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.


Going Green - One Bag At A Time

As a poor college student, the process of going green can often turn into a difficult and expensive proposition. There's no arguing that steps need to be taken to rehabilitate our increasingly sick planet, and ensure the continued existence of those things we often take for granted. That said, talking the talk is much easier then walking the walk.

Beyond the obvious steps -- recycling chief among them, going green means buying a host of so called eco-friendly products. Since the best way these days to create change is to vote with your dollar, I find myself very limited. The problem with most eco-friendly products is they are for the most part, more expensive to produce. Those extra costs are then passed along to the final consumer. Take organic and locally grown produce, for example. You get a product that has fewer pesticides and chemicals, and one with a substantially reduced carbon footprint. The problem is, you can find yourself paying much more per pound then the chemical ridden counterpart from Chile. It becomes a catch-22 -- buy organic and local, feel good, and be dirt poor, or, continue buying the cheap stuff, feel guilty, but have a few dollars left over at the end of the month.

That said, I recently took a small step towards going green, one that everyone can, and should take. I bought reusable shopping bags. Wegman's, my local grocery store, makes these bags readily available at every checkout aisle. You can purchase a bag for $.99 if you have a shoppers club card, $1.29 without. By purchasing a few of these bags, not only do you cut down on the massive amount of non-degradeable, animal killing, oil guzzling plastic bag waste in the world, but you drastically reduce unloading trips between the car and your home. My girlfriend and I went from using a dozen or so plastic bags every week to 4 reusable ones. Thats a major reduction. What once took 2 or 3 trips out to the car can easily be finished in one. So if the environment doesn't concern you (it should) at least buy the bags to lessen the risk of some freak repetitive stress injury from unloading all those plastic bags. Your arms (and insurance company) will thank me.


Techno Junkie

To those who know me, calling myself a techno junkie isn't exactly breaking news. As a college senior I can already lay claim to my early adopter status, and I'm fully aware of my dependency on those things that contain circuitry and wires. (I have an HD-DVD player that's a year and a half old, and already obsolete -- curse you Blu-Ray!). So when I decided to travel to Lafayette, LA for an alternative spring break trip, it's surprising that I never once considered the tech use ramifications. Now that the trip is less then a week away, I find myself in quite the dilemma -- which tech stays, and which goes?

I came across this post over at Lifehacker that talks about trying to travel to foreign countries (Thailand) with tech. It doesn't sound encouraging, and while Lafayette isn't close to Thailand, I'd face a lot of similar issues -- security chief among them. As much as I'd like to have my laptop with me for checking e-mail, playing games, and watching movies, I think it's gotta stay home. It's times like these I wish I had an ipod touch/iphone -- maybe when I'm not so poor.

Moving down the list, my ipod comes with, if only because a 30 hour van ride with 8 people I don't know well would be excruciating without some melodic distraction (and no, sing-a-longs don't count). A GPS and my cell phone also make the cut. If I could afford the $130 price tag, I'd get myself a Nintendo DS as well.

So the trip isn't a complete tech-less experience. It's more like an internet-less experience, in itself a scary thought. It's one I haven't experienced since the early internet days, back when dial-up was the norm, and I was only allowed a half hour of internet time a day. It's going to be an interesting experience. It'll be good to get some time off and take a break from my tech addict ways.


Why Bandit?

Top ten reasons why Bandit wine is better then regular wine:
1. Because it tastes good!
2. 33% more wine (1 liter vs. 750 ml)
3. Lower shipping weight = less fuel emissions
4. 96% wine, 4% packaging -- why waste $$ on packaging?
5. NO corked wine
6. Wine to go-go
7. 1 truckload of empty Bandit cartons = 26 truckloads of empty glass
8. Made largely of renewable resources
9. You can toss it in your cooler
10. You can crush it on your forehead when you're done!

I am such a marketing sucker. I was cruising the local wine store, looking for something affordable to buy, and this Bandit 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon called out to me. Perhaps it was the light purple exterior. Or more likely, it was the unique juice box style packaging that spoke to me. Or was it the increased volume of wine for the paltry price of $6.99. Whatever it was, after consulting one of the wine store employees, ("Have you tried this? Is it good?"), I purchased it and brought it home for consumption in the near future.

The wine itself is OK. The flavor profile keeps itself entrenched within the mediocrity of most wines under $10. It's drinkable, but I certainly would not want drink it the same way I would a $20 bottle of Greg Norman Shiraz. Like I said, I bought the wine for its unique packaging, and that's about the only place it stands out.

One of the pressing issues in the wine industry today is the potentially large carbon footprint that the production and distribution of wine leaves on the planet. Between the dwindling supply of real cork, to the weight of a full glass bottle of wine, import and shipping practices, and the processes used in growing and cultivating the grapes, wine is not exactly an eco-friendly drink.

But Bandit's packaging idea, akin to a single serving boxed wine, is much more environmentally friendly. Yes, the packaging might upset wine purists. It's not elegant, or aesthetically pleasing like a glass bottle of red wine can be, but it serves the purpose of delivering fresh, quality wine in an environmentally friendly manner. I think this could be the future of the wine industry, even if it is the distant future, and I applaud the makers of Bandit wine for their ingenuity and courage to be creative in an industry that likes to maintain the status quo.


Sony Case Anlaysis

Again, this is for my Marketing on the Internet class...

Taking a look at sony.com, the way they choose to structure the many elements of Sony is interesting. While Sony mostly takes advantage of a branded house strategy, they also take a few pages out of the house of brands strategy. For example, on Sony's home page, you can easily get to any of their other departments. There are links for consumer and business electronics, Playstation, music & movies, online games, service & support, product registration, and shopping. So far, all the makings of a branded house strategy. However, once you begin to investigate Sony's other departments, the branded house strategy starts to break down into a mix of branded house and house of brands.

Sony has never been one to disguise a product as something other then Sony (Playstation and Blu-Ray might be the closest examples, but even those have the Sony name plastered everywhere). That said, it's hard to say that Sony is a true house of brands in the P&G sense (Tide, Pringles, Charmin, etc.) but if you take a look at the URL's for each of Sony's product divisions, the name changes. Instead of the URL being sony.com/shop, or sony.com/movies (typical branded house strategy) you have sonystyle.com (shopping) and sonypictures.com (movies & TV), which is more in line with a house of brands strategy. In that respect, Sony Style is a different brand from Sony Pictures, or even Sony alone. However, Sony imparts all of its associated baggage (good and bad) onto its other brands by the inclusion of the corporate name.

Sony has a separate domain for each of their product divisions. This is good and bad. Because of the separate domains, Sony has a much higher chance of turning up in search results. One could search Sony, Sony Style, Sony Pictures, or any other combination, and some part of the Sony site will turn up. Instead of providing a single highway to the site (Apple) Sony provides consumers with a collection of major roads. The downside to this strategy are the costs associated with owning and maintaining separate domains for each brand. While the money many be a drop in the bucket for a large corporation like Sony, it still matters. There are also different marketing decisions to be made. Does Sony market the home page and let consumers find their way from there? Or do they market each division and domain name separately? If Sony chooses the separate route, again, money rears its ugly head.

I always wonder how effective a branded house strategy can truly be. On one hand, if you have a reputable brand name, as Sony typically does, it's an easy way to build consumer confidence and trust in different product offerings. On the other hand, if you don't have a reputable brand name, or something catastrophic happens, the entire company suffers, instead of a single brand. It's also harder to differentiate product offerings. In the mind of a typical consumer, a Bravia is just a Sony TV, a Blu-Ray is just a Sony DVD player (R.I.P. HD-DVD - you will be missed). It's not like P&G where Tide is a separate entity from Pringles, or any of their other brands. I tend to side with the house of brands strategy. I think it is much more effective to create separate identities for each brand, without the baggage of an obvious corporate name. It can also make damage control much easier. If P&G finds out that Tide is laced with toxic chemicals, it probably won't affect sales of Pringles. However, if Sony is involved in some high profile corporate scandal, then it probably affects sales for their entire product line. Like I said before, a case can be made for each strategy, I just happen to think house of brands is the most effective.


Nike vs. Puma - Marketing on the Internet Case Study

For my Marketing on the Internet class...

Mass customization has officially moved into the world of athletic shoes and sneakers. Two companies, Nike and Puma, each throw their hats into the mass customization ring with varying levels of success. Each company has a unique website that offer customers two very different experiences. One company tries to go the slick high tech route, while the other tries to wrap their products in a kitschy fictional world.

We’ll start by taking a look at Nike, and their efforts with the NIKEiD program. Out of the two companies, I think that Nike has the most success with their website and customization program. Nike, which I assume has a larger budget then Puma, decided to use the slick high tech route, and the extra money definitely shows in the final product. Nike’s website offers a high level of functionality and ease of use for the final consumer. Because of this, among other parts, Nike customers will want to spend large amounts of time on the website, customizing a bevy of Nike products to purchase and to show off to friends.

On a basic level, Nike offers everything that it probably should, and shows why it is one of the top athletic apparel companies in the world. First and foremost, Nike offers customers a plethora of products that they can either customize, or order pre-designed versions, like shoes in college team colors. The website itself is smooth, flashy, and minimizes downtime between screens. This, like the customization options, gives users a reason to stay on the site. If there were large amounts of downtime, for example, users would most likely navigate away from the page before getting the chance to immerse themselves in the site.

Nike’s customization process itself is very user intuitive, and simple to do. Users can pick from a variety of basic shoe styles to start out with, and then customize with different colors and custom logo placement. Once the shoe is finished, the user can either buy the shoe, or use the design as a custom desktop wallpaper, save it to a personal locker (sign-up for nike ID required), or send the design to a friend. In this way, Nike implements touches of buzz and viral elements. You create a cool shoe, send it to a friend, and hopefully, the friend makes their own shoe, and sends that on to someone else. The concept isn’t essential to the success of the idea, but it’s a nice touch that shows the level of thought and consideration employed by Nike. Also within the NIKEiD site is the option to customize products other then shoes, such as workout gear, shirts, and gym bags. This provides the consumer with not only a more diverse product lineup, but the opportunity to turn a 100$ shoe purchase into a 200$ shoe, bag and shirt purchase.

Taking a look at Puma, we see a site that has a high level of creativity, and clearly wants to provide consumers with a clever, engaging shopping experience, but because of several issues, ultimately falls short of that goal. The concept is pretty simple, take the experience of a Mongolian BBQ restaurant, (I’ve never been to one, but judging by the site, you get to choose all the ingredients that go into your meal) and apply it to shoe customization. This is the first problem I have with this idea. What exactly does a Mongolian BBQ have to do with shoes? Beyond the obvious customization link, I don’t think the idea works too well.

The second issue, is that Puma gives the consumer too many options, and not in the right areas. The great part about the Nike site is that a consumer was able to select from a slate of blank shoe designs. Puma gives you two designs, and that’s for men and women alike. Personally, if I’m going to shell out the money for a custom shoe, there better be no one else with even a similar design.

Once you get into the customization process, Puma gives you about 20 different places where you can add a custom color or design pattern, so the design process can take a substantial amount of time to complete. It doesn’t help that during the customization process, it is difficult to get an idea of what the shoe looks like, since each piece is laid flat on an animated lunch tray. The site itself is also very slow. This results in choppy graphics, and a tedious customer experience. I do not know why anyone would want to spend any significant amount of time on this website.

Where the site has the right idea, however, is within its express design option. Here, like Nike, users can easily see how the shoe design is taking shape, and the design decisions are easier to make and use a more intuitive interface.

Between the two sites, Nike is the hands down winner. Nike does the best job of making technology work for them and their consumer. They have a flashy site that encourages consumers to spend time there. They also make the customization process easy and fun. Just about everything one could possibly desire from a customization website, Nike has.


Final Semester

I'm almost through my first week of classes for my final college semester and the work is already starting to pile on. Going in, I expected this semester to be much easier then my last one, but that thought is slowly dwindling away. I hope I can do a better job of managing my stress level this time around. If only I could have taken one fewer course...


The Late Night Guru

Let's face it. Conan O'Brien is an amazing entertainer. For those of you who don't watch the show regularly (I'm one of them), Conan has been running his show without writers due to the ongoing writers strike. Somehow, without the writers at his side, Conan and crew are able to come up with fresh and original content for the show. I mean c'mon, on a recent show he made spinning a wedding ring on a table for 2 minutes entertaining. The man is a comic genius. If you haven't been watching the show lately, tune in. It's probably some of the best work he's ever done.