Serendipity versus the Billable Hour

I just spent 20 minutes chatting with my project manager about client-related work, but it wasn't technically billable. Yet, during that unbillable time, I came up with an idea that I'll present to my client on a call tomorrow.

Can I bill those 20 minutes to the project budget? When we opened our mouths to have that conversation, it wasn't our intention to do "billable" work. We were simply staying in touch on the progress of the project, and my PM just wanted to let me know that he agreed with the POV I provided to the client on an email.

There are many reasons against slavishly and unblinkingly worshipping at the altar of the Billable Hour. This is one more.

Serendipity is the vital life blood of creativity and innovation.

It's simply impossible to capture within a rigid observance of the billable-hour construct. I'm not saying that the billable hour is absolutely useless as a business metric. It's just that I've seen it best implemented as part of a holistic set of metrics rather than be chased as the holy grail.

Getting Black Ink from Pixels

More and more newspapers are finally starting to see the writing on
the wall about their future survival in our brave new digital world.
Some have even begun their struggle to re-define and re-invent
themselves, for better and for worse.

Rupert Murdoch seems hell bent on re-tracing the same unproductive, not to say destructive, path that the major music labels. Newsday, a Long Island daily, tried the Murdoch route by putting up a paywall. The result: After Three Months, Only 35 Subscriptions for Newsday's Web Site.

Others are thinking through the potential of applying the iTunes model
to the news business: sample before you buy, coupled with an insightful
pricing strategy (cents or dollars per article, bundling options): the route of choice for a number of high profile magazines (The EconomistHarvard Business Review). How well they do in the long run remains to be seen.

real challenge, though, is the decimated state of the newspapers'
talent pool of content producers. With staff writers being replaced
with syndicated content produced by the few lucky enough to keep their
jobs, I'm not sure what content these papers will have to sell that's
valuable enough to pay for. To re-invent themselves in the digital age,
some of these papers will have to re-invest in themselves; and
stockholders will have to take a longer-term view of returns or be
prepared to lose it all now.

The long tail of data sales

In doing some client-related research last week, I approached eMarketer to find out if they had relevant data sets for me and about their pricing structure. Predictably, their business model continues to be based on the large enterprise model, not unlike the blockbuster model that drives the movie and book industries. The all-you-can-eat buffet pricing structure at eMarketer serves their mental model, but it serves neither their potential customers' needs nor eMarketer's business needs.

In their undated Harvard Business Review article, Rethinking Marketing, Roland T. Rust, Christine Moorman, and Gaurav Bhalla commented on the fact that many firms are still managed, as if we were still in the 1960s world of mass markets, mass media, and impersonal transactions. The inertia and/or unwillingness of many to stop the cycle of insanity and to accept the new reality is nothing less than stunning. I'm sure I'm not the only one who's witnessed the disastrous results wrought by this affliction.

The authors points out the distinction between a traditional company and what they refer to as a customer-cultivating company: the former is organized to push products and brands, while the other seeks to serve customers and customer segments. For a data company such as eMarketer to so completely miss this point is disappointing, though perhaps predictable.

As a customer needing Canadian data, eMarketer is of limited use to me, but when its data sets are of relevance to me, does it make no financial sense to provide on-demand self-serve access to their online databases? We may have been liberated from the tyranny of buying entire music albums for the pleasure of one song, but clearly, we're still at the frontier of this brave new world.

Still talking about putting the cart before the horse

It amazes me that in 2009, marketing professionals are still seeing and decrying the unevolved approach to marketing we've been seeing since the dawn of marketing. Yep, that's right: talking tactics before strategy.
Seth Godin recently summarized this sickness in a recent post. His example of the attraction to tactics over strategy is noteworthy: "Tactics are easy to outline, because we say, "I'm going to post this." If we post it, we succeed. Strategy is scary to outline, because we describe results, not actions, and that means opportunity for failure."

The current obsession with measurability plays a large part in the seemingly inexplicable allure of tactics. Nothing wrong with measurability: if you're going to invest good money in something, you want to know whether it actually worked. William Lever famously said, "Half my advertising money is wasted. The problem is that I don't know which half!"
We're all still trying to find him that answer.

What many fail to realize is that the answer can't be answered unless there's a strategy in place. In statistics, we define the universe before we can gather data, let alone conduct analysis. Kinda like asking "How many people are there?" when the only question that can be answered is "How many people are there in that room/city/country/etc.?"
Will we ever outgrow this juvenile approach? Is there an antidote?

Choosing who to respect and who to rip off

One of my favourite expositions on risks versus successes: this little skit mocks the conversations we sometimes/often find ourselves having with clients and prospects.

So, the question is: if we wouldn’t have these conversations with those who provide one type of service or product, what is it that makes us think that we can do that with other providers of goods and services?