Category: Amazon

IBM, Amazon, Google and Microsoft partner with White House to provide compute resources for COVID-19 research

During today’s White House coronavirus task force press conference, President Trump announced the launch of a new public/private consortium to “unleash the power of American supercomputing resources.” The members of this consortium are the White House, the Department of Energy and IBM . Other companies, including Google, Amazon and Microsoft, as well as a number of academic institutions, are also “contributing lots of different things,” the president said.

While Trump’s comments were characteristically unclear, IBM provided more details, noting that it is working with a number of national labs and other institutions to offer a total of 330 petaflops of compute to various projects in epidemiology, bioinformatics and molecular modeling. Amazon, Google and Microsoft are also part of the consortium, which is being led by IBM, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and the Department of Energy.

IBM and its partners will coordinate the efforts to evaluate proposals and provide access to high-performance computing resources to those that are most likely to have an immediate impact.

“How can supercomputers help us fight this virus? These high-performance computing systems allow researchers to run very large numbers of calculations in epidemiology, bioinformatics, and molecular modeling. These experiments would take years to complete if worked by hand, or months if handled on slower, traditional computing platforms,” writes Dario Gil, IBM’s Director of Research.

AWS has already dedicated $20 million to support COVID-19 research while Microsoft has already announced a number of different initiatives, though mostly around helping businesses cope with the fallout of this crisis. Google has now launched its own coronavirus website (though it’s very different from the one Trump once promised) and Alphabet’s Verily is helping Bay Area residents find testing sites if needed. It’s unclear what exactly Google and Microsoft will contribute to these current efforts, though. We’ve reached out to both companies and will update this post if we hear back.

“Today I’m also announcing the launch of a new public/private consortium organized by the White House, the Department of Energy and IBM to unleash the power of American supercomputing resources to fight the Chinese virus,” Trump, who continues to insist on calling COVID-19 ‘the Chinese virus,’ said in today’s press briefing.

“The following leaders from private industries, academia and government will be contributing and they are gonna be contributing a lot of different things, but compute primarily — computing resources to help researchers discover new treatments and vaccine. They will be working along with NIH and all of the people working on this. But tremendous help from IBM, Google, Amazon, Microsoft, MIT, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the Department of Energy’s, the National Science Foundation and NASA. They are all contributing to this effort.”

Should you self-publish a book or go with a traditional publisher?

self-publish a book

When I speak with hopeful new authors, this is by far the biggest question I receive. Should you self-publish a book … or try to get a contract with a publisher?

I’ve published three books through a traditional publisher and five books on my own so there is probably nobody with a more balanced perspective.

Spoiler Alert: My view is that it is almost always better to self-publish a book, especially if you’re a new author and today I’ll explain why.

Let’s look at the value a traditional publisher is SUPPOSED to bring to an author and the reality of self-publishing a book today.

Reality check

Perhaps the most intoxicating idea is that a big publisher will believe in your greatness, promote the heck out of your new book, and drive you to the top of the New York Times bestseller list.

Unless your name is Malcolm Gladwell or Stephen King, that ain’t gonna happen. In fact, for a first-time author, your publishing contract may require you to sell 5,000 books. It is excruciatingly hard to sell that many books and if you can do that, why do you need a publisher in the first place?

You probably won’t make it into a bookstore or airport if you self-publish a book (although it is possible) but who cares? Nobody goes to bookstores any more. As long as you can be found on Amazon, you’re OK.

As a new author, you’ll be able to market your book on your own better than any publisher. Here is an in-depth post I wrote about marketing a book on your own.

The economics when you self-publish a book

Another reason people want to go to a publisher is to have a chance to make the big bucks through massive book sales.

First, let’s level set. Last year, the finalists for the American Book Award had average sales of 3,000 books apiece. The best books. Almost no sales.

If you’re writing a book to make money, you will be massively disappointed. I can guarantee this.

However … there is hope.

If you get a publishing deal, you’ll receive a small advance which you’ll have to pay back from meager book sale profits. You’ll probably earn less than $2 per book.

If you self-publish a book through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), you’ll earn somewhere around $8 per book, maybe a little more on an audiobook. There’s no monetary advance on your work of course, but you don’t have to pay anything back either.

While the odds are against you making money on one book, you can begin to accrue some decent passive income by writing several books, especially if they are good enough to earn an audience.

I’ve written eight books and I could live off my self-published book income. But I’ve also spent more than a decade building an audience.

I should mention that there are hybrid publishing models out there — you pay money to have a company help you with the tasks of publishing a book — but these are pretty expensive. Remember, you’re not going to make money on a first book. So going with a hybrid model pretty much depends on how much money you’re willing to lose!

Editing and publishing

It takes work to self-publish a book. Tasks like:

  • Cover design
  • Interior design
  • Proof-reading and editing
  • Marketing

… require time and money.

But it’s also fairly easy to do. If you go through KDP, there are menu-driven options that walk you through every detail. You can have KDP help you on something like a cover design, or you can tackle these tasks yourself. There are so many wonderful freelance designers and editors around who can create a compelling cover and book design for very little money. I also have an independent audio editor who makes my audiobooks sing.

So, it’s not that hard. You can easily self-publish a paperback book through KDP for under $2,000 if you use your own local resources. Marketing the book is another expense that can vary widely depending on how committed and creative you are!

Bottom line, it does not have to break the bank to produce a beautiful book. My last five books were self-published and in terms of quality, I’ll stack them up against anything else out there.

Another advantage: Once you turn a final manuscript into a publisher, you won’t see a finished book for nine months or more. If you self-publish, you can have a finished book in your hands in about a week. That’s significant.

Here is an in-depth post on the process I use to publish my own book.

Owning your IP

In 2010, I decided to self-publish my first book, The Tao of Twitter. It ended up becoming a wonderful success and the best-selling book on Twitter.

Two years later, the giant New York publisher McGraw-Hill offered to buy the rights to my book. I had a monster hit through them with Return On Influence, the first book ever written on influencer marketing, and they wanted to represent my first book, too.

At the time, I thought it made sense to have all of my books in the same house, so I agreed. My self-published Twitter book became a McGraw-Hill property, even though moving away from the self-published book meant my profits would shrink to almost nothing.

As the Twitter platform evolved, the Tao book was updated through new editions. But in 2016, McGraw-Hill refused to publish any more updates. They were de-emphasizing business book publishing and decided to let the book slowly die.

I worked for two years to get the rights to the book back and update the book with a new, self-published edition. I’m the only author I know who has pulled a book back from a traditional publisher to self-publish. And I’m selling more books and making more money that way! I was also free to make a new audiobook edition.

The important lesson is — Your book is an important part of your brand and valuable intellectual property. Why would you give that up to another company?

A side note: When I found an error in one of my McGraw-Hill books and asked them to correct it, I was told this was impossible until a second edition came out (which could be years away — if ever!). Through self-publishing, I can correct any error or make an update in one day.

Power over pricing

Let’s go back to the Tao of Twitter example for a moment. When I first moved my book to McGraw-Hill, the publisher made a huge mistake — they priced the book two dollars lower than what I had agreed to.

No problem — Just call up Amazon and change it, right?


Amazon has so much control over the mainstream publishers they are severely limited in their ability to change prices. The publisher could not raise the price on my book!

As a self-published author, I can log-in to KDP and change the price any time I want. That’s right. I have more power over pricing on Amazon than a giant New York City publisher!

How can this advantage work for you?

  • When I introduced my first self-published book, I priced it very low to get it into people’s hands. Then, month by month as the book sales picked up, I raised the price and my profits.
  • I can lower the price of my books for a while to have a “sale.”
  • I’ve even lowered the price on Amazon for two days on one of my books to allow somebody overseas place a special order.

Self-publish a book for extra income potential

There is a massive advantage with self-published books that most authors don’t think about — the flexibility you have with no inventory and a low cost to acquire books directly from KDP.

When you self-publish, there is no minimum inventory. Whether you buy one book or 1,000 books, the price per book is about $2.50 and you’ll normally receive the books in less than a week.

So, if you’re at an event and want to sell books, you can quickly acquire a cheap supply. If I wanted a supply of my McGraw-Hill books, I would have to order them at the same price as you from Amazon! Isn’t that crazy? The author can’t buy their own books at a discount.

Many times, an event might have limited funds to hire me as a speaker but book purchases come from another budget. More than 15 percent of my total book sales come from speaking events.

So look, even if you never sell one book to the public, you can still make money on your book through event sales. Through KDP, I can order the quantity I need and have it shipped directly to the speaking site.

And having direct control of my book allows me to negotiate translation deals in other countries. For example, my book KNOWN attracted a $20,000 deal from a Japanese publisher and I also get a percent of the book sales.

Self-publishing brings you unlimited opportunity and flexibility to get the most benefit out of your hard work.

The issue of ego when you self-publish a book

At this point, you’re probably wondering why anybody would ever go through a traditional publisher. There is only one reason I can think of.


Some people think it is a negative to self-publish, or seek the “glamour” that comes with having a book contract.

But how many people know or care I self-published my last five books? Nobody.

Nobody knows.

Nobody cares.

Whatever small incentives might come from a traditional publisher, they are completely overwhelmed by the flexibility, profitability, and creative freedom that comes from self-publishing a book.

No matter where your writing path leads you, I wish you good luck on your publishing journey!

Keynote speaker Mark SchaeferMark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world.  Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

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Community drama threatens Twitch influencers. Are marketers at risk?

twitch influencers

By Kiki Schirr, {grow} Contributing Columnist

A few years ago, I started reporting on the red-hot live stream video game channel, Twitch. It was bought by Amazon in 2014 for nearly a billion dollars. and was growing at an astronomical rate. The popularity of streaming video game play was catching on outside of Asia, where competitive eSports filled arenas. Twitch influencers were on fire and one of the most exciting new marketing opportunities on the planet.

Just a few years later, many Twitch influencers and brand sponsors are wondering if the platform is crumbling.

Let’s look at some of the problems and risks of this promising platform.

1. Twitch influencers on the move

A significant crack has appeared in the streaming fortress: Twitch influencers are leaving for YouTube.

Activision Blizzard, the game developer behind Twitch-staples like Call of Duty, Overwatch, and Hearthstone, announced that it had signed an exclusive eSports league contract with YouTube. So while individual streamers can still play these games on Twitch, the arena-filling professional competitions will be aired exclusively on YouTube.

Some news outlets suggest that Twitch had voluntarily opted not to renew their exclusive two-year contract with Activision Blizzard. Whether it was by Amazon’s choice or not, YouTube’s new contract is another in a series of recent losses for Twitch.

Several prominent live streamers have left Twitch over the last year, including Jack ‘CouRage’ Dunlop‘s exclusive contract with YouTube and Ninja’s departure for Microsoft’s Mixer.

2. Gender wars

Certain parts of the Twitch gaming community have become a cesspool of misogynistic conduct.

Tensions often run high between genders as men and women face unique challenges on the platform. Men who stream on Twitch rant about “bikini streamers” who they say rely on appearance and skimpy clothing to boost viewership.

Some of Twitch’s most notorious casters have responded with harassment, including misogynistic rants that refer to female streamers as “sluts.”

One of the most notable rants occurred last November when a viral video of a caster named Trainwrecks spread around Twitter. Trainwrecks is heard in a video talking about taking the platform back from “bikini streamers” and returning Twitch to its former glory days.

Women can be targeted for persistent harassment by organized groups of Twitch vigilantes.

3. Twitch community standards are weak

Twitch has always had defined community standards. However, Twitch has never defined community standards well.

While any community that features user-generated content (UGC) always has growing pains related to the need for moderation, Twitch is notorious for vague rules and seemingly-random suspensions.

One woman streamer complained that she’d been suspended while wearing a tank top and (short) shorts on her stream. Her outfit didn’t violate the rules, which said if she could wear it to the mall she’d be fine. While her outfit was perfectly fine at the mall, it wasn’t fine for moderators, despite written rules to the contrary.

Another example of inconsistent punishment: Recently a male streamer ranting about women was suspended for five days during the same week that a woman received only a 24-hour suspension for streaming explicitly sexual content.

If you were open to conspiracy theories (as many Internet denizens are), it would be easy to suspect that Twitch deliberately leaves these policies vague. Even after rule updates in 2018, Twitch community standards seem open to nearly any interpretation.

Twitch influencers

Ice Poseidon

Streamers also objected to the company’s position that Twitch influencers are responsible for the actions of their fans. This was likely spurred by the 2017 airplane bomb threat called in by a fan impersonating then-Twitch streamer Ice Poseidon.

Twitch used the bomb threat as the final straw in Ice Poseidon’s permanent Twitch ban. While a permanent ban was likely wise given his previous on-air antics, Ice Poseidon often protests that Twitch punished the victim for the crime. This accusation seems true.

Twitch influencers — Should marketers flee?

While the drama stirs on Twitch, marketers should pause and reconsider whether Twitch influencers remain an effective source of brand marketing.

While Twitch streamers spend an enormous amount of time in front of their fans, sponsoring influencers who could be suspended or platform-hop at any time is risky. Toxic in-fighting between streamers and the bleed of talent to new apps can’t be predicted.

If you wish to work with Twitch influencers, remember to add a clause about being allowed to change payment in the event of a drop in viewership due to a platform switch.

You might also want to add, no matter how old-fashioned it might sound, a morality contingency to your contract. While in the past these morality clauses penalized adultery or crime, these days it might be better to protect your brand from overt displays of misogyny, racism, or lewd acts for financial gain.

Do you have any wisdom to share when it comes to influencer marketing in the gaming world? Have you worked with Twitch or another live streaming platform? Feel free to drop advice for fellow {grow} community members in the comment section below. I hope you’ve found this to be an interesting follow-up to past articles on using Twitch for social media marketing!

KikiSchirrKiki Schirr is a freelance marketer who enjoys absorbing new trends within the tech scene. Her favorite games are turn-based strategy PC games like Sid Meier’s Civilization series. After Civ IV nearly interfered with her undergraduate GPA, Kiki has been forced to use computer time-tracking apps or avoid new Civ releases entirely. She is most easily reached via Twitter.

Illustration courtesy

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Fable Studio founder Edward Saatchi on designing virtual beings

In films, TV shows and books — and even in video games where characters are designed to respond to user behavior — we don’t perceive characters as beings with whom we can establish two-way relationships. But that’s poised to change, at least in some use cases.

Interactive characters — fictional, virtual personas capable of personalized interactions — are defining new territory in entertainment. In my guide to the concept of “virtual beings,” I outlined two categories of these characters:

  • virtual influencers: fictional characters with real-world social media accounts who build and engage with a mass following of fans.
  • virtual companions: AIs oriented toward one-to-one relationships, much like the tech depicted in the films “Her” and “Ex Machina.” They are personalized enough to engage us in entertaining discussions and respond to our behavior (in the physical world or within games) like a human would.

Part 3 of 3: designing virtual companions

In this discussion, Fable CEO Edward Saatchi addresses the technical and artistic dynamics of virtual companions: AIs created to establish one-to-one relationships with consumers. After mobile, Saatchi says he believes such virtual beings will act as the next paradigm for human-computer interaction.

Startups Weekly: Oyo’s toxicity + A farewell

Welcome back to Startups Weekly, a weekend newsletter that dives into the week’s noteworthy startups and venture capital news. Before I jump into today’s topic, let’s catch up a bit. Last week I wrote about the startups we lost in 2019. Before that, I noted the defining moments of VC in 2019.

Unfortunately, this will be my last newsletter, as I am leaving TechCrunch for a new opportunity. Don’t worry, Startups Weekly isn’t going anywhere. We’ll have a new writer taking over the weekly update soon enough; in the meantime, TechCrunch editor Henry Pickavet will be at the helm. You can still get in touch with me on Twitter @KateClarkTweets.

If you’re new here, you can subscribe to Startups Weekly here. Lots of good content will be coming your way in 2020.

India’s WeWork?

TechCrunch reporter Manish Singh penned an interesting piece on the state of Indian startups this week: As Indian startups raise record capital, losses are widening (Extra Crunch membership required). In it, he claims the financial performance of India’s largest startups are cause for concern. Gems like Flipkart, BigBasket and Paytm have lost a collective $3 billion in the last year.

“What is especially troublesome for startups is that there is no clear path for how they would ever generate big profits,” he writes. “Silicon Valley companies, for instance, have entered and expanded into India in recent years, investing billions of dollars in local operations, but yet, India has yet to make any substantial contribution to their bottom lines. If that wasn’t challenging enough, many Indian startups compete directly with Silicon Valley giants, which while impressive, is an expensive endeavor.”

Manish’s story came one day after The New York Times published an in-depth report on Oyo, a tech-enabled budget hotel chain and rising star in the Indian tech community. The NYT wrote that Oyo offers unlicensed rooms and has bribed police officials to deter trouble, among other toxic practices.

Whether Oyo, backed by billions from the SoftBank Vision Fund, will become India’s WeWork is the real cause for concern. India’s startup ecosystem is likely to face a number of barriers as it grows to compete with the likes of Silicon Valley.

Follow Manish here or on Twitter for more of TechCrunch’s growing India coverage.

Venture capital highlights (it’s been a slow week)

How to find the right reporter to pitch your startup

If you’ve still not subscribed to Extra Crunch, now is the time. Longtime TechCrunch reporter and editor Josh Constine is launching a new series to teach you how to pitch your startup. In it he will examine embargoes, exclusives, press kit visuals, interview questions and more. The first of many, How to find the right reporter to pitch your startup, is online now.

Subscribe to Extra Crunch here.


tc equity podcast ios 2 1

Another week, another new episode of TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, Equity. This week, we discussed a few of 2019’s largest scandals, Peloton’s strange holiday ad and the controversy over at the luggage startup Away. Listen here and be sure to subscribe, too.

For anyone wondering about changes at Equity following my departure from TechCrunch, the lovely Alex Wilhelm (founding Equity co-host) will keep the show alive and, soon enough, there will be a brand new co-host in my place. Please keep supporting the show and be sure to recommend it to all your podcast-adoring friends.

Tech’s biggest companies are worth ~$5T as 2019’s epic stock market run wraps

Look, this is the last post I’m writing in 2019 and I’m tired. But I can’t let the year close without taking stock of how well tech stocks did this year. It was bonkers.

So let’s mark the year’s conclusion with some notes for our future selves. Yes, we know that the Nasdaq has been setting new records and SaaS had a good year. But we need to dig in and get the numbers out so that we can look back and remember.

Let’s cap off this year the way it deserves to be remembered, as a kick-ass trip ’round the sun for your local, public technology company.

Keeping score

We’ll start with the indices that we care about:

  • The tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite rose 35% in 2019
  • The SaaS-heavy Bessemer Cloud Index rose 41% this year

Next, the highest-value U.S.-based technology companies:

  • Microsoft was up around 55% in 2019
  • Apple managed an 86% gain in the year
  • Not be left out, Facebook rose 57%
  • Amazon posted its own gain of 23% in 2019
  • Alphabet managed to grow by 29%, as well

Now let’s turn to some companies that we care about, even if they are smaller than the Big Five:

  • Salesforce? Up 19% this year
  • Adobe was up 46% in 2019, which was astounding
  • Intel picked up 28% in the year, making it no slouch
  • Even Oracle managed to gain 17% in 2019

And so on.

The technology industry’s epic run has been so strong that The Wall Street Journal noted this morning that, powered by tech companies, U.S. stocks “are poised for their best annual performance in six years.” The Journal highlighted the performance of Apple and Microsoft in particular for helping drive the boom. I wonder why.

How long will we live in the neighborhood of Nasdaq 9,000? How long can two tech companies be worth more than $1 trillion at the same time? How long can the biggest tech companies be worth a combined $4.93 trillion (I remember when $3 trillion for the Big Five was news, and I recall when the group reach a collective value of $4 trillion).1

But the worst trade in recent years has been the pessimists’ gambit. No matter what, stocks have kept going up, short-term hiccoughs and other missteps aside.

For nearly everyone, that is. While tech stocks in general did very well, some names that we all know did not. Let’s close on those reminders that a rising tide lifts only most boats.

2019 naughty list

Several of the most lackluster public tech companies were 2019 technology IPOs, interestingly enough. Who didn’t do well? Uber earns a spot on the naughty list for not only being underwater from its IPO price, but also from its final private valuations. And as you guessed, Lyft is down from its IPO price as well, which is not good.

Some 2019 IPOs did well in the middle of the year, but fell a little flat as the year came to a close. Pinterest, Beyond Meat and Zoom meet that criteria, for example. And some SaaS companies struggled, even if we think they will reach $1 billion in revenue in time.

But it was mostly a party. The public markets were good, and tech stocks were great. This helped create another 100+ unicorns in the year.

Such was 2019. On to 2020!

  1. In time, those numbers will look small. But sitting here on December 31, 2019, they appear huge and towering and, it must be said, somewhat perilously stacked.

India’s richest man is ready to take on Amazon and Walmart’s Flipkart

As Amazon and Walmart-owned Flipkart spend billions to make a dent in India’s retail market and reel from recent regulatory hurdles, the two companies have stumbled upon a new challenge: Mukesh Ambani, Asia’s richest man.

Reliance Retail and Reliance Jio, two subsidiaries of Ambani’s Reliance Industries, said they have soft launched JioMart, their e-commerce venture that works closely with neighbourhood stores, in parts of the state of Maharashtra — Navi Mumbai, Kalyan and Thane.

The e-commerce venture, which is being marketed as “Desh Ki Nayi Dukaan” (Hindi for new store of the country), currently offers a catalog of 50,000 grocery items and promises “free and express delivery.”

In an email to Reliance Jio users, the two aforementioned subsidiaries that are working together on the e-commerce venture, said they plan to expand the service to many parts of India in coming months. The joint venture has also urged Jio subscribers to sign up to JioMart to access introductory offers. A Reliance spokesperson declined to share more.

The soft launch this week comes months after Ambani, who runs Reliance Industries — India’s largest industrial house — said that he wants to service tens of millions of retailers and store owners across the country.

If there is anyone in India who is positioned to compete with heavily-backed Amazon and Walmart, it’s him. Reliance Retail, which was founded in 2006, is the largest retailer in the country by revenue. It serves more than 3.5 million customers each week through its nearly 10,000 physical stores in more than 6,500 Indian cities and towns.

Reliance Jio is the second largest telecom operator in India with more than 360 million subscribers. The 4G-only carrier, which launched commercial operations in the second half of 2016, disrupted the incumbent telecom operation in the country by offering bulk of data and voice calls at little to no charge for an extended period of time.

In a speech in January, Ambani, an ally of India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, invoked Mahatama Gandhi and said, like Gandhi, who led a movement against political colonization of India, “we have to collectively launch a new movement against data colonization. For India to succeed in this data-driven revolution, we will have to migrate the control and ownership of Indian data back to India – in other words, Indian wealth back to every Indian.”

Modi, whose government at the time had just announced regulatory challenges that would impact Amazon and Flipkart, was among the attendees.

E-commerce still accounts for just a fraction of total retail sales in India. India’s retail market is estimated to grow to $188 billion in next four years, up from about $79 billion last year, according to research firm Technopak Advisors.

In an interview earlier this year, Amit Agarwal, manager of Amazon India, said, “one thing to keep in mind is that e-commerce is a very, very small portion of total retail consumption in India, probably less than 3%.”

To make their businesses more appealing to Indians, both Amazon and Flipkart have expanded their offerings and entered new businesses. Both of the platforms have started to sell grocery items in recent quarters and are working on food retail, too. Amazon has bought stakes in a number of retailers in India, including in India’s second largest retail chain Future Retail’s Future Coupons, Indian supermarket chain More, and department store chain Shopper’s Stop.

Flipkart has invested in a number of logistic startups including ShadowFax and Ninjacart. Amazon India was also in talks with Ninjacart to acquire some stake in the Bangalore-based startup, people familiar with the matter said.

In recent quarters, Reliance Jio executives have aggressively reached out shop owners in many parts of India to showcase their point-of-sale machines and incentivize them to join JioMart, many merchants who have been approached said.

If you’re struggling with strategy, focus on the three market disciplines

market disciplines

by Keith Reynold Jennings {grow} Contributing Columnist

There’s an old sales adage that goes like this: “You can have good, fast, and cheap, but you can only pick two.”

It’s a snazzy turn-of-phrase, but I’ve not found any qualitative or quantitative support for this. As a buyer, I want it all — good quality, reasonable price, and easy access. And if you’re not willing to meet that expectation, well, I’ll gladly find a seller who will.

Caveat venditor (seller beware), right?

How, then, are some brands — Amazon, Telsa, Mayo Clinic, to name a few — able to rise above the others and enjoy such sustainable profitability and popularity?

I think the answer lies in a long-forgotten book.

If you are struggling to grow your brand in today’s marketing rebellion, fighting pricing pressures, feeling lost with your strategy, or building your own personal brand, then this article is for you.

The Three Disciplines of Market Leaders

A long time ago, in a decade far, far away (1995), Michael Treacy and Fred Wiersema published the famous book, The Discipline of Market Leaders. In their study of 80 market-leading companies at that time, they discovered that customers clustered into three categories:

  1. Those who value lowest total cost
  2. Those who value product distinction and performance
  3. And those who value personalized service and guidance

Take a minute and think about the things you buy. Why do you buy from Amazon? Or Apple? Or not Apple? What made you choose to buy the car you drive? What’s your go-to place for a quick meal? Why is that your preferred place?

As you think about the things you buy, there are certain situations in which you value low cost and convenience. There are situations in which you value the best-of-the-best. And there are situations in which you value personalization.

The core argument of Treacy and Wiersema’s book was that the most successful organizations (i.e. the market leaders) across industries excel at delivering a single type of value to their customers — driven by what they called “market disciplines.”

  1. Businesses that master the discipline of operational excellence excel at delivering low cost and convenience
  2. Businesses that master the discipline of product leadership excel at delivering cutting edge and best-in-class
  3. Businesses that master the discipline of customer intimacy excel at delivering one-of-a-kind, personalized experiences

I’ve come to think of these “market disciplines” as three Cs: 1) cost-effectiveness, 2) cutting edge or 3) customization.

Now, compare the list of three customer clusters above to this list of three market disciplines. Can you see the connections and correlations?

Bringing Market Disciplines to the Here and Now

At this point, you may be thinking, “That’s interesting stuff Keith, but that was then, this is now.”

Let’s take some of today’s market leaders and see how they stack up against that 1995 research.

Amazon excels at offering a huge selection, at low prices with fast shipping. Walmart and IKEA are similar — big selection, low prices, and convenience. It sure sounds like these brands excel at cost-effectiveness (i.e. the market discipline of operational excellence).

When I think of products and services that are of the highest quality and/or are renowned for their status, brands like Tesla, Mayo Clinic, The Wall Street Journal and Manolo Blahnik, among others, come to mind. These brands are built on cutting edge distinction (i.e. product leaders).

What about brands like Uber and Airbnb? Well, my friend, these brands were built on deep data and sophisticated algorithms that match customers wanting to transport or house people (sellers) with customers needing a ride or place to sleep. In other words, these brands excel at customization and personalization — right time, right place, right person. That requires customer intimacy through data.

Which Market Disciplines Should You Master?

I recently had a conversation with a company president about his strategy for next year. After listening to him describe his team’s chronic struggles to deliver on clients’ expectations, I started to suspect the company lacked a core market discipline.

So, I asked him, “Do your clients most value cost effectiveness, cutting edge or customization?”

He said, “Customization.”

That immediately explained why his team was struggling. His company wasn’t operationalized or optimized to quickly personalize their solution to each client’s unique needs. They were immature with data mining and management. Their turnaround time to go-live was steadily increasing. Which was delaying their cash flow.

The strongest brands — the market leaders —excel at delivering on either cost, cutting edge or customization. They don’t try to master more than one at a time, because it’s too costly. And they evolve with their customers’ values.

Undisciplined businesses (i.e. those that aren’t market leaders) try to be all things to all people. They’re mediocre. And, like grains of sand on a beach, they look like everything else around them.

Choosing the Right Discipline

Whether you’re running a “single shingle” service business or a multi-billion-dollar matrix organization, ask yourself these questions:

  • Do my customers most value low cost, cutting edge or customization?
  • Are my people, processes and technologies optimized to deliver this primary value?
  • Do my operations have the funding it takes to optimize for this value?

According to the authors, operationally excellent companies reject variety, because it comes with heavy costs. They focus on serving high demand middle markets where customers are more interested in cost and convenience than choice.

Product leaders sell what’s new. They sell what’s never existed before. Therefore, they must create markets where none existed, which requires early adopter programs, big launches and other high-cost, massive education investments.

Finally, companies that excel at customer intimacy know their customers’ professional and personal lives better than they do. They are masters of data. They are able to mine insights and scale best practices better and faster than their competition.

When In Doubt, Ask Your Customers

No business can possibly be a premium product/service leader that creates one-of-kind experiences for everyone everywhere at low cost. Yours can’t either.

The good news is you don’t have to. Different customers buy different kinds of value.

The key is to get crystal clear about which your customers most value, and architect your operations around that core discipline. If you’re not clear, get out in the field and ask.

Your customers can have low cost, cutting edge and customization. But they (and you) can only pick one!

Keith Reynold Jennings is an executive and writer who serves as vice president of community impact for Jackson Healthcare. He’s also an advisor to goBeyondProfit. Connect with Keith on Twitter and Linkedin.

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What is the current state of content distribution? The answer is “who”

content distribution

I was recently in a lively discussion about the state of content distribution and it reminded me that this is a topic I haven’t covered in a long time. This was a dominant theme for me when I was working on the 2015 book The Content Code and it’s time to take a fresh look at things. So let’s dig in.

Content shock is alive and well

We are approaching the fifth anniversary of the most popular blog post I’ve written — Content Shock. It went viral because it pricked at the pomposity of the content marketing gurus and proclaimed that the popular notion of inbound marketing just doesn’t work like it used to.

And … it doesn’t.

There’s no denying that my prediction came true. As niches swelled with meaningful, helpful content, it became more difficult and expensive to compete. Social sharing and page views declined and our collective ability to stand out was muted by this hurricane of content competitors.

This suggested that content alone could no longer be the answer to the marketer’s dilemma. Creating more content just added to the problem. We needed our content to move. It had to be seen, it had to be shared. It had to be ignited.

Content ignition — that is the true source of content marketing value! There is no economic value to publishing content unless that content is seen and shared.

So how do we ignite our content? Let’s look at the state of the nation.

First — A caveat. There is no cookie-cutter solution or idea in the marketing world. Every industry, business, and product is complex. So, there are lots of exceptions. Today I am presenting high-level ideas, not specific solutions.

Search engine optimization

For nearly three decades, SEO has been the go-to strategy for content distribution. There is no more intoxicating marketing idea than having high potential customers auto-magically find our content organically through that little search box.

That is the heart of the idea behind inbound marketing, a concept that is much less relevant today than it was five years ago.

SEO is important, and it always will be, but my view it is far less important to most businesses than they think, for a simple reason. To win at SEO, you have to own one of the top search results. So in this never-ending battle for SEO supremacy, there can only be one or two winners in an entire product category.

In essence, SEO is like two big, mean junkyard dogs fighting over the same bone, week after week, year after year. Unless you’re one of those top dogs, SEO can be an expensive way to achieve endless frustration. Another option for content ignition — and probably a better option for most businesses — is to develop content that builds authority.

Authority-based content is produced for the customer, not a search engine, and wins the distribution war if it is good enough to earn customer subscriptions and organic advocacy.

If you want to dive into this idea more deeply, here are resources that can help. In another blog post, I explain the junkyard dog idea and in a second post I break down the two most likely content marketing strategies, including authority.

Promotions and advertising

If we can’t organically earn our way into the attention span of our customers, can we buy our way in through ads that boost our content? That is also getting more difficult.

Here’s a sign of the advertising apocalypse before us. One of the themes at the last Cannes Lions Festival was the desperate push from agencies to get Netflix to show ads. This sad and ridiculous strategy is coming about because of a couple of megatrends.

First, at an increasing rate, content being consumed today does not feature ads. Netflix. Amazon Prime. Spotify. Audiobooks. None of them show ads. Why? Consumers hate ads and consumers always win. Traditional advertising as we know it is dying.

Second, the only place where advertising is growing — digital — is filling up. As the ad inventory declines, the prices rise, making digital ads less accessible for some businesses, or products with slim margins.

Advertising is still a relevant content distribution strategy in some places of course, but it is also a victim of Content Shock — as the competition to standout increases, the cost to compete and distribute that content rises until some businesses will simply have to drop out.

The importance of WHO

So in this weird and noisy world, how do we get our message through? I think the future of content marketing and distribution is found in the word WHO.

Content distribution is a real mess compared to a few years ago. It’s harder to get our content seen and shared and even when we boost it with an ad, people probably still don’t see it or believe it. In fact, trust in businesses, brands, and ads have declined 10 years in a row, according to the Edelman Trust Barometer.

Who do people trust? Each other! We trust people like …

  • Friends and neighbors
  • Business leaders
  • Technical experts
  • Entrepreneurs
  • Influencers and celebrities

I believe completely that this simple fact will dictate the future of content marketing and content distribution.

The key idea is that yes, the WHAT of our story is important, but perhaps even more important is the WHO — WHO IS TELLING THE STORY?

If your company is telling the story through your content, it’s less likely that it will be seen, believed, and shared. But if people I trust are telling me this story, the content becomes internalized and actionable. The content ignites in the very best way — from people we trust.

Content ignition through trusted audiences is the true state of the art in content distribution. If you want to dive into this a little more, in another post I describe how this is an ongoing process of being invited on to the customer “islands.”

The future of content distribution

Marketing success in this new environment means adopting an entirely new mindset. We do not control the message, the pipeline, or the customer journey. The customer is the marketer. How do we help them do the job?

This is a scary and unfamiliar concept. It’s going to be hard to explain to a boss who is still entrenched in 2013. Content marketing success is going to be harder to measure. It’s going to take some bold leadership to accomplish.

But in this world of rapid change and uncertainty, this is one thing I know: We don’t have a choice but to keep moving ahead. We have to pivot and accept these new marketing realities.

The future of content distribution will rely on us creating stories and experiences that are so unmissable and conversational that the customers become the marketing department.

The key to our future success isn’t necessarily the story. It’s who is telling it.

Keynote speaker Mark SchaeferMark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world. Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

Illustration courtesy

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Unintended consequences: How Amazon is disrupting telephone poles

unintended consequences

By Mark Schaefer

This week the New York Times did a long, investigative report on how Amazon has weaved its way into nearly every aspect of life in the city of Baltimore — government, education, politics, economics, and employment, to name a few. The city is mostly positive about its dependence on this gigantic company, but there were also a few unintended consequences!

I experienced this myself. I live far away from Baltimore. In fact, I live in the country but Amazon is disrupting life even here. They are disrupting our telephone poles!

Big trucks, unintended consequences

A few months ago, a big DHL delivery truck dropped off a package at our home, which is situated at the end of a long driveway, at the bottom of a hill.

When the truck was going back up the hill, somehow the top of the vehicle got caught on the electrical wires strung from a telephone pole to our house. It was dark outside but I could tell something was wrong. When I walked to the top of the hill, I saw that a live electrical wire was on the ground.

Even stranger, I turned my flashlight to the top of the truck and saw that the caught wire had peeled back the top of the truck like a can of sardines!

The driver took one look at it and said, “I’m sure glad we have insurance!”

The headline of this article promises news about how Amazon is involved in all of this, so let’s get to it.

A tall tale

Police and emergency vehicles arrived at the driveway scene and eventually, the truck was safely untangled from the wire.

But now, I had to get the wire to my house repaired. The electric company said they would put in a temporary fix but that they would have to come back and put in a whole new, larger telephone pole, which appeared to be fine to me.

They explained:

For decades, the electric company has used 30-foot poles. That provided more than enough room for any traditional delivery vehicle — like a mail truck — to navigate a residential neighborhood.

But in the last 10 years, home deliveries from Amazon and other eCommerce sites have increased at such a rapid pace that bigger trucks have been coming into residential neighborhoods to keep up with the delivery volume.

Apparently my situation was not unusual. These trucks are getting caught by wires with regularity,  causing the electric company to replace the traditional pole with one that is 10 feet taller — 40 feet!

Unintended consequences

A new 40-foot pole costs about $500, not including labor. For fun, let’s throw another $500 in there for labor (conservative) to make it an even $1,000 to replace a pole.

Think about how much it’s adding to our utility bills. Eventually, every telephone pole in a residential neighborhood will have to be replaced with the 40-footers and that cost will have to be recouped somehow.

There are eight poles on my street, serving five houses. That would be an assessment of $1,600 per household in this little thought experiment. Sort of an Amazon tax.

Anyway, I thought it was interesting. Who would have thought the electric bill is going up because we’re buying jeans from Amazon?

Keynote speaker Mark SchaeferMark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world. Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

Illustration courtesy of

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