a reality with decreasing complexity, time and effort.

And they know it. If you look at the price point of their software, you quickly understand that a serious intent on playing is required to get in the game. They are a premium software company with a premium price. And yet, they offer fully-functional, 30-day trial versions of almost all of their products.

On first glance, that seems risky – what happens if their security measures are hacked and people are able to use their goodies for free? Sure, there are laws that supposedly protect Adobe from that type of behavior, but an examination of any BitTorrent site will tell you nobody’s really worried about Johnny Law knocking on their door.

If you look at it again, it’s brilliant. It’s actually the oldest selling trick in the book. Give them a taste to whet their appetite and for those that can’t live without it, they pony up the big bucks. And once Adobe has them, they do their best to keep them by offering discounts on upgrades to existing customers, software assurance that makes upgrades cost nothing and a vibrant user community that is always doing something very cool.

THE POINT: Whether you are an established market leader or a newbie wanting to gain market share, giving potential customers a way to play with your product with very little risk goes a long way to converting them into paying customers.

DELL
When putting together a product, you obviously need to consider the different components and how they fit together and then how each of the components adds value to the whole. When thinking about how to price the idea last night, I thought about the innovation that Michael Dell brought to the personal computer market back in the day.

At the time, there were really two ways to buy a computer. Either go to a big box store and pull one off the shelf or build it yourself. The former lacked customization and the latter was incredibly complex (at the time). Mr. Dell saw an opportunity and his brainchild completely revolutionized the way we buy computers. First, he didn’t make his product available at retail outlets – online only. Second, he gave the consumer the ability to “build” the perfect computer via Dell’s website without the need for a degree in Computer Science.

Needless to say, it was an instant success. Dell’s influence in the personal (and eventual business) computer marketplace can be seen in every computer manufacturer still alive today – even Apple. People want the ability to customize their purchase to get the biggest bang for their buck and ensure that their purchase meets their individual needs. Dell gave them that ability and now it is a perceived “right” all computer buyers believe they have.

Michael Dell didn’t reinvent the personal computer, just the way people bought them. He gave them choice at an individual component level. Wow!

Big retail stores still sell plenty of pre-built computers because there are plenty of people that just want a computer for Internet access, e-mail and the occasional greeting card. And today, you see Dell computers right there beside the others.

THE POINT: Developing a product delivery plan that is flexible enough to allow savvy users to get exactly what they want is worth the time and energy required to set up the associated flexible pricing plans that go along with it. Having a base product that people can walk up and buy and walk out is very important as some of your customers won’t care enough or have the experience to know what is best. For the rest, customization is what can differentiate you in a way that is completely separate from what problem your product addresses.

SUMMARY
Great ideas need great marketing to thrive. Great marketing needs experience and creativity to be effective. Getting “it” right isn’t easy and you’ll know you’ve been successful when you have made it look easy. Microsoft, Apple, Adobe and Dell have all shaped our lives over and over again and innovation, hard work and perseverance are all hallmarks to their success and legacy.

Learn from the best because you will have plenty of your own challenges to overcome. I like Thomas Edison’s approach to invention:

“I never perfected an invention that I did not think about in terms of the service it might give others… I find out what the world needs, then I proceed to invent….”

Consider the impact to the world before the impact to yourself and the latter will take care of itself.

Thoughts???

SWFObject

SWFObject has been around since October 2004 as a JavaScript method to detect not only the presence of the Flash Player, but minor versions of the Flash Player for feature readiness. Since then, it’s evolution has continued to add features that cover today’s ever-increasing code complexities. To get the SWFOjbect code as well as all other resources for this very useful tool, head over to http://code.google.com/p/swfobject/

As I stated in the overview article, this is my preferred method for Flash detection for the iPhone. This method is used on all of your SWFs and therefore inherently takes care of all detection and alternate content substitutions as part of the solution. In short, it’s simpler.

Obviously, the first thing to do is download the code and get it on your site. There are great instructions on the Google site on how to setup the include files and you also get some demo files that show how your code should look when using either the static or dynamic method.

I used hyper-linked images that looked similar to the Flash content as the alternate content so visually, there wasn’t much missing. Other than that, there isn’t much to it other than following the instructions and choosing the method that suits your content and situation better. There will probably be some trial and error that you’ll need to go through, but given an hour, you should have it just like you want it.

Here’s the JavaScript code on my example site (put inside <head> tag):

<script type=”text/javascript” src=”/Scripts/swfobject.js”></script> //the include JavaScript file
<!–Button 1 Code–>
<script type=”text/javascript”>
var flashvars = {};
var params = {};
params.wmode = “transparent”; //sets the SWF file to have a transparent background. Default is “opaque”
var attributes = {};
swfobject.embedSWF(“/assets/multimedia/PTT_Button1.swf”, “myContent1”, “174”, “40”, “9.0.0”, “”,  flashvars, params, attributes);
</script>
<!–Button 2 Code–>
<script type=”text/javascript”>
var flashvars = {};
var params = {};
params.wmode = “transparent”;
var attributes = {};
swfobject.embedSWF(“assets/multimedia/PTT_Button2.swf”, “myContent2”, “174”, “40”, “9.0.0”, “”,  flashvars, params, attributes);
</script>

And the associated content code (alternate content defined):

<!–Button 1–>
<div id=”myContent1″><a href=”html/FindTip.asp” style=”padding:4px”><img src=”assets/images/PTT_Button1.jpg” alt=”Defeat the Diaper | Find a Tip” width=”174″ height=”40″ border=”0″></a></div>

<!–Button 2–>
<div id=”myContent2″><a href=”html/GiveTip.asp”><img src=”assets/images/PTT_Button2.jpg” alt=”Defeat the Diaper | Give a Tip” width=”174″ height=”40″ border=”0″></a></div>

Given that, there is one piece of advice I can give:
Make sure you enclose the content you want SWFObject to examine in <div> tags. For those of you that code using tables, don’t try to affect a <td> as the SWFObject’s default behavior is to hide the element and this will destroy the table’s structural integrity and therefore produce undesired results.

For an example of a site that this method has been used, you can go to defeatthediaper.com – my community potty training tip site. I hope this helps and don’t forget to add the <meta> and CSS mods outlined in the overview article.

Flash Detection

When you publish your Flash content, you have the option of publishing HTML and in the associated option for HTML publishing, there are several check-boxes related to which version of the Flash Player you want to target and whether or not you want the resultant HTML to check for the presence of the specified version or above. FIG. 1 shows what you would check to get the HTML file that checks for the presence of a version of the Flash Player.

FIG. 1
Flash Settings

Provided you check the box shown in the figure and publish your content, you’ll get an HTML file that has the detection code in it. As you examine the code, you’ll see that the detection script looks for a specific minimal version of the Flash Player, not just the presence of the Flash Player. So, the detection script can “fail” for two reasons: 1) An insufficient version or 2) the absence of the Flash Player altogether.

Therefore it is a good practice to include the GetFlashPlayer icon linked to Adobe’s site in case they were sent to this page because of a version problem and not the absence of the Flash Player. I guess you could use the CSS mod outlined in the overview article to hide a <div> tag that includes the icon if you don’t want your iPhone users to see something they can’t act on.

The next step is to copy all of the detection code including the conditions to another HTML page and save it as the site’s default page – typically index.htm or default.htm. From there you can send your users to either the regular home page (successful detection) or an alternate page (failed detection). The alternate page is where you can customize an image-based version of the home page that can be seen by mobile browsers that don’t support the Flash Player as well as explain why they were sent there.

I then went a step further and set a session variable and checked it on every other page on the site that had Flash content so I could either substitute alternate content or hide the Flash content altogether. This has an inherent problem as the session will at some point time out and if the iPhone user closes Safari and comes back, they could be faced with a site that doesn’t know they are a non-Flash user.

To overcome this, you could call a modified version of the Flash Detection script on each of those pages that resets the session variable if the detection fails, but that starts to get pretty cumbersome and is why I eventually went to the SWFObject route. You can read about that method in THIS POST.

To see a site that uses this method, go to www.americanpiepizza.net – a Central Arkansas pizza joint with a killer menu.

I’ve recently gone through and made a couple of my sites iPhone friendly. I say iPhone friendly because I’m not convinced (sorry Blackberry and Droid) any of the other platforms amount to a significant amount of users to cater to.

Two different strategies were employed and I thought it might be fun to share them. The first is based on a technique I’ve been using for years via simple Flash Player detection. The second, uses SWFObject 2.2 and displays a non-Flash equivalent of my Flash elements for any user without an active Flash Player. Each have their merits; their pros & cons and therefore it is up to you whether or not they fit your situation.

I’ve even found a third that uses Regular Expressions to detect the use of a mobile device and redirect users to alternate pages. I decided to reject this approach because I don’t want to maintain multiple versions of my content for a given percentage of users – especially when there are alternatives for almost all scenarios. If you want to know more about how to detect mobile devices for a variety of platforms  via regex, visit http://detectmobilebrowser.com

Regardless of the method, there are two things you need to do for iPhone users. One is a META tag that needs to be inserted into your pages and the second is a CSS style inserted into your style sheet. Here are some examples:

META | The WIDTH value is whatever width your actual content container happens to be
<meta name = “viewport” content = “width = 960”>

CSS | Because the iPhone uses a full version of Safari, the device type isn’t “handheld” – it is screen, just like your laptop computer. Apple didn’t want their users to get the handheld versions of websites, but rather enjoy the full version of the site. So, adding a new CSS file with the “handheld” designation won’t change the appearance of your site on the iPhone. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t develop a handheld version of your CSS as part of your usability strategy, but it won’t do anything for your iPhone users.

Make this the last entry in your CSS file. As you can see, I’m overriding several styles if the screen width has a maximum width of 480px. Put whatever styles you need in here to make the iPhone version readable.
@media only screen and (max-device-width: 480px) {
body,td,th {
font-size: 12px;
}
.page-content {
line-height: 22px;
padding: 4px;
color:#FFFFFF;
font-size:16px;
}
}

If you’re interested in the Flash Detection method, read THIS POST outlining it. If you’d rather employ the SWFObject method, I’ve covered it in THIS POST.