Business Tip: Survival of the Experimentals

Comment loudly and aggressively, but stay on topic!  NO  POLITICAL COMMENTS on non-political posts!

My two key points here (saving you valuable blog reading time at NO extra charge!).

1. Branding is overrated and usually naively accepted as something that works for small business when generally it does NOT work.

2. Success has no recipe, rather it’s simply survival of the best of many,  mostly failed experiments.   Predicting which will survive is very hard to do, and successful business models evolve from movements aways from troubles as much as “towards” success or using some recipe for success.

A open bet I have that is the extension of point 2 comes to mind:

I’ll wager $1,000 (or more if you like) against *anybody*  who says they can predict the movement of any publicly traded stock or index 2 days in a row.  ie  you’d have FOUR options “up or down” each for day one and day two.    Note:   This is a bad bet for you – you’ll lose it about 3/4 of the time.  Yes, YOU will!

———–  the rest of the story ————

As I age gracefully within the business world I see/meet/study  a lot of “success stories” as well as failures.    Contrary to the fairy tale notions of success, I would not say that successful people seem to be all that much a result of “hard work” or “brilliancy” or “following a path to success”.    I’m not saying there’s zero relationship between smart people or hard workers and success – there does indeed seem to be correlation and I’d guess causation.   However the best way to understand success is to look at the paths away from failures rather than to try to apply a bunch of “success rules” that are mostly just talk-fodder for marketeers and motivational speakers.    In fact many mega-success stories are notable more for how they defied rules than how they applied them.

In the  “special” report from American Express I just got in the mail they have noted  “Six Branding Strategies that can help Differentiate Your Business” .   The advice is generally fine for those who believe in branding as the key strategic concern in small business marketing.  I’m a marketing heretic in this respect and remain very skeptical of the whole branding concept with the probably exception of the huge companies that sell national or international products,  are marketing to pretty much “everybody”, and have a fairly high potential profit margin on your products  (e.g. Coke, ATT, SONY).

Brand may matter at a national level to some extent but even for the big ticket companies I think the ad campaigns are as much about making money for marketing firms as all this “top of mind” stuff that in my view is questionably supported by a lot of self-serving research.     Seems to me that  most of the global brands are more a product of the company’s early efforts than the campaigns that followed those efforts.   It’s hard to tell the primacy of the branding chicken from her egg over time, but clearly  Google is an example of  a huge global brand which was well known well before any expensive advertising campaigns came along to spread and reinforce the message.    Are they the exception or the branding rule?

Branding or not, the American Express advice in a nutshell is OK for the brandy dancers* out there.  The recommendations are:

* Perform Background Research
* Define Your Brand
* Ensure Consistency
* Tap Social Networking Tools
* Track Your Performance
* Stay Top of Mind

Well, OK, but I’d recommend to most small businesses that they focus on only two of these nuggets – Social Networking and tracking performance, and most importantly that they be sure to work away  from failure.    If an ad campaign is not returning positive ROI then dump it  – NOW – and find things that do return a positive ROI.    Social networking is essentially free.   To some extent time is money, but generally this is a great way to apply yourself as the key player in your business and to adjust things at low cost with potential high return.   *Every* business should have a website and a Twitter account.   NO exceptions to this unless you are a clandestine operative for the CIA or something like that.  I suppose Twitter isn’t a great idea in that case.   “Clandestine CIA Operative for Hire – Please twitter @SecretsoftheCIA“.   From a small restaurant to a mega-corporation, you need to have a path from you to customers and from them to you.   Twitter is hard to beat for that purpose.

Based on my travel sector experiences I would argue that local and regional branding is very much overrated as a concept, mostly by the entities (marketing folks) who profit from the misperception that you can usually attain positive ROI on branding campaigns.

Incredibly much of the research in this area is by entities that …. drum roll please …. wait for it …. make their living promoting the idea that branding works.    It’s no surprise that a firm hired by agencies to “determine” whether they are effective at  something … winds up finding out that …. they are effective at doing something!     As with evolution, you don’t survive long if your research tends to conclude your client isn’t doing their job very well.
“I’m sorry Mr. Honest Marketing Research Firm who concluded we waste our money, we’ve concluded we need a new research firm”.

Happy holidays!


* Brandy Dancers are branding enthusiasts and are not to be confused with the Gandy Dancers who use to lay rail in the USA in the 1800s.

Disclaimer:  As a Techdirt Insight Community writer I am sometimes paid for American Express project writing over at This post has nothing to do with that and no compensation is expected or implied, and reflects only my views and the views of those who agree with me.  You know who you are, and I thank you for reading so far into this disclaimer.   For more about potential conflicts of interest as well as a treatise on the notion that transparency and disclosure are more important than the usual pretense of ” I am unbiased!”, see our dislosure policy over at Technology Report.   This ends the disclosure disclaimer portion of our program, thank you and good night.

Climate Science Scandal – will Paleo Dendrochronology survive?

For new readers please NOTE  that I am NOT a climate skeptic, I am just wondering why groupthink seems so pervasive in the climate science community, especially over at the key climate blog RealClimate .

Update: Two very thoughtful and balanced pieces written – by climate scientist Judy Curry – and by Peter Kelemen at Popular Mechanics .

Here’s the Wall Street Journal’s take on this.

Here are the infamous hacked emails.

There’s a remarkable development today on the climate front [thanks to Glenn for the link in the earlier post].   A huge amount of climate data, including some remarkable emails between scientists, have been hacked from the University of Anglia in England.   These mails and data may shed some light on some of the more contentious points in climate science.

The odd methods and math seem especially conspicuous in tree ring studies of climate trends.   Called Paleo Dendrochronology, these studies are VERY often used either alone or with other data in climate studies and often are used alone or with other data to make the case that global climate change is potentially catastrophic.

The best scientific work critical of global warming science seems to focus mostly  on attacking this weakest link – or should I say the weakest rings – over at

Here is a great balanced view at UK Guardian of the story so far:

A critical view of the implications of this data is here at ClimateAudit

A sympathetic view is here at RealClimate where   I tried to post I posted this comment and I appreciate the good sportsmanship of them letting it through moderation.   When they do allow me to post this type of comment I wonder if I’ve been too hard on them for what seems like censorship, but possibly could be the crappy posting system they have over there where moderation, timestamps, and other factors seem to confuse everybody.

Somebody naively wondered why there are so few comments on this post. IMO the answer is that RealClimate is effectively content-censored to a large degree for conformance with the prevailing ideas here.

Uninformed dissenters are sometimes let in so the comment crew can bash them around, but reasoned dissenters are usually banned outright. Many don’t bother trying to post here for that very reason.

Gavin in the interest of transparency would you at least roughly estimate how many of the comments have been moderated out for this post? I would guess 95% have been zapped.

<i>[RealClimate wrote]  Scientists often use the term “trick” to refer to a “a good way to deal with a problem” </i>

Could you give a few examples? I searched right here at Realclimate for uses of that term they tend to relate to “trickery”, not good science.

More climate updates:   Here’s the Copenhagen Diagnosis,  an excellent summary of the latest climate science  since the last big IPCC report.    For the record I do think this does suffer from the prevailing “somewhat alarmist” tone in some of the interpretations of the research.   For example a key observation is the current pause in warming noted by satellite measures, and this is given short shrift here.

More clear thinking about climate change from Bjorn Lomborg

In the Washington Post today Bjorn Lomborg has a  nice short article about why the climate conference in Copenhagen is falling short of expectations and why it’s time to start focusing on different approaches to limiting global warming.

As one of the most articulate folks working to fight the alarmism about climate change, Lomborg is often spuriously called a “climate skeptic” when in fact he has always accepted the excellent IPCC work and the obvious fact of global warming and even accepted the likelihood that most of the observed warming is caused by humans.  But Lomborg rejects the many misguided, expensive approaches alarmists are suggesting to mitigate these changes.

If we are to respond effectively to global warming then we don’t need any more feel-good summits, or exaggerated but empty declarations of success from politicians. We need action that actually does good.

Yes Mr. Lomborg.   But there is no climate Santa Clause, and ironically we’ll see that the inaction continues in the political arena.    Hopefully innovation will trump all the inaction and hype and we’ll have some major energy breakthroughs, but I’m not going to hold my breath.

Google Adwords: All Your Advertising Base are Belong to GOOGLE!

I’m firing up an Adwords campaign to support our  CES 2010 Coverage over at Technology Report and … ummm… I am NOT enjoying revisiting the frustration of working with the world’s most sophisticated advertising monopoly.

I really would NOT complain that much if Google’s silly “ad diagnosis tool” said something like this:

“Dear Joe, we noticed you wanted to run some advertising on our blank results pages.    Although we realize your content is very relevant to users and there is low competition for the space we are going to gouge you on pricing … why Joe?  BECAUSE WE CAN YOU SUCKER!”

I really would chuckle and appreciate the honesty.    In my view Google does not have an obligation to me with respect to pricing ads.   They can do as they please and let the market decide.

BUT … they do have an obligation to be more honest than they are with Adwords comments and as usual the recommendations take the ridiculous forms as they do wth organic search problems where Google is often vague or non-responsive.     Why am I saying they aren’t being honest?    Although it’s true that there appear to be ways to increase your chances of appearing without paying more, the notion that the quality of the keywords and what you pay are unrelated is preposterous.  In fact it clearly defies the claim of “user centric” so often heard from Google.

What can I do?
There are several ways to improve the quality of your keywords, thus decreasing your advertising costs. Learn how to
build a more effective keyword list, and take advantage of our campaign optimization tips. You can also raise your bid. See the ‘Quality Score’ tab for recommendations.

So yes Google I will pay more to show up, but it would be nice if you’d at least make it clear that the reason irrelevant ads are trumping others is that they *make more for Google*, not because they are better for users.

What, you wanted an example of pay to play clear irrelevancy?    Here’s ONE among what I’d estimate are millions of inferior ads running at Google at higher rates than more relevant ads:

Consumer Electronics Show
Consumer Electronics Show Online.

Free Shipping on 100,000+ Products!

Disclaimer:   Hey, on other websites I make money from Google Adwords via Adsense.  I am thus one of the *beneficiaries of this process.  So, why am I biting the hand that feeds me?    Because ya gotta calls ’em like ya sees ’em.

Thank you Nathan Myhrvold!

I’ve detailed some of my misadventures at Real, the sometimes insightful but usually activism-masquerading-as science water cooler for folks who buy the notion that human-caused global warming (aka “AGW”) is on a rampage that is increasingly likely to end with the destruction of global civilization as we know it.

My greatest frustration at RealClimate is the bizarre  comment moderation policy, which effectively squelches most informed dissent in favor of “supportive” comments from the regulars.    My reasonable comments have so often been zapped out that I don’t post there anymore – it’s a waste of my time (and theirs!) to compose a thoughtful reply only to have it reviewed by a climate scientist who takes some offense by people less interested in parroting the party line than questioning some of the nuanced, globally warmed interpretations of proxy data.

But I digress…

Enter Nathan Myhrvold and the fun new book “SuperFreakonomics”, which was  the subject of RealClimate’s spurious attack piece of the week by Raypierre:

The problem wasn’t necessarily that you talked to the wrong experts or talked to too few of them. The problem was that you failed to do the most elementary thinking needed to see if what they were saying (or what you thought they were saying) in fact made any sense.  If you were stupid, it wouldn’t be so bad to have messed up such elementary reasoning, but I don’t by any means think you are stupid.

Levitt’s reply

Now, it’s one thing to make a case that a bunch of whacky bloggers or frothing-at-the-mouth fools like Glenn Beck don’t understand the issues surrounding Global Warming, but it is ridiculous to make this case against a guy like Myhrvold who has both the business credentials and academic ones to suggest he’s very well informed.  He was Microsoft’s Chief Tech Officer and he is the founder of the globally respected “Intellectual Ventures” think tank.   He’s also got the academic chops to debate these issues thoughfully:  Master’s degrees in Geophysics/Space Physics and in Mathematical Economics and a Ph.D. in  Mathematical Physics.

Here’s Myhrvold’s reply which includes this real nugget of wisdom:

One of the saddest things for me about climate science is how political it has become. Science works by having an open dialog that ultimately converges on the truth, for the common benefit of everyone. Most scientific fields enjoy this free flow of ideas.

The good news is that some good scientists who do NOT have a political agenda are (finally) starting to speak out forcefully when attacked by those who do.   The end game is already obvious because reason tends to prevail over ranting.  We should soon soon see the alarmist rhetoric die down in favor of real discussion of real issues, and as we do let’s tip our hats to Nathan and others who are willing to simply state the obvious, regardless of the political implications of doing that.