Visual Search Revolving Around Axis

Last week, Yahoo! officially released its new “visually enhanced” web browser for desktops and iOS devices. Known as Axis, the browser is an innovative spin on visual searches that aims to streamline the searching experience by effectively eliminating the concept of a ‘results’ page.

Yahoo!’s demo video shows why Axis’ technology could be the key to getting consumers to return to using the company’s search engine, which has lost a huge amount of market share since its heyday in the time before Google’s rise to the pinnacle of the search mountain. The idea takes hold of trends in social and mobile computing that offer users distinct value, such as connecting search history across multiple devices and offering a much richer experience on mobile platforms. Plus, the thing just looks great.

The initial reception has been mixed, with the main theme being that Axis is simply great on mobile devices, and not-so-great on desktops.  With smart devices and mobile applications expected to reach its peak by 2015, Yahoo! is capitalizing on the trend.  On an iPhone, and especially on an iPad, the integrated search feature feels intuitive, and being able to move seamlessly through visual search results without having to hit a ‘back’ button is long overdue. On the way is a version for Android platforms which can be expected to offer solid functionality similar to that found on the iOS version, meaning that the entire smartphone market will have the chance to give Axis a spin. Apple and Google apparently aren’t too worried about the competition as of yet, but that may change in time.

Amidst the excitement that Axis is generating, the browser may potentially affect Yahoo!’s business, as it eliminates a huge amount of the search advertising revenue that has already been suffering in recent years. If it’s successful, Axis could begin a revolution in search technology, fueled by current user preferences bringing Yahoo! to the forefront of contextual and experiential computing.

Looking Towards the Stars

Picture this: a group of eccentric billionaires and former NASA scientists are gathered around a conference table, discussing plans to significantly shape the world economy. Their plan is to mine asteroids hurling through space for rare metals like gold and platinum and bring the resources back onto earth. Does this sound like some type of diabolical scheme hatched by villains in a sci-fi movie?

The fact of the matter is that these roundtable discussions are happening today and are very real. “Space mining” is absolutely normal conversation in the boardrooms of Planetary Resources, a collaborative effort between prominent entrepreneurs, aerospace engineers, and futurist philanthropists that plans to begin harnessing resources from asteroids to add trillions of dollars to the world GDP within the next 2 years.

It is an initiative that seems to push against every boundary of the imagination when it comes to creating a business model. The co-founders and backers of Planetary Resources are about as qualified as any group could possibly be to run a company whose mission is to realize the wild dreams of science fiction authors of the past 50 years. Figures like Peter Diamandis, chairman and CEO of the X PRIZE Foundation, Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman of Google, and Film Director and James Cameron all exhibit passion and relentless drive towards innovation and exploration. Their commitment to innovation is one thing, but how far can ambition carry an entrepreneur or a company?

Every business, regardless of size, is at its core fueled by the ambitions of both the leadership and the individual members of the organization. In the digital age, with powerful technology at our disposal, it is crucial to design strategies and initiatives that help a company work towards attaining its goals. It is the push that defines success.

For some, Planetary Resources may arguably be called the single most ambitious private venture in the history of mankind. Still, there seems little reason to doubt that the goals and objectives that have been laid out by the company given the capability and unparalleled determination of its personnel. If the organization manages to ultimately fulfill the vision, it will be resounding and historic proof that just about anything is possible.

Optimist Club of Gettysburg Increases Web Presence with Launch of New Website

The Optimist Club of Gettysburg, an affiliate of Optimist International, announces the launch of its new website. Designed and implemented in the interest of enhancing the quality and availability of information to members, the new site will provide up to date details about upcoming events and activities while facilitating better communications between the organization and the community.

“The launch of the new website is part of a coordinated effort across multiple outlets to increase the Club’s presence and visibility to its members and the greater community which it serves,” comments Marci Cropp, Publicity Chair, Optimist Club of Gettysburg. “Because we are a volunteer organization, it was important to build a website that is dynamic but easy to maintain. Junction worked with us to create a site that best fit the needs of our organization.”

Chartered in 1958, the Club serves the Gettysburg community, raising tens of thousands of dollars annually for local youth organizations that are dedicated to bringing out the best in children. Volunteer leaders of the Club hope the site will serve as a medium for managing ongoing efforts in the area as well as engaging and recruiting new members.

“Junction has long since been a supporter of Optimist of Gettysburg. This organization continues to positively impact children in the community,” said Julie Gareleck, CEO and Managing Partner, Junction Creative Solutions. “We wanted to provide the group with a solution that was flexible and easy to maintain long-term. With an effective communication channel, the organization can focus on reaching more people and raising more money for its initiatives.”

To learn more about the organization, visit the new website at www.gettysburgoptimist.com.

The Social Clearinghouse

Infographics have become an increasingly prevalent trend, offering a snapshot of data relevant to consumer behaviors and consumption patterns. As social media platforms begin to peak with record breaking valuations, infographics help illustrate the data in way that marketers can digest. Marketers who have traditionally used gut instinct to determine marketing spend are now relying on data largely driven by technology and social oriented platforms.

Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, SocialCam, You Tube, and even dating sites like Match.com or eHarmony have become a clearinghouse for big data encompassing demographics, preferences, consumption behaviors, etc. Marketers can leverage this user intelligence to hone strategies and develop future approaches. Data illustrating the wants, needs, and expectations of users/consumers enable marketers to create purposeful, impactful, and even contextual messaging to inform purchase decisions.

The potential pitfall associated with so-called “big data,” for marketers, is assuming that the collection platform is the right marketing vehicle to reach those same consumers. Consumer preferences, behaviors, or demographic information collected from one social platform may not be the best mode for reaching the consumer base. Facebook, with over 900 million users, is one of the largest data collection platforms in the marketplace, but as exemplified by GM’s recent announcement of its withdrawal from the social network , it isn’t always the best platform for advertising.

As technology continues to revolutionize how data is collected and presented, marketers must remember that the real value lies in how information can be digested within context to better target a consumer base. When trends change and social is gone, marketers who understand the value of data will be in the driver’s seat.

Smoke Screen: Company Culture or Policy?

Two prominent current topics in the newsmedia have sparked debate, raising questions about the nature and extent of rights of employers and employees in the workplace. In a rapidly changing world, the blurred line these topics tread must be more clearly defined before ‘company policy’ becomes becomes an invasion of rights. Employees are asking themselves where company culture ends and infringement begins.

Recently there has been a resurgence in conversation about employers demanding access to employee social media pages on the premise of maintaining company integrity. The debate quickly escalates into a discussion of the personal rights of employees as pertaining to the content and publicity of their Facebook page. Employees are almost uniformly against the practice, but even combined with the efforts of privacy advocates such as the ACLU, the practice has not yet been made illegal. Advocates for monitoring or restricting social networking are quick to bring up the “nothing-to-hide” argument, but digital privacy is still a crucial right in the modern world.

Businesses are also becoming the latest frontier to latch on to the increasingly prevalent trend of bans on smoking. Some employers, such as health insurance giant Humana, have begun to tighten policies related to employee smoking habits, going beyond simply prohibiting smoking during work hours to completely disqualifying smokers from employment. Of course, for Humana, operating in the healthcare industry, the ban on smokers is an obvious measure in line with the company’s mission. For other employers however, a tobacco-free policy can help boost productivity (less employee ‘smoke breaks’) and help to reduce health insurance premiums.

Like keeping close tabs on employee Facebook profiles, these policies get tricky when considering that smoking is, regardless of company views, a completely lawful activity. With the aid of the ACLU, 29 states implemented laws to protect “smokers’ rights,” but federal law permits an employer the right to flat out refuse to hire a nicotine user, because smokers are not recognized as a protected class. Rumors suggest that a number of companies in the Fortune 500 are considering adopting similar bans on smoking, suggesting Humana’s actions may be a sort of glimpse into the future.

Acquiring and retaining productive employees and promoting a better workplace is the obvious desired outcome of hiring strategy for companies in any industry. Before practices like banning smoking or monitoring social network profiles become the norm, however, further scrutiny is necessary to clarify some significant questions about whether employers have the right to independently regulate otherwise lawful behavior.

JXN Executive Roundtable Attracts Central PA Business Owners to Discuss Sustainability and Growth

On Tuesday, May 1st, 2012, Junction Creative Solutions (Junction) welcomed guests for its JXN Executive Roundtable event, a forum for entrepreneurs and business owners to share insights and perspectives in an intimate environment. Cosponsored by Raffensperger, Martin, and Finkenbiner LLC and Patrono & Associates, the event included 27 area business owners who participated in a dialogue, promoting collaboration by discussing best practices to facilitate and sustain growth.

“For our first roundtable discussion in the Gettysburg area, we were encouraged by the number of area business owners who elected to attend this event,” comments Mark Cropp, Executive Director of Business Development & Partnerships, Junction.  “Combining the thought leadership of this group can facilitate growth within each business and in the greater community.”

A panel discussion focused on the impact that significant shifts in the economic climate have had on growth, and the importance of diversifying business to adapt to changes in the marketplace.  Panelists encouraged attendees to invest in good people, seek help and expertise from partnerships to drive maximum value, and create a strategic roadmap and consistently execute. “Diversification is quintessential, particularly so in a bad market. Adapting products or services is considerably less risky than pursuing a new customer base,” said John Murphy III, Patrono & Associates. “Adaptability has become the key to building long term success, protecting a business from a great deal of uncertainty under difficult circumstances.”

Attendees found the discussion thorough and useful.  “The panelists were able to not only answer the questions posed, but were able to take and build on each other’s comments,” commented Katherine Powley, Vice President, Susquehanna Bank. “They all agreed that diversification has been the key to their success these past few years. In thinking about my own clients, I think that would be true for those that have weathered this economic downturn as well.”

Since its inception in 2008, Junction has extended its influence into the Northeast, further developing relationships with companies in the Central Pennsylvania region with a presence in Gettysburg. Julie Gareleck, CEO and Managing Partner, Junction, is hopeful that the Roundtable will help foster a better business environment not only in Pennsylvania, but nationwide. “Sound strategy drives successful and sustainable business, and exchanging knowledge and experience with our peers helps create strategy that is better informed,” said Gareleck. “Events like the Roundtable bring the thought leadership of these owners and executives together to promote a more positive environment for business development. We look forward to future events and continuing to support growth for businesses of all sizes.”

Junction is actively preparing for its next event to be held in the region. To get involved in future events in Gettysburg, please contact mark@junction-creative.com.

Social Media: Boom to Bust?

As Facebook reports its user base has reached 901 million users and acquires Instagram for a staggering $1 billion, industry analysts continue to debate the existence of what is being deemed the “social media bubble.” Some argue that social media is a sign of a burgeoning online community that fuels the economy. Skeptics speculate that this age of social media is reminiscent of the most recent collapse of the housing market and the not so distant .com bubble.

From the mid-90s to 2000, industrialized nations saw a dramatic increase in equity valuation due to the growth of the Internet sector. Venture capitalists pumped millions of dollars into start-up companies led by a young generation of entrepreneurs with big ideas and incomplete business models. The markets witnessed a surge in IPOs with remarkably high stock prices and then experienced devastating losses when the bubble burst.

Not so dissimilar, social media companies, most notably Facebook, are entering the market with incredible valuations. Valuations are being based on the potential buying power of these social media user bases. But is the potential of this large consumer base enough to drive sustainability and stability? News that financial advisors are cautioning clients against social media fund plays may be a sign of what is to come.

There is no question that the industry is experiencing a social media boom, but its fate will no doubt fuel speculations on both sides of the argument. What do you think?

All Filler for Miller

Watch a set of advertisements during any major television event, and you are bound to see a spot for a Budweiser, Miller, or Coors product. Domestic macrobrewers have notoriously gigantic budgets for ad campaigns, and in terms of sales of their flagship offerings, the rate of return on investment is excellent.

Initially introduced in 2007, Miller 64, Miller Brewing Company’s foray into the ‘ultra-light’ beer market is named after its total calorie count per 12 fl oz. Originally dubbed MGD64, it was launched nationwide after favorable testing in Miller’s home base of Wisconsin. Supported by the usual multi-million dollar ad campaign, everything went according to plan for the brewing giant, right?

Wrong. Within a market increasingly in favor of higher quality craft beer , the product has never gained true traction with consumers. Often perceived as ‘watered down,’ weighing in at only 2.8% ABV, the beer has struggled with its image as a serious option. In the roughly 5 years since its introduction, Miller has rebranded the product multiple times, each iteration failing to increase sales in any meaningful way. The company also attempted to capture a set of non-beer drinking drinkers with a 64 calorie “lemonade” malt beverage under the same brand, but the effort was fruitless, leading to a near instantaneous discontinuation.

Sales of the golden swill were down double digits in 2011, so Miller elected to redesign the brand with an updated label design (a key indicator of brand loyalty in the beer industry) and a new ad campaign. The latter, centered around a catchy ‘sea shanty’ song, features active and attractive 25-35 year olds, but in addition to the actors, the lyrics to the tune and the slogan “Brewed for the Better You” make it obvious that Miller has a clearly defined new target demographic in mind.

Notwithstanding Miller’s spirited efforts to make Miller 64 work, the most glaring issue is the evidence that the market for these products is extremely slim, if not entirely nonexistent. Even in spite of a health-crazed society, ‘healthy beer’ is a fairly obvious oxymoron, and very little can be done by advertising to popularize it on a large scale. By contrast, the popular SkinnyGirl cocktail brand, offering lower calorie mixed drinks, hit all the right notes with a similar target demographic, enough to merit a reported 120 million dollar purchase by Beam Global last year.

So when is enough enough? It seems that occasionally, even when armed with the influence and funding necessary to push a product on a global scale, marketing can fall short of a product that doesn’t fit consumer wants, needs, or expectations, and the best course of action is simply to let go. In this case, the payoff from the latest endeavor remains yet to be seen, but it may be time for the diluted barley beverage to go the way of its predecessors: down the drain.

Word Out on the Town

Reputation has always carried heavy importance for businesses across industry. Throughout the last century, customer loyalty was primarily forged through personal interactions that involved a high standard of service blended with consistency. Managing performance and generating new business was dependent on solid reputations and relationships. However, technology is the basis for a large majority of interaction between businesses and consumers. With this shift, the importance of reputation is not diminished; instead, a new standard is being set online.

The internet has accelerated the speed of consumer interactions with brands in dramatic fashion. As one might expect, reputation has become increasingly transient and incredible sensitive. A plethora of online ‘review’ sites populated by communities of customers giving feedback in real time has empowered the voices of consumers. A single bad review of a restaurant can deter other patrons, and a bit of praise can fill the reservation book. Whether from advocates or critics, the instantaneous reporting of customer experience can literally be make or break for a business.

These drastic changes have led to behavioral changes, manifested most strikingly in the form of companies touting themselves as “reputation management firms.” The anonymity that the internet allows by nature has meant that not all customer reviews or ratings are to be believed, and a small number of businesses have turned to gaming the system by eliminating negative feedback and creating fake reviews with the goal of building a strong reputation or repairing one that is damaged.

The reality is disconcerting, but the message is clear: reputation online plays an extremely important role in success within the highly competitive landscape. It is important for owners and operators to understand customer feedback, address concerns, and motivate the large audiences on review sites and in the press in order to turn negatives into positives. Utilized correctly, a robust reputation online can prove to be a massive advantage, vital to the success of any business now and in the foreseeable future.