Archive for category Book Review
The Long Tail by Chris Anderson takes a comprehensive look at how the Internet has changed the way that business works. In short, rather than selling only the “hits,” or the most popular items, the Internet allows retailers to sell a variety of less-popular items, which make up the “long tail.” Although items in the long tail sell less than the hits in the “head,” there are far more of them, and thus they can make up a significant portion of an organization’s sales. The internet has also opened up new markets that allow for the amount of items available to be essentially unlimited. For example, iTunes does not sell tangible items, and thus the cost of selling 100 items versus 1,000 items is virtually the same. In contrast, a company that sells DVDs, like Best Buy, does have to actually store the selection somewhere– the wider the selection, the more overhead cost. Some companies have even devised solutions to this problem– Amazon can print books on-demand, meaning that they never have a surplus of unsold books, and they don’t have to keep their more obscure books in stock.
The deeper into niches that consumers can dive, the deeper they will go. There are even niches within niches, like the YouTube video below, which I recorded a few years ago at an African Dance performance at American University. When I checked it, I was quite surprised to see that it had gained more than 12,000 views– I only uploaded it so that it was easy to share with a few select friends!
Although there are not (yet) numbers that say that expanded stock/choices means increased sales, the Internet presents an opportunity for retailers to offer a consumer a wider selection and prevent them from straying to a competitor.
Of course, this expanded selection has implications not just for businesses, but for consumers. Using the Internet, we can find items in many more ways than the static organization a physical store offers: we can sort by price, by popularity, by color, we can find a sleeping bag in both the camping and the bedding aisle.
Anderson points out that along with expanded choices, the Internet arms us with much more information about the inventory that makes up the long tail. Reviews give us firsthand insight from people already familiar with the product, algorithms tell us what other products might pique our interest, and often we can preview content by listening to 30 seconds of a song or reading the first chapter of a book.
I really enjoyed this book and found myself nodding along to much of it. It was a bit more theoretical than Groundswell and Engage!, so I felt like there was less that directly applied to Mad River Glen. It would probably be more applicable to a consumer product company; however, the book did make a case for Mad River Glen to expand things like special packages or options for lift tickets. For example, they could offer afternoon-only lift tickets for late risers rather than only full-day tickets, or special Sunday tickets for New Yorkers who plan to spend the afternoon driving home but want to ski in the morning.
The ski industry is less directly affected by technological developments like the Internet than many other industries, yet the most important thing to the industry–the customers–are feeling its effects every day. As customers’ day to day lives change, The Long Tail makes the case for the ski industry– and every other industry to change along with consumer habits. If a company can do what Anderson defines as two imperatives to creating a thriving Long Tail business, they can succeed:
1) Make everything available.
2)Help me find it.
In a world where “there is no baseline,” Year One of Organizing for America tries to provide an aerial view of the activities of the group that formed out of the coalition that mobilized and elected President Obama.
The group is so large that it more or less embodies everything that a campaign can— in both the online and offline realms. Offline, activities range from petition drives to local events and meetings, and online, activities include the extensive email list and dedicated community-building. Communications with policy makers are encouraged both online and offline.
For the Obama campaign, digital media interaction actually did cause behavior in real life— the ultimate end-goal for most campaigns whether they aim to sell a product, encourage someone to quit smoking, watch a television show, or support an idea. New media actual drove political action, like fundraising, event attendance, voter registration, and, ultimately, votes! An effort as large is this is great because it shows the importance of tailored efforts. For example, activities around health care were scaled back or increased depending on political action.
Despite the fact that it is an integral part of my job, I had never really stepped back to consider the importance of online and offline campaign integration. The importance of this cannot be overstressed— not just for political campaigns, either. It’s proven that the more times people see a message, the more likely they are to absorb it, and the more places a message lives, the more likely people are to see it more than once. For example, Old Spice’s new advertising campaign is prevalent not only on YouTube, but on television, and I’ve also seen numerous Tweets and a few Facebook posts about it.
This concept was stressed at work this week as well— my employers’ Ogilvy Notes initiative gained much favorable coverage, including from Mashable, proving that sometimes the perfect compliment to something highly digital is something that’s about as old-fashioned as it gets.
In that light, Mobilizing Generation 2.0 was a very interesting compliment to the Organizing for America case study. While there were some things I did not agree with (e.g., that young adults respond to traditional outreach such as phone calls at the same rates as older adults), on the whole it was a fantastic look at the lives of the newest voters— of which I am a part. I could definitely relate to many parts of the book, seeing as I am among those who do not have a digital component to their lives, instead, digital is integrated into all of the things that I do.
The overarching theme of the book is that while new platforms are great ways to reach audiences, what’s crucial is the relationship building that these platforms allow, and thus participation in social networks requires research and strategies. Knowing your audience is key— if you don’t know how they use a platform, how will you know how to reach them? That’s where this book comes in handy— though it’s a bit out of date, it’s a great learning manual from Rock the Vote— an organization fully intrenched in the subject matter.
The book identifies Millennials as being politically involved, civically active, tech savvy, and influential— making them a group any organization would be remiss not to target. What the book boils down to is: how can we activate this group ONLINE to mobilize them OFFLINE? Through blogs, social networks, mobile phones, wikis, maps, and video and photo sharing: that’s how.
A few best practices from the book: authenticity is key — communicate like a person, not like a computer. Know your audience and your influencers — influencers have their pulse on the audience, and have a wide, authentic reach. By reinforcing offline action with online support, Millennials can be driven to take action and can define a campaign.
Although there is no baseline— one thing is key. Online relationships that can transition to offline interactions are extremely valuable, and learning to develop those types of relationships is key for the future of politicians, organizations, and corporations.
Harry Weisbren’s guest post on Huffington Post is a great synthesis of a complicated idea. About media advocacy, he states that “making sure arguments are heard is just as important as making them.” I really connected with this idea, especially when he elaborated on the Center for American Progress’ mission to not just make persuasive arguments, but to make persuasive arguments that people actually hear. I connected with this because at work, I constantly experience the struggle between science and communicating with the general public. While a scientist who has dedicated years to a certain study may be devastated to see it boiled down into a few bullet points, or one quote in an article, or a 10-second soundbyte, Wall Street Journal readers and Good Morning America viewers do not want to know the same things that the readers of the New England Journal of Medicine want to, and frankly they would not understand them.
The need for effective communication is even more crucial now in a media environment that is entirely convoluted and at times overwhelming. Matt Bai’s book The Argument: Billionaires, Bloggers, and the Battle to Remake Democratic Politics perfectly illustrates that need.
The book looks at a cast of Democratic activists and politicians, including Markos Zuniga of Daily Kos, the leaders of MoveOn.org, and Bill Clinton, to name a few. A personal favorite was the image of billionaire socialite Lynda Resnick exclaiming “We are so tired of being disenfranchised!” in the middle of a party. While Bai’s impeccable storytelling made the book amusing, parts made me worry: as a registered Democrat, should I be concerned about the future of my party? Answer: YES!
As demonstrated in The Argument, while people can claim that they have a vision or a plan, if they don’t have an effective strategy to back it up, then it is essentially worthless. Bai’s argument seems to boil down to a belief that simply wanting to subvert Republicans is not an effective strategy for Democrats to rule the political realm. Without an actual vision and appropriate strategy, how are they to gain lasting support of future generations?
This book really made me stop and think about political and advocacy communications. I think that moving ahead, I will pay special attention to the messages that organizations and individuals are putting out there. And as power has shifted since Bai wrote this book, it will be interesting to see what the Democrats as “underdogs” do next. The future of the Democratic party is literally at stake, and the general population is completely out of the loop.