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Groupon Is Good For Something. Newspapers Actually.

Groupon Is Good For Something. Newspapers Actually.

I have never used a Groupon. And there are plenty of nightmarish stories about how they kill small businesses. No big news here folks — it’s going, going, gone.

But not the model.

It should actually be out there reviving newspapers. That’s kind of a non-sequitur. Let me explain:

I was talking to my older friend who was a former editor and columnist at the Philadelphia Inquirer about how to save newspapers. He’s kind of a media curmudgeon (sorry AC!) so he didn’t quite get — or consider — the following — I’m curious to hear what you all think:

Let’s allow people — and even newspaper professionals — to post suggested stories — just like Groupons are posted and with the same gamification. Like this: People who are interested in a story can pledge some money to it, and when a level of interest and financial support is achieved, the story gets kicked off and assigned to a reporter (or a pre-assigned reporter).

This would give readers editorial pull — and it gives newspapers a business model tied to performance. Practically and financially speaking, I’d rather (or likely) spend $300 in small increments across a year, investing in particular stories or reportage rather than spend $50 on an annual subscription for content that often never connects with my interests.

I love local news — but I’m always frustrated that the ratio of good content to bad content + fluff is 1:100.

So, is the Groupon model just a model? And if it is, can it be the thing that saves journalism? It might just be able to de-couple the content-advertising dependency that has corrupted journalism.




We Need (And Already Have) Better Economic Indicators

Today, I asked Kathleen, my sensible dental hygienist, how the “dentist business” was going.

I honestly didn’t expect the answer I got — I assumed that folks’ teeth would be one of those “recession proof” things. At least regular check ups and cleanings.

Not the case: “It’s been different… worst recession I can remember,” she said.

According to her, my region’s dentists and their office staff are reporting “not even getting their co-pays”.

That’s not good — and for a multitude of obvious reasons — but here’s a different way to think of it:

For all the official economic stats out there, and specifically the “leading economic indicators“, those stats like the “Average weekly jobless claims for unemployment insurance” and the “The University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index” that supposedly represent the trajectory of the economy, there’s probably not one that is as straight forward and tangible as the nascent one implied by my anecdote: are the folks in your town skimping on basic health maintenance?

I think it’s fair to say that it might be time to think about changing that phrase, “All politics is local”, to “All economics Is local”.

If we want folks to understand the state of the economy, why start with national, abstract measurements? Why not anchor it to the folks in your town?

Actually, I’ve been meaning to write about this concept for a while… Way back in 2009, I noticed that when I went to the bank I’d see a lot more people than normal with their change baskets at the counting machines — dumping change, waiting patiently, dumping more, waiting and then finally taking the paper print out to the counter.

I had the fleeting thought back then that it would be really interesting to see the data regarding the usage of those machines?

My thesis: you could gauge the anxiety or budget stress families were having in a region by measuring the frequency and volume of change redemption across banks.

Who ever thought the change in the couch could give you so much insight?





Mobile + Social Has Got to Get Faster and More Meaningful

Mobile + Social Has Got to Get Faster and More Meaningful

Just took the girls out to breakfast at the Classic Diner in Malvern, PA and besides having great food and a zany time, I had a social media epiphany after seeing this:

Restaurant receipt and social media

Social media – a half start


Kudos for the Classic Diner for getting their social media Calls-to-Action (CTA) on their receipts–a great engagement point–but they should have gone a step further. But, really, it’s not all their fault–the industry has to step up a bit too. Let me explain:

The restaurant could have added short URLs–or better yet a QR code (although this would have precluded perhaps having two CTAs). But what would really create a tipping point is a one-step action that creates a better connection to the consumer. I think two things have to happen:

1. Mobile phones have to build QR tech right into the camera.

2. Businesses have to focus and decide what their engagement goal is.

If I had my way, Classic Diner clients would see a QR code on this receipt and by snapping a photo of it they would automatically ‘like’ the restaurant on Facebook. Or, better than that, they would sign up to receive direct–perhaps even custom–offers right from the restaurant.

Bottom line: businesses should make the connection experience radically simple and super meaningful.


Sometimes It Does Make Sense To Advertise Your Business On Your Garbage Can

Sometimes It Does Make Sense To Advertise Your Business On Your Garbage Can

Believe it or not, this makes sense:

It’s a little hard to see, but the little sign is for “Cara’s School of Irish Dance”.  At first glance I thought, “Why would anyone advertise on their own trash can!”

Then I realized where I was and what I was doing: I was pulling two little girls in a red wagon down an alley in my town. Where I come from alleys are a great place to walk–our brick side walks are very bumpy! So, in fact, Cara is pretty smart: she knows how to get in front of the folks she’s targeting (parents from town)–even if that means advertising on a garbage can.

That’s local marketing innovation!

Big Chains Are Losing Out By Not Having Local Store Websites

So I went to looking for info on their West Chester, PA store.  I expected a full-fledged site dedicated to my particular local store—with local info, reflecting local culture… Unfortunately, all I found was basically a phone number and a map!

Listen up national brands/big chains: From a customer’s perspective, the local store is THE chain. So when I go to your site, give me an experience that has significance with regard to the local store… before the you give me the “chain” story.

I checked Starbuck’s out too—they do it incorrectly as well.

Are CMOs scared of diluting the BRAND message by offering local content? Are they uncomfortable with the messiness of enabling local managers? Or the expense of that?

Let’s put it this way: If your friend opened a restaurant in your town and he didn’t have a website what would you do? You’d shake him silly? Isn’t that what Chipotle is doing when they send local searchers to the corporate site?

Does anyone know of a national brand that has a local-orientation to their web strategy? App Lets You Draw Custom Geos App Lets You Draw Custom Geos

Anybody who has grappled with building a local app has struggled with how to structure local searches and local information.

Is it by zip code? Area code? Town name? Mailing address? Miles from current location? Nearest largest city?

Well, has introduced a pretty sweet feature in their iPhone app that’s so intuitive an lightning fast–and downright HELPFUL that I have to show you:

Here’s how it works:

  • You hit the lass0-looking icon
  • You draw your on circle of interest
  • It populates your custom geo with the info you want
This has all the markings of greatness: it works the way you think, it’s easy and it’s fast.
Great UI and great UX team!


The Reverse Newspaper, Groupon Style

It’s time for some radical thinking about your local newspaper.

Here’s the problem: my local paper is covering things that aren’t that relevant to me—and when it is relevant, it’s not covered exactly the way I want it covered.

What if we flipped the editorial function on its head? What if we employed the Groupon model or crowdsourcing intent from a community?

Specifically, I think it could work like this:

  • Allow readers to post story ideas
  • Readers could then vote on their favoriate ones.
  • Once a critical mass was achieved, the story would be assigned to a reporter.
Of course, the initial posting of the idea could include detail to provide a clear idea of what the story should achieve.
Isn’t this a way for a paper to always remain relevant to its readership? More importantly, isn’t this a way for a community to get what it wants?
I think it’s worth at least a pilot.
When I worked at a local newspaper, I served on the community relations board. It was a way for us to ensure we were serving the community better. This idea is soooo much better. It’s real-time, it’s democratic, and it’s transparent.
So,, what do you think?

Groupon’s Mojo: Simplicity

I don’t generally use coupons, but I think Groupon is brilliant in its simplicity.  When you arrive at the site, there’s really only one question.

Here’s a great quote from Andrew Mason, founder of Groupon (from

The premise is “dead-simple value that you can comprehend by looking at one page in three seconds,” says Mason.

In the age of TMI (too much information), this concept will make or break a business.


Yelp’s Revenue Model Needs A Little Creativity

As quoted in the NYTimes today, a conversation with Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman:

Q. So what’s the incentive to advertise on Yelp?

A. The primary thing our advertisers are purchasing is actually advertising. Depending on what your price level is, you get a certain number of impressions of those ads, both at the top of search and on related business pages. So if you’re an Italian restaurant you might show up on a pizza restaurant page or another Italian restaurant page. Beyond that, there are also a couple of enhancements that happen on your business page. You’re buying out that ad inventory that would otherwise be on your page. You get a slide show so the photos on your page are a little bigger and rotate. You also get to highlight one review, which is clearly marked as your favorite. That’s it.

I think these advertising options aren’t compelling .  There’s nothing classy about advertising your Italian restaurant on another Italian restaurant’s page. Why not allow relevant retail shops to choose particular restaurant pages to advertise on? For example, the florist next door to the sandwich shop or the luxury watch shop down the street from the fancy 5-star restaurant.  Why not facilitate these potentially symbiotic relationships? There are long-lasting, productive–I’ll say it, lucrative!–synergies between retail, services and restaurants just waiting to happen. Yelp’s data could facilitate this–plus some community-oriented web apps.

We’ve got to get past the advertising-only rev stream for local content providers.

I wonder: for a given, restaurant, how much of their traffic is from Yelp? If Yelp could  say, we drive on average 20% of traffic to restaurants in the Bay Area–they could charge for that. Most definitely.

What’s Wrong With Yelp?

Sure, I love user generated content, but can it ever pay the bills? I don’t think so. At least not in Yelp’s case. Here’s why:
Yelp caters to the wrong person. If you’re after advertising dollars, it’s not part-time, unpaid writers that you should cater to–it’s small business owners! And small business owners HATE free-for-all commenting on their wares or services. I worked a lot with restaurant owners while running and know they really want to put a hurt on the Yelpers of the world. Sure, they could police all the social sites and try to counter each negative remark–but anyone who knows small business owners knows they don’t have a extra minute in their day to cater to non-core activities.

Can there be a balance?

Maybe. But there would have to be two different sites–probably owned by two different companies. For example, there should be one site that provides factual info (name, address, phone, hours, pics, menu, directions, ‘official review’…) and one for reviews from the masses… and they could link to each other. Perhaps Google and Yelp can do that if they make up. What do you think?
It’s also crossed my mind that Yelp should focus more. Perhaps they should just be working on restaurants or just hair dressers or mechanics. Isn’t it easier to own expertise in a specific market rather than every market? Or, perhaps they can make Yelp channels… maybe hire some coaches to get folks to write more constructively… Just some ideas Yelp… in case you’re listening.