Talk to the (Digital) Hand

Take a look through the screen shots below. 

I’ll bet that is a set of companies you’ve never heard of, including:

But, between them, these companies took down $43,500,000 in the first quarter of this year, along a pretty even distribution (the largest was Offerpal, at $15 million).

What do they do? They are among a rapidly growing band of virtual goods companies that are getting some big bets placed on them, in an expectation that they are onto something. CNET blogger Dave Rosenberg provided a nice shout outto these and a handful of others in the sector that is worth a quick read.

Second Lifeis rightly regarded as having pioneered the modern era of virtual goods for grownups at a serious enough level to have attracted substantial corporate interest and experimentation. Close behind, The Simshas added the social,Seinfeld-ian spin to the virtual experience. And while there are clearly many satisfied Sims players and SL corporate success stories, there has been plenty of room to learn and build newer offerings that extend the model.

That’s what these companies like Offerpal Media and Nurien are doing and, when you think about it, it makes perfect sense.

As Don Tapscott often says in his keynotes about his latest book, Grown Up Digital, the under-25 net generation is a generation “bathed in bits.” Certainly they know the difference between the physical and digital worlds – we all do.  But the beauty of well-done virtual experiences is that they provide for an immersive reinvention or amplification of one’s self.

I believe many of these virtual goods companies are just taking the 2-D platforms of Facebook and LinkedIn and extending them the logical next step into 3-D information and commerce platforms.

Already, Hollywood has shown that it thinks 3-D movies are where the public wants to go. With a virtual, 3-D platform, you won’t just exchange information with your friends and colleagues, but your virtual self will interact with them, negotiate, meet, and conduct business.

It will be very interesting indeed, to see where all of this leads, but I urge you to check out some of these technologies.

Grandpa Iron Man

Not long ago, I wrote about opportunities in aging. The main point of the prior post was that there will be many business opportunities – ranging from the mundane to the esoteric – that will emerge as the population ages.

Somewhere in this range, I would put the potential for powered exoskeletons (or exos) to hit the mainstream consciousness. They have already tickled our entertainment fancy in recent memory, with the popularity of 2008’s Iron Man movie.  But, for a Youtube primer on the variety of real-life exoskeletons that are in circulation today, take a quick tour of the following:

I listed them, based on personal opinion, in the order of least likely to be used by the average citizen to most potential for mainstream adoption, with something like the BB technology getting my nod as the closest to being used by someone in the near future.

When you consider that there are half a million knee operations a year, trending to three million in the U.S. in the next couple of decades, the notion of consumer exos makes sense. Add age to injury, with another baby boomer reaching age 60 every seven seconds, and the population of potential consumers gets sizeable rapidly.

Personally, I’m excited about the potential for the elderly, injured, or afflicted (I grew up with a mom who was mobility impaired by MS) to have the option to strap on an exoskeleton-style device like a version of one of the BB models and be able to gain a measure of mobility that they otherwise wouldn’t have.

Continued developments in areas like specialized microprocessors and lightweight nanotechnology-based materials lead me to believe that it’s not a question of “if it will happen” but “when.”

Super rapid awesome brands

Brands matter. Great brands make a positive difference in cost of sales and in overall company book value. You know that line on the balance sheet called goodwill? The somewhat ephemeral items that compose goodwill are often comprised of things like brand, high performing culture, and other soft items that make the company worth what it’s worth.

Social media, mass collaboration platforms, and other tools of the web 2.0 age have helped amplify brands, both for those that are going to market for the first time looking for ways to accelerate their entry, as well as established big brands that are looking to further reinforce and extend their positioning.

MS20The research team for nGenera’s Marketing & Sales 2.0 program recently completed a study and associated new report on Brand Communities. In the report, for which the research team studied over 100 online communities of big and small brands, there several notable frameworks and lists that provide unique insight on the subject of branded communities. These include:

  • The New Brand Arsenal – chart of 13 elements, comparing a decade ago to today
  • The six ways brand communities create value – advocacy, insight, content, support, perception, and serendipity
  • The FLIRT Model (Blueprint for success): Focus, Language, Incentives, Rules, and Tools
  • Implications for the Future of Marketing
  • The 50-question Readiness Assessment for building and operating a branded community

The process of creating an awesome brand isn’t just for companies with deep pockets. More than ever, one can be extremely efficient with capital, yet rapidly create and launch a brand that makes a powerful statement. One super resource I discovered earlier this year is Brandstack.

brandstack-croppedThe good folks at Brandstack came up with a way to reverse the brand creation process.   Frequently (always?) the entrepreneur must endure a maddeningly prolonged process that starts with their “big idea,” immediately followed by:

  • (a) thinking of a company name
  • (b) vetting it for availability
  • (c) checking for available URLs
  • (d) designing a logo and tagline
  • (e) creating a stationery system, including business cards, letterhead, envelopes or labels,
  • (f) designing the website, etc. etc.  

Brandstack reverses the process.  Designers from around the country (or globe), develop the brands first – including domain names, logos, template websites, and source rights to the IP – and put them up for sale in an open market for the would-be entrepreneur to browse. When the entrepreneur selects one, they can pay the suggested list price or make an offer. 

A clever way, indeed, to launch your very own super, rapid awesome brand.

URL Shorteners: Choose ur wpn

There’s been a lot of talk – bad and good – about URL shorteners, with the popularity of twitter and its micro-blogging character limitations.
Some of the “bad” talk has been about how such “masked” URLs can serve as major-nasty trap doors to hacker sites, when used with the feverish subject of the moment (whether it be Joe the Plumber or Michael Jackson).
However, some of the “good” talk has been about how twitter has truly become a valuable business communications and promotional tool. In this regard, your choice of URL shorteners can make a real difference, as described in this excellent overview by Stephen Shankland on CNET.
The proverbial bottomline is that you want to match up your choice of URL shortener with the level of traffic gathering and reporting sophistication for which you are willing to pay.  Hutch Carpenter and his crowd of commentators do an outstanding job of presenting the issues and options in a great thread on the subject.
Personally, I favor the crew at BudURL for my URL shortening service, partly because of my hometown Austin cheerleading nature. But also because BudURL does among the better jobs of sorting through bots versus people, providing you data on genuine human beings that are clicking through to whatever URL that you are serving up through your tweet, post, e-mail or whatever.