I'm Moving!

For those who subscribe to or read this blog, I've moved to another domain! You can follow me at www.chezcakeshuffle.com. Hope to see you there!


A Simple Lunch (Or Dinner)

A delicious pizza muffin! (pre-oven)

Sometimes, you just want to eat simple. Simple food, simple ingredients, yet satisfying all the same. For those who have never experienced one, a pizza muffin can be all those things. Easy and cheap to make, I had this for lunch today and it hit the spot. Recipe follows:

1 whole wheat english muffin
2 spoonfuls of pizza sauce
Shredded mozzarella cheese
2 fresh basil leafs

Set your oven to broil, and place the english muffin under the broiler until toasted and crispy. Take the muffins out, layer each half with a spoonful of pizza sauce, cheese, and a fresh basil leaf. Put back under the broiler until cheese is melted and just beginning to brown. Take muffins out of the oven and enjoy!

Pizza muffin post-oven


Aw Shucks, Another Review?

Being a recent college graduate in a recession means one thing - well, it means several actually, but chief among them is the need to find affordable places to eat - ones that don't contain lovable cartoon character mascots or multi-million dollar advertising budgets. It's been a mission of mine since I moved to Dallas - to be the most knowledgeable person in the city about how one can eat well on a budget. It's in that spirit that my girlfriend and I decided to check out the Aw Shucks Oyster Bar on Greenville Avenue.

On the outside - the inside too, for that matter, the place doesn't look like much. Growing up near the coast in Massachusetts, it looks like any small-time beach side restaurant you might find there - I was almost surprised to find I was still in Dallas. As you walk in, you're greeted not by a cheerful host, but a cash register. The premise behind Aw Shucks is that you eat on the honor system - order at the bar, pick up food when your name is called, eat, and pay on your way out. (Just make sure you remember to tell the cashier about all those frozen margaritas you may have ordered at the bar.)

The food itself is good - for what it is. Just about everything is fried, under $10, and it's the only place I know where you can get a dozen raw oysters for $9.95. I decided to be boring (for me) and ordered the Fish Tacos (with the ubiquitous frozen margarita). My girlfriend and I sat down on one of the many outdoor wooden tables. The seating area was full with other diners much like ourselves - young, almost broke, yet looking for some time away from the house.

When the food was ready, we were greeted with 2 circular metal plates - resembling small pizza trays. At first glance, I was disappointed. The "tacos" were 3 small flour tortillas containing measly strips of blackened Tilapia, and nothing else. Once I filled them with rice, fresh avocado and spicy slaw, however, (and a few more sips of margarita) I found them quite enjoyable. While I've certainly enjoyed better fish tacos in my day, for 7.95 these were hard to beat.

By the end of the meal, my girlfriend and I left Aw Shucks feeling full, satisfied, and lacking any of the regret that usually follows dining at a much pricier venue. Aw Shucks may not be that trendy sports car you've always wanted - it's more like the beat up old Honda you said you'd drive until it died - only it never did.


Brand Tags

Wanted to direct your attention to a great new tool for brand research - Noah Briar's Brand Tags. The idea of the project is that the user is presented with a brand logo, and in a text box below he is instructed to type whatever word first comes to mind. Noah accepts submissions if your favorite brand is not listed.

It's a great way to quickly see what words a brand owns, or what general public perception of a brand is. For example, MySpace owns the following words: pwned by facebook, social, ugly, friends, people, emo, lame, and teenagers. Brand Tags could be useful for smaller companies that don't have the resources to run focus groups or invest in costly marketing research.


Taking it to the Next Level

Saw the new short film by Guy Ritche for Nike. (thanks to beyond madison avenue for the heads up) It's really interesting. Not often do you find examples of first person subjective filmmaking that actually works (I can think of one other example off the top of my head - the Prodigy video for "Smack My Bitch Up") Here, it works. It fits with Nike's strategy of encouraging its user base to push themselves to new levels - while using Nike products of course. It also works as an ad.

Nike products are used prominently and in entertaining fashion. The first person subjective style enables the viewer to put themselves in the shoes of the main character, which is perfect for Nike. I'd actually like to see more high profile directors taking a shot a making ads. Most have a keen understanding of how different visual styles can psychologically impact the viewer, which translates directly to advertising. So what do you say Mad. Ave.? More Hollywood directors for commercials?


A Piece of the Free Economy - Last.FM

Last.FM is a social networking site that is built around the wonderful world of music. Site members build profiles, join groups, make friends, listen to music, and track listening habits through a simple iTunes (or other listening software) add-on application.

In order to generate revenue, Last.FM uses a combination of strategies. The primary strategy used is the Freemium, where varying subscription tiers exist, from free to paid. On Last.FM, however, there are only two subscription levels - free or paid. Free users are able to enjoy most of the major site benefits of paid users, and the majority of Last.FM members stick to the freebies. Those who chose to pay (3$ per month) enjoy the following features: blue icon status (instead of the free grey), no ads, recent visitor tracking, personal radio station, shared tracks with other users, preferential treatment during peak traffic times, and top secret beta access. Currently, the company is Beta testing a subscription based listening service in partnership with many of the major recording companies, which will add another tier to the subscription services.

The second major revenue generating strategy for Last.FM is the Advertising Model, where free content is sponsored by advertisers. Last.FM is probably one of the best sites for music related advertisers to spend their money. Site members are typically music trend setters, and keep up to date with the constantly changing music scene. A typical free member will see a variety of ads for new music releases or upcoming local concerts. Users also have the ability to preview and listen to free music tracks, and are provided links to buy the song legally through an affiliate site. In traditional advertising terms, the site could be compared to a magazine or cable channel in relation to its appeal to a niche market.

The beauty of Last.FM's business model is that the company is able to generate revenue no matter what type of member is using the site. If it's a free member, then the company generates revenue from selling ad space and from affiliate revenue. If it's a subscription member then the company generates revenue from the subscription fee. It would be interesting to see what the site's main costs are - my assumption is that the company is able to generate large profit numbers off of near minute expenses.

Moving forward, the streaming music subscription service should be a major source of revenue for the company - assuming they don't charge an obscenely high price. My prediction is that it becomes a competitor to iTunes and other digital music sites. Last.FM should look into setting up several more subscription tiers on the site to take advantage of members who want to interact more with the site and who are willing to pay a premium for the privilege.


Jellyfish.com Case Anlysis

Once again, for my Marketing on the Internet class...

Jellyfish.com is a new breed of online shopping website. Instead of a simple task oriented interface, like Amazon.com or Wal-Mart.com, Jellyfish chooses to include a large experiential element to their web business model. The site works like this: you sign up and create a profile -- the profile is very similar to one that you would create for a social networking site, name, interests, a shopping wish list, and any photos you wish to include. From there, you participate in the Smack Shopping experience. Smack shopping is basically a reverse auction (the price drops as time goes by) with an unknown quantity of items. The items are organized in different shows (electronics, mens clothing, etc.) throughout the day. Users who watch the shows can participate in a live chat, as well as a variety of games where users can win coins, (which can later be redeemed for prizes), money, and other jellyfish schwag. Users can also win chances to co-host shows, which means they get to pick the merchandise that's auctioned, and spur the live audience to participate.

This is why Jellyfish is an experiential site -- it is designed to encourage users to spend inordinate amounts of time on the site, engaging with the brand on a level thats hard for other e-commerce sites to achieve. As one spends time on the site, social connections develop with fellow "smackers", and it becomes even harder to leave the tight knit online community. It is not rare to hear of groups of smackers getting together for real world events (recently, a group from the finger lakes area went wine tasting). This is the kind of devotion and engagement money can't buy. It's the kind that comes with a clever business model, and an ability to nurture and engage the customer in ways other online retailers cannot.

What is most interesting about Jellyfish, however, is the way in which they choose to market their site. Jellyfish doesn't advertise much online. That means no banner ads and no Google AdWords (a quick search of relevant keywords returned no results -- though if you search for "jellyfish" the site comes up on the first page). What Jellyfish does have, however, is an affiliate advertising program and an opt-in e-mail newsletter. Thats it. Yet somehow, Jellyfish managed to build enough traffic, and establish a large enough user base that Microsoft purchased the company in October of 2007. So how did they do it?

A big part of their traffic building strategy was turning Jellyfish into a Lovemark -- so adored by its users that they would do anything to get friends and relatives using the site. For several months last year, Jellyfish ran a contest called "Smack Daddy's Quest". Smack Daddy's Quest was the ultimate in a word of mouth recruitment campaign. How it worked was the Smack community was charged with reaching certain point levels (1o points were awarded for each new refferrel) reaching those point levels triggered different rewards (larger money pots for games, smacking a car, etc.). Users were provided with a custom referral link, static banners, an e-mail footer and a widget to use as recruitment tools. This campaign alone increased the user base of Jellyfish by over 30,000 users in about 2 months.

Jellyfish also takes advantage of a public relations style of online advertising. Much of their users sign up when a popular blog mentions the site in a blog post. Jellyfish will also run co-hosted shows with popular blogs like The Consumerist and Tree Hugger, which also generates a lot of traffic. Jellyfish users will also post to the message boards of Woot during their famed Woot-offs (instead of one item being sold per day, a constant stream of items are sold until everything sells out) which encourages even more people to sign up for Jellyfish.

The traffic building strategies of Jellyfish are an example of a small online company taking advantage of every method available to them, without necessarily breaking the bank. It's a strategy that will only work for a certain class of website, but if your site belongs to that class, it's a good way to go.