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April 9, 2013

What Are Your Customers Actually Buying? (Travel Tuesday)

April 9, 2013 | By | No Comments

Customer satisfactionTravel marketing — as well as service marketing generally — depends on providing your customers a great experience every time for a pretty simple reason: The experience is the product. It’s not like there’s an object that “leaves the store” with them. Airlines, in particular, are learning this lesson the hard way right now as recent research shows declining customer satisfaction… despite improving operational execution.

This need to get it right, to at minimum meet your customers expectations every time, is the topic of this week’s Travel Tuesday post on TravelStuff, “What Are Your Customers Actually Buying?” Check it out.

Interested in more? Sign up for our free newsletter and get more information on how to build your social, local, mobile marketing strategy. And, if you’ve got a minute, you might enjoy some past coverage of customer experience in marketing, including:

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January 29, 2013

Is Permission Marketing Still Relevant?

January 29, 2013 | By | One Comment

Mistakes happenYesterday I recapped my Finding and Following Your Customer’s Digital Footprint Twitter chat and I mentioned the following points:

  • Have a clear sense of what’s your data (aggregate usage information, opens, clicks, shares, retweets, etc). vs. customers’.
  • All personally identifiable information (PII) belongs to customers, always. Handle with care.
  • If you’re uncomfortable telling customers how you plan to use their data, ask yourself whether you should collect it at all.

Well, I got an email asking why these concepts are so important. I’m not going to quote the email in full (I want to protect the guilty on this one), but, as the writer asked,

“I’m not saying I want to be ‘evil,’ but what’s evil about trying to grow my business? How am I supposed to contact prospects if I’ve got to ask their permission all the time? Isn’t the point to drive more revenue?”

I’m going to answer these in reverse.

First, of course the point is to drive more revenue (assuming, of course, you’re a revenue-focused organization; if you’re not, insert your “business” metrics where you see “revenue,” “profit,” etc.)

But the point isn’t to drive more revenue today with no thought for tomorrow.

Yes, we live in an instant gratification society, one focused on immediate earnings and early exits. I myself am fond of saying that marketing is next quarter’s sales. But you can’t sacrifice your future for short-term gain (well, you can; I’m just saying it’s a bad idea).

This isn’t just “touchy-feely,” holier-than-thou stuff, either (though I’m getting to that in a minute. There’s a practical reason for this approach. Finding customers is expensive. Really expensive, in fact. So a customer who buys from you just once isn’t a great investment. Instead, you want to cultivate longer-term relationships with people, earn their trust, and also earn their repeat business. It’s much simpler to sell to people you’ve sold to before. And that’s much easier if you’ve demonstrated that you take their concerns into consideration.

It happens to be the right thing to do. But it’s also a good business.

Now, the second reason is this: It’s not your data.

Your customers entrust you with a limited amount of information, for a specific purpose. You should use it for that purpose and only for that purpose. If they want it back, or want to opt out, or want to move on and not hear from you any more, that’s their right. How would you like it if I borrowed your car, then wouldn’t give it back when you needed it? Or if I trashed it, spilling chili dogs and Diet Cherry Pepsi all over the floor?

So why do you think it’s OK to treat their data that way?

Seth Godin once wrote a fantastic book, called “Permission Marketing” about this very topic. It’s a little dated, but it’s well-worth the read. For me, it’s still the gold standard. And the reason is because, like all fundamental truths, they really don’t change over time.

So, yes, work to grow your business. Do what you can to drive your revenues. And feel free to push for better and better results. But do it in a way that’s good for your customer today and good for your business tomorrow.

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January 16, 2013

The Race You Can't Win

January 16, 2013 | By | One Comment

Battered dollarI’m giving a talk next week about price transparency on the Internet (something I’ve talked about lots and lots before and something I touched on in yesterday’s Biznology webinar). During that webinar I referenced what I call “the race to zero” and why it’s such a bad idea for businesses both online and offline.

Here’s what happens:

  1. You experience soft business results. Maybe you have a bad month, maybe it’s a bad quarter. But you know this for sure: it’s bad. We’ve all been there and, believe me, it’s no fun.
  2. You reduce prices. Sure, you call it a sale, a special promotion, what-have-you. But it all amounts to the same thing. You lower your advertised price to your customers.
  3. You cut service or marketing to pay for the lower price. Well, you’re already having a bad month, right? Why keep funneling good money after bad. Again, we’ve all been there.
  4. Your short term sales improve. Or not. In the old days, you could get away with this a lot more easily. Unfortunately, today, your competitors can see your prices just as easily as customers can. So while you might gain some share in the immediate term, almost as immediately…
  5. Your competitors respond. They drop their prices. They launch a sale, offer a discount, a deal, eating into your (short-lived) advantage.
  6. Customer expectations shift. Experience suffers. You (and your competitors) just told your customers that your product isn’t worth what it used to be worth. Oh, and because you cut either service or marketing to pay for the new lower price, they’re right.
  7. The result: Soft business results. And thus the not-so-merry-go-round feeds back on itself.

Back before the Internet, you could sometimes run this race just long enough to get through a tough time. Not too many customers found out about the lower price. Your competitors were slower to respond. Folks who got a great deal couldn’t shout it out on Twitter and Facebook. Customers who got lousy service couldn’t tell the world on Yelp, TripAdvisor, Angie’s List, or anything like that. And maybe you got away with it long enough to deal with a short-term downturn.

Today?

It’s a death spiral.

And mobile only makes it worse.

The best way to win this race is not to run it at all.

Your customers expect good value for their (hard-earned, stretched-thin, beaten-to-a-pulp) dollar (pound, Euro, Yen, what-have-you).

Instead of running a race to zero, consider this:

  1. Offer value-adds, not discounts. When you enhance a product, service, or experience with something your customer values (and, ideally, doesn’t cost you much), you engender goodwill and good word-of-mouth without devaluing your primary offering. And you make it harder for competitors to respond with a like-for-like offering.
  2. Tell your story. A good brand story helps customers answer one of their most important questions: “Why should I buy from you?” And a great brand story helps explain why you’re worth a few dollars more than the guy across the street. Start building your brand story before a downturn (or today, if you haven’t already).
  3. Plan ahead. The economy seems to be slowly climbing out of the hole we dug a few years back. Which means now is the perfect time to plan ahead for the next downturn. Make sure you’re not committing common mistakes many marketing plans suffer from. And remember that things aren’t ever as bad as they seem.

Downturns happen. That’s true today and will be true tomorrow. No matter how good things get, they can always go wrong. But, by the same token, even the toughest times end eventually. The key is to get through them as quickly and as effectively as you can. Which is why you don’t want to wear yourself out running a race to zero.


If you can help those dealing with the after-effects of Hurricane Sandy, please visit the American Red Cross.

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Tim Peter & Associates helps companies from startups to the Fortune 500 use the web to reach more customers, more effectively every day. Take a look and see how we can help you.

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September 19, 2012

Speed (Or Lack Thereof) Kills

September 19, 2012 | By | No Comments

Speed killsI don’t talk about site performance very often. But today’s news about Bank of America’s website challenges today brought it top of mind. If you don’t know what’s happening, here’s what CNN had to say:

“Bank of America’s website was sluggish and intermittently unavailable for many users on Tuesday, in an outage that the bank hadn’t explained by the end of the day.

Bank of America (BAC, Fortune 500) spokesman Mark Pipitone said the company is ‘working to ensure full availability,’ and that online banking is available ‘although some customers may experience occasional slowness.’”

I worked for Charles Schwab during the dot-com boom. And I remember our sites occasionally having performance issues due to the extreme demand from customers to execute ever more trades, ever more quickly. Unfortunately, whenever we had problems, it both irritated customers, cost us money, and hurt our reputation (the only consolation was that most other online brokers were having the same problem, so customers didn’t have many better options from which to choose — I’m not saying that’s the right approach, merely that it was the reality at the time).

Of course, you don’t have to be a financial services company to experience poor site performance. There’s a memorable moment in “The Social Network” where Mark Zuckerberg loses his mind on Eduardo Savarin after Savarin stops payment on their hosting account, potentially knocking the nascent site offline entirely. First Zuckerberg ensures the sites remain online and, later in the movie, ensures Savarin isn’t in a position to do it again.

If you’re a retailer, you probably vacuum and dust your stores regularly, restock shelves, and ensure easy access to merchandise. If you’re a restaurant, you wipe the tables and sweep the floors, polish the silverware, and relight the candles. If you’re a hotel, you make the beds, change the towels, and clean the bathrooms.

And, if you’re a website, you do everything you can to ensure your customers have a speedy and uninterrupted experience. Speed matters. It’s not a technical concern. It’s basic customer service.


Are you getting enough value out of your small business website? Want to make sure your business makes the most of the local, mobile, social web? thinks helps you understand how to grow your business via the web, every day. Get more than just news. Get understanding. Add thinks to your feed reader today.

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And while you’re at it, don’t forget to follow Tim on Twitter.

Tim Peter & Associates helps companies from startups to the Fortune 500 use the web to reach more customers, more effectively every day. Take a look and see how we can help you.

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September 17, 2012

A Simple Technique for Product Innovation

September 17, 2012 | By | No Comments

E-commerce innovationEllen Isaacs has an interesting article over on GigaOm looking at the power of observation to help you figure out what your customers want. Ellen uses a technique called “ethnographic research,” though, with no offense intended, it could just as easily be called, “following customers around to see what they do.” [Updated to fix broken link.]

Why should you care? As Ellen notes,

“…ethnographic studies likely save businesses far more time than they take. These observations and analysis can reveal insights that shift projects toward demonstrated problems.”

I’ve conducted a number of ethnographic studies in my career and can tell you exactly how effective they are. In an example I’ve shared in the past, my team and I learned that the photos on the website we ran were far too small. Simply replacing our product images with larger photos increased revenues by more than 10% annually. And keep in mind this was a company delivering many, many millions in online revenue each year. Watching customers using your site for even a few minutes dramatically illustrates where you’re doing well — and where you’re going off the rails.

I’ve had clients ask me, “Well, isn’t it just easier to survey our customers?”

Almost always, the answer is “No,” for two reasons:

  1. Observation is easy. Whereas putting a survey together and finding the right folks to survey can take a fair bit of time, tools like UserTesting.com and OpenHallway.com let you see how customers use your site and shopping cart — or your competitors’ — easily and inexpensively [I have no commercial relationship with either site — I'm just a raving fan]. Yes, you still have to put together a use case. But I find that asking representative customers to use your site to try and buy your product is a much simpler process than crafting questions designed to find out why they’re not buying.
  2. Customers lie. Now, I don’t mean to impugn the integrity of your customers. They don’t mean to lie; they just can’t help it. Anyone who’s spent any time observing customers in action will tell you that a gaping chasm often exists between what customers say they’ll do and what they actually do. Watching customers shows you exactly how they’re using your site, where they’re struggling and, often, what you can do to fix it.

Of course, once you’ve watched your customers, it’s important to take those learnings and apply them. But it’s much easier to make the changes that will help your customer accomplish their goals if you actually understand where they’re working. And where they’re not.


Are you getting enough value out of your small business website? Want to make sure your business makes the most of the local, mobile, social web? thinks helps you understand how to grow your business via the web, every day. Get more than just news. Get understanding. Add thinks to your feed reader today.

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Tim Peter & Associates helps companies from startups to the Fortune 500 use the web to reach more customers, more effectively every day. Take a look and see how we can help you.

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June 21, 2012

The Golden Age of Web Performance by Josh Fraser

June 21, 2012 | By | No Comments

I’ve talked before about the value of speed for your website, but it’s challenging to know what’s slowing your site down. Happily, Josh Fraser, CEO at Torbit has offered this post on the Golden Age of Web Performance and is offering a free trial of Torbit Insight to Thinks readers. Here’s what Josh has to say.

We live in a world where millions of websites that you enjoy and find relevant vie for your attention every day. And although the web keeps expanding, everyone is busy and there are only so many hours in the day. We’ve entered the Golden Age of Web Performance.

In the early days of the web, your average visitor was thrilled that you simply had a website, as businesses and individuals carved out a piece of the web for themselves. But now we have so many options to get the same information, similar products, similar opinions. If your website is slow, your visitors are going to go somewhere else.

Let’s say you have one visitor who landed on your eCommerce website because they’re looking for a new beach blanket for the summer. She wants one that’s yellow or blue and made of organic materials. Searching around on blogs or on Pinterest, she comes across a blanket that you sell. She clicks the links.

And she sits.

And sits.

And sits.

All this while the page loads and she doesn’t get any closer to buying that blanket from you. Every second that she’s waiting to buy that beach blanket, is money that’s slipping away from you and that sale. So instead, she closes your the tab in her browser with your site and opens up Amazon. She searches and finds a blue beach blanket made from organic materials. And then she buys it. Amazon loaded more quickly. They got the sale.

Over 80% of web performance is based on front-end assets — HTML, CSS, JavaScript and images. In this Golden Age of Web Performance, we need to focus on and optimize those in order to make more sales, retain more eyeballs and earn more profit. And as mobile device use skyrockets and people use their smaller screens to do more, getting your page in front of them is more important than ever.

The first step to keeping those visitors — those prospective customers — is understanding and measuring your speed. It’s seeing what each and every user is experiencing, not just a sample of them that gives you the most optimistic picture.

We built Torbit Insight because we want to help you see and understand your users’ load times, to understand their impatience and their pain. You may never get that visitor back if you’re not measuring the front end and how every single user is experiencing their individual load time. Because once you measure, you can optimize, graduate into the ranks of the leaders in the Golden Age of Web Performance and win.

Josh fraser headshot Josh Fraser is the co-founder and CEO of Torbit. Torbit makes websites faster by automating front-end optimizations that are proven to increase the speed of your website. Try Torbit Insight today and understand how page speed is affecting your conversion rate, bounce rate and revenue.


Are you getting enough value out of your small business website? Want to make sure your business makes the most of the local, mobile, social web? thinks helps you understand how to grow your business via the web, every day. Get more than just news. Get understanding. Add thinks to your feed reader today.

Or subscribe via email.

And while you’re at it, don’t forget to follow Tim on Twitter.

Tim Peter & Associates helps companies from startups to the Fortune 500 use the web to reach more customers, more effectively every day. Take a look and see how we can help you.

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June 13, 2012

Why must you respond to negative comments in social media?

June 13, 2012 | By | 3 Comments

I’ve talked again and again and again about how bad service can kill you in the social age. In fact, I just mentioned yesterday how the customer is still king and how, armed with friends, fans and followers on review sites and social outposts, your customers often tell your story more effectively than you can.

But I saw a great example last night of how important it is to engage with your customers online and address any negatives right away.

You see, C.C. Chapman, author of the amazing “Content Rules: How to Create Killer Blogs, Podcasts, Videos, Ebooks, Webinars (and More) That Engage Customers and Ignite Your Business” and founder of Digital Dads (I always think of him as the ur-”Daddy blogger”), had a bad experience when checking into his hotel yesterday (Full disclosure: I frequently work in the hospitality industry and have friends at Kimpton, but they aren’t a client and haven’t ever been).

Now, as a digitally savvy guy, C.C. decided to tell his friends.

On Twitter.

All 33,000 of them.

He said:

By contrast, Kimpton has about 20,000 followers on Twitter. Or, y’know, about 2/3 as many as C.C.

To the hotel chain’s credit, they jumped on the issue and responded almost immediately:

And, having built up plenty of cred among their customers over the years, more than a few folks tweeted C.C. to let him know that it was unusual behavior for the company. Their responsiveness impressed him:

But, as he points out:

“Damage is done.” Ouch.

This isn’t a guy who gripes for fun, mind you. In fact, I can say I find C.C. to be one of the most positive voices on Twitter (and G+ and his blog and his book and…). Nope, this is just a guy experiencing a new brand for the first time and discovering that the experience didn’t match what the brand claims about itself. For all he knows, Kimpton lied to him.

Now, I know Kimpton pretty well as a brand. I’ve always admired them. And, given how swiftly their social listening team jumped on the issue, I’d be surprised if they didn’t recover and help C.C. and his fellow guests have a good time. But they’re swimming upstream and not just with their current guests. A customer had a bad experience, told his (33,000) friends and added to the brand’s story. One of the reasons I encourage companies to address every negative review is because you’re not just talking to the customer who had a bad experience. You’re talking to all the potential customers who read about it, too.


Are you getting enough value out of your small business website? Want to make sure your business makes the most of the local, mobile, social web? thinks helps you understand how to grow your business via the web, every day. Get more than just news. Get understanding. Add thinks to your feed reader today.

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Tim Peter & Associates helps companies from startups to the Fortune 500 use the web to reach more customers, more effectively every day. Take a look and see how we can help you.

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October 17, 2011

It just works

October 17, 2011 | By | No Comments

It just worksAccording to Google’s “Ten things we know to be true”, Google strives to “Focus on the user…” knowing, “…all else will follow.” Google became the dominant search engine by offering a simple, usable interface on top of great search technology. It just works.

Apple introduced a new voice-activated personal assistant, called Siri, in its new iPhone 4S. I have one and it’s amazing. Ask it “Will it rain tomorrow?” and it responds with a quick look at the forecast. Tell it to send a text to your business partner, or your daughter, and it opens the messaging app and asks you what you’d like to say. Speak your message, tell it to send, and you’re done. Again, it just works.

I bring this up because there’s a raging debate right now on Google+ about whether Siri is just a re-heated version of Android’s Voice Actions, who got there first, and, near as I can figure, whose dad can beat up whose.

One commenter on the thread noted, “Everyone is spitting chips about [Siri's] useless ‘Natural speach (sic) recognition’ – Basically for idiots that cant (sic) remember 5 commands…”

Pity his spell checker doesn’t just work.

Ignoring the “idiots” part for a moment, the key here is “can’t remember 5 commands.” I’ve had an Android phone for the better part of three years. And I used Voice Actions maybe 5 times. Why? Because it didn’t “just work.” I had to learn how the tool wanted me to work. And, frankly, remembering those 5 commands wasn’t worth the time or benefit. With Siri, I don’t have to remember any commands. I just say what I want to say and, more often than not, it just works.

Now, this isn’t meant as a review of Apple’s iPhone or Google’s Android operating systems. I also don’t care whose dad can beat up whose.

More importantly, neither do your customers.

You see, the problem with Android Voice Actions is that it focuses on the technology, not the user. I don’t know if Apple is using superior technology than Google. Maybe they’re not. I don’t know if Siri is going to “win” the race forever. Maybe they won’t. But, as an “idiot user” (though I prefer “moron in a hurry”), I can tell you that Siri is much more useful than Voice Actions and that, at least over the last few days, I use it all the time.

Maybe the novelty will wear off. And, if Google focuses on its users’ needs with the next version of Voice Actions—as they’ve done with their search engine for years—maybe they’ll have the best tool on the marketplace. But, right now, there’s no question in my mind that Siri is the best user experience on the market for voice control. It just works.

If you think your customers consist of “idiots” who “can’t remember” what you want them to do, then that’s your problem, not theirs. Because they’re not idiots. Or “morons in a hurry.” What they care about is whether your product solves their problem—and whether or not it just works.


Are you getting enough value out of your small business website? Want to make sure your business makes the most of the local, mobile, social web? thinks helps you understand how to grow your business via the web, every day. Get more than just news. Get understanding. Add thinks to your feed reader today.

Or subscribe via email.

And while you’re at it, don’t forget to follow Tim on Twitter.

Tim Peter & Associates helps companies from startups to the Fortune 500 use the web to reach more customers, more effectively every day. Take a look and see how we can help you.

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September 26, 2011

How long can you afford to suck?

September 26, 2011 | By | No Comments

Customer service mattersHas this ever happened to you? I was standing in line at my local Rite Aid, waiting to buy a bottle of water and some Excedrin for an increasing-by-the-minute tension headache while watching four employees (two cashiers, an assistant manager and the store manager), debating the value of a coupon with one customer.

Now, I’m all for personalized service, but that’s crazy.

During the wait, I watched a few people quit standing in line, put their purchases down and leave the store.

I wonder if any of them came back.

Judging by the items on the counter, the amount of the coupon couldn’t have been more than a couple of bucks. Why didn’t the manager just credit the first customer, then shove her out the door to handle the growing line behind her? Or better yet, ask the assistant manager and one of the cashiers to open additional registers to deal with the growing line?!?

Now ask yourself: Do I ever do that to my customers?

  1. Is your website or e-commerce provider too slow, making your customers “wait in line” to pay?
  2. Are your product descriptions unclear, making your customers search for more information?
  3. Are your pictures or screen font too small, making your customers squint or lean in?
  4. Is your value proposition poorly stated, making your customers unsure why they should buy from you?

Amazon has killed many bookstores (and other retailers) by ensuring fast, free shipping, reasonable prices and a broad selection. So, ask yourself, why does Powell’s Books continue to do well? (Full disclosure: I am an Amazon affiliate.)

Zappos has reinvented the retail shoe business by providing unbelievable customer service (though, not at the expense of other customers), good selection and a simple return policy. But Nordstrom’s doesn’t seem to suffer. Why?

Expedia, Orbitz and Travelocity have hurt many “traditional” travel agents by offering a range of travel products, loads of travel content, and (relatively) transparent prices. And yet, many niche travel agents have excelled during this same period. Again, why?

In all these cases, and many more, the long-time industry players have adapted to the needs of their customers and differentiated themselves from the larger, online-only players. Powell’s focuses on rare and used books, along with hiring committed, book-loving readers. And sells plenty of new books, too, because people who love to read recognize that Powell’s shares their concerns. Nordstrom’s continues its legendary return policy and, again, excels at customer service. Those niche travel agents? Same thing. Relentless customer service, typically building truly extraordinary trips for their well-heeled clients and fulfilling the most unusual requests with grace and style.

Your business is under siege. New entrants, online and offline (though, really, who’s only “offline” these days) seek to help your customers with their problems. And if their problem is you, you’ve now got a bigger problem.

Mobile only makes it worse. For you, that is. For the customer it’s great. Not happy with the service you’re getting? Take a look on Foursquare or Google Mobile or Facebook and find a better option.

Those with deep pockets have one advantage: their deep pockets may buy them a little time while they work out the kinks in their operation. But, too many better options exist for your customers if you’re not paying attention. And too many customers will get out of line, put their purchases down and leave the store.


Are you getting enough value out of your small business website? Want to make sure your business makes the most of the local, mobile, social web? thinks helps you understand how to grow your business via the web, every day. Get more than just news. Get understanding. Add thinks to your feed reader today.

Or subscribe via email.

And while you’re at it, don’t forget to follow Tim on Twitter.

Tim Peter & Associates helps companies from startups to the Fortune 500 use the web to reach more customers, more effectively every day. Take a look and see how we can help you.

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August 25, 2011

Off-topic: Thoughts on Steve Jobs Resignation As CEO Of Apple

August 25, 2011 | By | No Comments

I am (more or less) an Apple fanboy. Not of their products (though I do love some of them). No, I’m a huge fan of their vision: Making “insanely great” products. That vision comes directly from now-former CEO Steve Jobs. What do I mean? Well, here’s a partial list of Jobs’ “insanely great” offerings over the years:

  • Apple II
  • Mac
  • iPod
  • iTunes
  • iPhone
  • iPad
  • App stores
  • Pixar Animation
  • Executive Producer of “Toy Story”
  • Oh, and founder of Apple

That’s a hell of résumé, one that reflects a continual commitment to excellence we all should aspire to.

There’s a report that Jobs will remain hands-on, albeit in a greatly diminished role. And that “…Jobs, while seriously ill, is very much alive.” That’s good news. Obviously, Jobs’ first concern needs to be his health. He’s still a young man, a husband and a father. His health takes priority over anything his company does.

At the same time, I have no idea what will happen to Apple without Jobs at the helm. But I hope, for the sake of the company and consumers, that they maintain Jobs’ commitment to excellence, with or without him. When companies like HP have to shut down their tablet division just 6 weeks following the introduction of their first tablet, you have to wonder who else can deliver such game-changing devices and customer experiences—or will make the effort to do so if not chasing Apple.

If not, Jobs will be missed by many more people than just Apple’s employees and shareholders.



Are you getting enough value out of your small business website? Want to make sure your business makes the most of the local, mobile, social web? thinks helps you understand how to grow your business via the web, every day. Get more than just news. Get understanding. Add thinks to your feed reader today.

Or subscribe via email.

And while you’re at it, don’t forget to follow Tim on Twitter.

Tim Peter & Associates helps companies from startups to the Fortune 500 use the web to reach more customers, more effectively every day. Take a look and see how we can help you.

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