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January 15, 2020

Trends for 2020: Voice Takes Off (Thinks Out Loud Episode 271)

January 15, 2020 | By | No Comments

2020 Trends Voice Takes Off: Office workers using smart speakerLooking to drive results for your business? Click here to learn more.


Trends for 2020: Voice Takes Off (Thinks Out Loud Episode 271) – Headlines and Show Notes

We're kicking off 2020 by highlighting a key trend you need to know about. What is that trend? The growth of voice in your customer's journey. Voice has been growing in importance for a few years. But it looks like this year is the year it really takes flight. And, of course, that means you need to think about how you can use voice to improve your marketing and customer experience.

Customers use voice search. They listen to podcasts. They expect relevant experiences, immediately. These all connect to make voice a key component of your marketing strategy and tactics. And Thinks Out Loud has some recommendations on how to make voice work for your business.

Want to learn more? Here are the show notes for you:

Relevant Links – Trends for 2020: Voice Takes Off (Thinks Out Loud Episode 271)

Subscribe to Thinks Out Loud

Contact information for the podcast: podcast@timpeter.com

Past Insights from Tim Peter Thinks

You might also want to check out these slides I had the pleasure of presenting recently about the key trends shaping marketing in the next year. Here are the slides for your reference:

Technical Details for Thinks Out Loud

Recorded using a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Mic and a Focusrite Scarlett 4i4 (3rd Gen) USB Audio Interface into Logic Pro X for the Mac.

Running time: 18m 00s

You can subscribe to Thinks Out Loud in iTunes, the Google Play Store, via our dedicated podcast RSS feed (or sign up for our free newsletter). You can also download/listen to the podcast here on Thinks using the player at the top of this page.

Transcript — Trends for 2020: Voice Takes Off (Thinks Out Loud Episode 271)

Show Opening — Trends for 2020: Voice Takes Off (Thinks Out Loud Episode 271)

Well, hello again everyone and welcome back to Thinks Out Loud, your source for all the digital marketing expertise your business needs. This is episode 271 of the big show, and I think we have a really cool show for you. I want to follow up with what I've been talking about for the last handful of weeks with, you know, the decade in review that I closed out last year with and with your digital marketing new year's resolutions that I opened last week with, to talk a little bit about the trends you want to pay attention to here in 2020 and beyond.

I don't think, I always think it's funny when you're talking about trends for 2020 or trends for 2019 or trends for 2021 whatever the year happens to be. Because if it's a meaningful trend, it's probably not a one year event. It's probably something, it's almost always something that has benefit to you, not just for this year, but for the next year or two or three. You know, once you get out more than a couple of years, two, three years, it may get tough to say it will consistently be true, but if it's worth doing, it's something that probably should have some legs underneath it, something that will carry you forward for some time to come.

The Trend: Voice Takes Off

And one of the trends that I think you need to pay attention to now, if you haven't been already, is the growth of voice. I really think we are in an era when voice is taking off in a big, big way, and I'll explain why in just a moment. But for some background, I've talked about voice as a powerful trend before and whether voice and VR and AR and AI represent hype or hope for marketers as well as others over the last few years. And I will link to all of that in the show notes.

But I want to say that some of those may have been a little early. You know, 2017/2016 voice probably was, you know, interesting, but not necessarily critically important to your business. As we move forward though, in this year and the next year, all the data strongly suggests that that simply is no longer the case.

Digital Sleeps, Creeps, and Leaps

Like a lot of things in digital, I really think we're seeing an example of where the trend "sleeps, creeps and then leaps." You know, it's something where you don't see it much until one day you look around and it's everywhere. And I think we're starting to hit the point where voice is going into that "leaps" mode. It's sort of slept for a little bit. It's been creeping slowly. And boom. Now here we are, where it's suddenly gotten very big.

Data Showing How Big Voice Is Getting and the Growth of Voice

I wrote a piece for Hotel Executive this month that talks about, you know, how "voice is mobile's next big trick." And we're seeing data from the Global Web Index that says 27% of the global online population is using voice search on mobile. That same report says, quote, "with between 40 to 60% of consumers planning to purchase a new mobile within the next 12 months, the majority of their new phones will have integrated voice assistance." Research from Path Interactive says that 70% of respondents report using voice search at least a few times a week, and 27% of respondents are using voice search one to three times per day.

So that's a lot, right? We know that Google has been saying for some time that about 20% of all mobile searches are voice powered. Now, I want to be fair. Google has been saying that number for a couple of years. And they haven't updated the number, which means one of two things, well, at least one of two things is true.

One is that that number has grown a ton and they want to keep it closer to the vest because they don't want Amazon and Apple with Alexa and Siri to get into play there. Or the other possibility is that it hasn't grown as much as they would like. And so they're, they don't want to like, you know, oversell it.

I'm not sure which of those is true, but given what we're seeing from data around Apple and data that we're seeing from Amazon, I suspect that the more like the former, that they don't want Apple and Amazon to catch on, than the latter. For instance, according to Fortune and some other folks, Apple's AirPods business is somewhere between a $6 billion and $8 billion business, and it's growing fast according to Fortune.

That revenue alone would make AirPods, just AirPods, number 384 on the Fortune 500. Which, okay, only the 384th biggest business on the Fortune 500. But that's still one of the 500 biggest businesses in the world, so that's pretty good, right? That's crazy, you know?

According to a bunch of different data, there were 100 million Alexa-powered devices sold in 2018. And according to Quora Creative, the Echo Dot was the best selling product on Amazon during the 2018 holiday season. Not the best selling voice product, the bestselling product overall. And that discounts all of the other Echo devices that are out there, or all the other Alexa-powered devices that are out there.

So clearly voice is growing in terms of its ubiquity and in terms of the frequency with which customers use it. I mean, that's a really, really big deal and it's becoming a bigger and bigger deal, something that you need to pay attention to, we need to pay attention to as digital marketers, as digital strategists, if we're going to connect with our customers where they want us to.

One last data point I would call out is that according to Path Interactive, they found that the majority of respondents, 78%, believe that within the next five to 10 years, at least half their searches will be done through voice search devices.

Now the reason I saved this one for last is because it goes back to a quote I've referred to many times, which is that we always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next 10. So when people are saying they expect about half of their voice searches will be done through voice search devices in the next five to 10 years. That's a likely an underestimate.

It doesn't mean that we're going to get there in two. It just means that one of two things will be true. Either we will get to half voice search as being there faster than five years, or we will get a lot more than half of searches done within that period, or both.

Your Response: Trends for 2020: Voice Takes Off (Thinks Out Loud Episode 271)

So given that, given these potential realities, what should you do about it? How should you change what you're doing or how should you think differently about this?

How to Show Up in Voice Search

And the first is to understand that audio is a key component of your customer's experience. So you want to be sure that when people are looking for you voice, that you actually can respond to them.

And the way you do that is to make sure that you do well in Answer Boxes and Featured Snippets in things like Google Search, because that's what powers voice responses for Google and for Siri on Apple devices, that's how they get the answers to the questions that they want.

Research Answer Box and Featured Snippet Keywords

And how do you do that? Well, you have to target keywords that Answer Boxes show up for. It doesn't make a lot of sense to try to be an Answer Box for those queries that Answer Boxes don't appear. You want to take a look at what kinds of keywords align with your business objectives that also have Answer Boxes attached to them and start creating content that actually answers those questions. Which is the second thing that you have to do. When we talk about Answer Boxes and Featured Snippets, you need to think about the questions that your customers ask.

You know, either brainstorm them, brainstorming them with your sales and customer service folks, doing keyword research, looking at your Google Search Console data and looking at your site search data to understand the questions that people are asking and the intent that they have when they don't ask a question, but just putting the specific keywords.

Answer the Questions that Customers Ask

You want to target those questions as the keywords within your content. You know, you want to think about things like what are directions to your locations or finding times that your businesses are open, your business is open, or how-to's around products, services, or solutions. You know, what are people asking when they have questions about your product? What are people asking when they have questions about your service? What are the how-to's they're asking when in the old marketing vernacular, "nobody wants a drill, they want a hole"? What kinds of questions are they asking about that that your product or service might be a good answer for?

Provide Clear, Concise and Correct Answers

Now, assuming your product or service is a good answer to those questions, the next thing you want to do is to make sure that you've got a clear, concise and correct answer to that question, which means you may not be talking about your product or service. You have to answer the question. The best answer is what Google's really looking for. So you want to focus on making the answer as correct and as perfect as possible. The answer absolutely can be, and likely should be, part of a longer piece. You know, "Content is King" and all that. But the core of the answer really has to appear in the first hundred words or so, maybe 150. You want to get to the answer fast because on voice, that's what your customer wants to do. Get to the answer fast.

Format Your Answers in Structured Data

You can make that work even better by formatting responses as either a numbered list or a bulleted list. Again, that's a very clear case of "here's a direction to the place," "here's what time you're open," "here's how you do the thing" that somebody asked how to do. And if you have tabular data, you know, tables or graphical data graphs used, use structured data markup for those. Make sure that you've got the data marked up in a way that Google can clearly understand this is tabular data, this is graphical data, and here's how I can present it best to answer the question somebody asks.

Consider Voice Apps Like Alexa Skills and Google Actions

Another thing you're going to want to do is think about Alexa Skills or Google Actions and whether they're appropriate for your business or your brand. You know, when you talk about Skills or Actions, they're basically just apps for voice. I don't necessarily think you need to create those in every case. But you do need to say, are there appropriate Skills? Are there appropriate Actions? Is there an appropriate customer experience, benefit, to offering a distinct voice experience for our customer and make them more successful and more effective at what they do?

Consider Podcasting

And then of course, the last thing you can look at, and I fully admit this is a little self-serving given what I do, but also think about an audio experience for your customer with your content, like podcasting. One of the reasons I podcast is because I want people to be able to experience my content when they're on their, on the go on mobile devices and the like without having to read or look at their screen. It may not be appropriate for every business, but I've talked a bunch before about why podcasting may or may not make sense for your business, and it's probably worth taking a look at. For you to say, "Hey, is this something where we can help our customers using voice and using mobile when they're on the go to help them be more effective." So it's one more thing to think about.

TL;DR — Trends for 2020: Voice Takes Off (Thinks Out Loud Episode 271)

So it appears clear that voice is really taking off. Voice is really speaking up as we get into 2020 and the growth is there. The time really is now to start thinking about it for your customers. Think about how you can be the right answer in voice for your customers to make sure that they can get the information they need while on the go.

And when they're asking the question out loud, you should look at the Skills and Actions, you know, Amazon and Google's voice apps, to determine whether they're appropriate for your brand and for the customer experience that your customers expect.

And finally you might want to take a look at podcasting to say, "is that an appropriate content experience and an appropriate customer experience for our customers to help them get the information they need and be successful as they go about their day?"

Ultimately, voice is here and it's time to really listen to what our customers are saying and engage in a conversation in a very real way with them to help them accomplish their goals. So the last question I have for you is, "are you listening to what they have to say?"

Trends for 2020: Voice Takes Off (Thinks Out Loud Episode 271) — Show Closing

Now, looking at the clock on the wall, we are out of time for this week, but I'd like to remind you that you can find the show notes for today's episode as well as an archive of all our past episodes by going to TimPeter.com/podcast. Again. That's TimPeter.com/podcast. Just look for episode 271.

While you're there, you can click on the subscribe link in any of the episodes you find there to have thinks out loud delivered to you every single week. You can also subscribe to Thinks Out Loud on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Stitcher Radio, or whatever your favorite podcatcher happens to be. Just do a search for Tim Peter Thinks, Tim Peter Thinks Out Loud or Thinks Out Loud. We should show up for any of those.

While you're there. I'd really appreciate it if you could provide us a positive rating or review. It helps new listeners to find us. It helps them understand what kind of show this is and it makes a huge difference for the business overall. It really means a lot to me personally, and I genuinely would appreciate it.

I also want to remind you that you can find things out loud on Facebook. By going to facebook.com/TimPeterAssociates. You can find me on Twitter using the Twitter handle @TCPeter.

And of course you can email me by sending an email to podcast@timpeter.com. Again, that's podcast@timpeter.com.

As ever, I'd like to thank our sponsor SoloSegment. SoloSegment focuses on AI-driven content discovery and site search analytics to unlock revenue for your business. You can learn more about how to improve your content, increase your customer satisfaction, and make your search smarter by going to solosegment.com. Again, solosegment.com.

With that, I want to say thanks so much for tuning in. I always appreciate you listening. I really wouldn't do this without your support, so it means so much to me. I hope you have a great rest of the week. I hope you have a wonderful week ahead and I look forward to speaking with you again on Thinks Out Loud next time. Until then, please be well be safe and as ever take care everybody.

Tim Peter

By

January 7, 2020

Your Digital Marketing New Year’s Resolutions (Thinks Out Loud Episode 270)

January 7, 2020 | By | No Comments

Your Digital Marketing New Year's Resolutions: Image of sunrise over beachLooking to drive results for your business? Click here to learn more.


Your Digital Marketing New Year's Resolutions (Thinks Out Loud Episode 270) – Headlines and Show Notes

Happy New Year, folks, and welcome to 2020. Hope your year is off to a great start already. And, if you're looking for some ideas on how to make sure that 2020 works out to be a great year for your business, Tim Peter & Associates' president Tim Peter has some digital marketing New Year's resolutions that you'll want to check out on the latest episode of Thinks Out Loud.

Want to learn more? Here are the show notes for you:

Relevant Links – Your Digital Marketing New Year's Resolutions (Thinks Out Loud Episode 270)

Subscribe to Thinks Out Loud

Contact information for the podcast: podcast@timpeter.com

Past Insights from Tim Peter Thinks

You might also want to check out these slides I had the pleasure of presenting recently about the key trends shaping marketing in the next year. Here are the slides for your reference:

Technical Details for Thinks Out Loud

Recorded using a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Mic and a Focusrite Scarlett 4i4 (3rd Gen) USB Audio Interface into Logic Pro X for the Mac.

Running time: 15m 54s

You can subscribe to Thinks Out Loud in iTunes, the Google Play Store, via our dedicated podcast RSS feed (or sign up for our free newsletter). You can also download/listen to the podcast here on Thinks using the player at the top of this page.

Transcript — Your Digital New Year's Resolutions

Well. Hello again everyone, and welcome back to Thinks Out Loud, your source for all the digital marketing expertise your business needs. My name is Tim Peter. This is episode 270 of the big show, and this is our first show of 2020. Happy New Year, everyone, thanks so much for tuning in. I really appreciate you being here.

I think we've got a really cool show. You may remember I closed out our last episode, episode 269, which of course I will link to in the show notes, with the decade in review. I took a look at the biggest trends, the biggest details, the biggest facts that you needed to be aware about as you got ready for 2020 and 2021 and 2022 we go on from here. And I thought I would start off this episode this year, this decade, with a couple of new year's resolutions for folks in digital, a couple of things that are really important as you go forward to help you grow your business and to adapt to the reality that you know we're going to see over the next couple of years.

So just to recap what I talked about in the last episode briefly, and again, I'm going to link to it in the show notes. I don't want to spend a lot of time telling you something I already told you, but I talked about, you know, mobile and the changing customer experience and AI and Google and how you can think strategically and most importantly, how you need to keep learning.

Because the one thing that digital does is it changes quickly, right? It allows for the rapid integration and disintegration of value chains, and it's important that you just keep learning.

Resolution #1: Keep Learning

So my first new year's resolution, the first resolution I would encourage you is to, in fact, keep learning. And in some ways I want to end with that one, but I also think it makes a lot of sense to start with it because ultimately, no one can really predict the future. As much as I like to try, as long as, as much as I like to think I can see the writing on the wall or connect the dots, the reality is, you know, I'm probably as wrong as often as I'm right. And the one thing that remains true is if you can't predict the future, then you need to be really good at adapting to the future.

And so being able to learn and being committed to learning and being focused on learning continually and continuously is incredibly important to ensuring you're successful throughout the course of your growth as a marketer, your growth as a digital strategist, your growth as a leader within your organization.

That's really key.

Resolution #2: Invest into the Downturn

The other thing that I think is a key resolution as we go forward in 2020 is that you need to be prepared to invest into the downturn. Now I want to be very clear. I am on record that I don't think we're going to face a recession next year. I talked about this in episode 264 which again, I will link to in the show notes, but in case there is a recession, you're much better off acting as though there will be a recession and having that not be true then acting as though there won't be a recession and having that not be true. Right? The only thing worse than planning for a recession that doesn't happen is not planning for a recession. But there is a way to prepare for a recession the right way and to think about how to market in a recession the right way. And that is to continue to invest into the recession.

Now, that doesn't mean throwing all your money at all of the things you always plan to do. We've talked about this before. I'm in favor of a model that I refer to as "core and explore," which technically could be a resolution unto itself, but I'm going to keep these two together for the moment. But the idea is that you spend 80 to 85% of your energies and your budget on the things that you know work. And you keep 15%, maybe 20% of your budget in reserve to test new ideas, new opportunities as they come along. Right? So the core is the 80% to 85% you focus on the stuff you know works, and we explore is that 15% to 20% that you're keeping in reserve.

The nice thing about that is that if in fact the recession hits really hard and you need to put a little bit of that 20%, of that 15% in your pocket, it's there waiting for you without slashing what you'd already intended to do. Because you've taken 80 to 85% and you've focused it on the things that you know work and you can keep fishing where the fishing's good.

That would include things like performance marketing. That would include things like investing in your content. That would include things like investing in social in a way to get customers to tell a positive story on your behalf, providing them content that they can share with their friends and family and fans and followers.

And then that extra 15 to 20% is they are waiting for you as new opportunities come up that allow you to, you know, invest where you see the opportunities. Now, why do I think it's important to invest, even if there's going to be a downward turn? And the reason is because your competitors won't. What you really want to do in a recession is you want to make the recession, you want to make any downturn, you want to make any challenges, your competition's problem. Let them be the ones to scale back marketing and then use that as an opportunity for you to steal share. The worst thing to do when your competition is running scared is join them, right? Let them be the ones who've run around like crazy people or stick their heads in the sand or hunkered down and you know, ignore their customers.

That's the worst thing you can do because when you do that, is you get customers to expect a lesser customer experience, or you get customers to forget you because you're not marketing. You're not putting yourself in front of them at times of need. Because if you're facing some economic problems, obviously your customers might be facing some challenges too.

They have problems, they have challenges, they have needs and they will remember "who was there for me, who helped me at a time when I needed it?" So you want to market intelligently. You want to market on the channels that produce a return for you today and double down on those, really focus your efforts on the channels that work best for you. But also keep some money available, keep some resources available, keeps some time available to explore those places where maybe this is the time to try it. You know, whether it's video, whether it is some paid social, whether it is something else that comes along the way — SMS marketing? — that you haven't tried before to see, does it help you reach a new customer or reach a customer in a different way that you haven't tried before?

Resolution #3: Enlist Your Customers in Curation and Creation of Positive Brand Story

The next resolution that we want to talk about, of course, is how do you enlist your customers in the creation and curation of a positive brand story? You know, one of the things that we've talked about a lot, that I talked about a lot in 2019, is how much gatekeepers like Google and the rest of the frightful five

are making it harder to reach customers economically and organically. They've introduced more tolls along the way to reaching those customers. But what they've also done, and I'm in this case I'm talking especially about Facebook, but also to some degree email and the like, they've made it easier for people to talk to people.

So what you really want to do is get your customers to tell a positive brand story to their friends and family and fans and followers, and help you bypass the tolls that the gatekeepers have put in place. So it doesn't matter if we're talking Facebook, it doesn't matter if we're talking Google. You want to make it that your customers have something to share and a positive story to tell on your behalf.

And again, this is something I've talked about before, so I won't belabor the point, but the idea is that you want to provide content that is snackable, that is shareable, and that is sharp for your customers to share with their friends and family and fans and followers.

By snackable I mean your content needs to be easily consumed. It can't be, you know, walls of text. Think about something that allows people to consume it on their mobile device easily and readily, and answer the question that they need so that they can get on with their life.

What I mean by shareable is a, there has to be some mechanisms there for them to be able to share it. So there should be a share button. It should fit in a tweet or a text easily. But also it needs to be something that they would care to share. It needs to be emotionally engaging enough that somebody would want to share it. How does it make them look good? Look smart, look funny, look engaged to the people that they care about, right? People only share things that make them look good. So make sure that it's shareable from that perspective.

And when I say it's sharp, of course what I mean is that it's to the point. The point is very clear. What do you want them to do? How does this help them answer their questions and let them get on with their day?

And if you can do that really well and you can encourage them to do that, then you're actually enlisting their participation in this process. You're helping them help you.

Your Digital New Year's Resolutions: Conclusion

So to recap the three big New Year's resolutions, I would focus on as a digital person are one, keep learning, keep growing. Keep finding ways to get better at what you do to invest into the downturn. Two, act like there might be one and invest intelligently so that you're set up regardless of whether or not that turns out to be true. You can do that. This is sort of 2A of the resolutions. You can do that by using a "core and explore" process. Think in terms of how you can focus on the areas where you're the best position and also keep a little bit of powder dry to use where opportunities present themselves. And finally, enlist your customers in the process. The best way to compete in the marketplace today where gatekeepers are putting tolls and putting roadblocks between you and your customers is to get customers to participate in that storytelling on your behalf.

If you do that, I feel pretty confident that at the end of this year you'll be looking back and saying, wow, this was a really great year for us because we made the right resolutions and committed to them at the start.

Your Digital New Year's Resolutions: Show Closing

Now looking at the clock on the wall, we are out of time for this week. But I'd like to remind you that you can find the show notes for today's episode as well as an archive of all our past episodes by going to TimPeter.com/podcast, again that's TimPeter.com/podcast. Just look for episode 270. While you're there, you can click on the subscribe link in any of the episodes you find to have Thinks Out Loud, delivered to you every single week.

You can also subscribe to Thinks Out Loud on Apple Podcasts or Google Podcasts or Stitcher Radio or whatever your favorite podcatcher happens to be. Just do a search for "Tim Peter Thinks," "Tim Peter Thinks Out Loud," or "Thinks Out Loud," we should show up for any of those.

While you're there. I'd really appreciate it if you could provide us a positive rating and review. It helps new listeners find the show, figure out what they're in for and it makes a huge difference for me. It really means a lot, so I'd appreciate that.

You can also find Thinks Out Loud on Facebook by going to facebook.com/TimPeterAssociates. You can find me on Twitter using the Twitter handle @tcpeter, and of course you can email me by sending an email to podcast@timpeter.com. Again, that's podcast@timpeter.com.

As ever, I'd like to thank SoloSegment, our sponsor. SoloSegment focuses on AI-driven content discovery and the site search analytics to unlock revenue for your business. You can learn more about how to improve your content, increase your customer satisfaction, and make your search smarter by going to SoloSegment.com.

With that I do want to say thanks so much for tuning in. I very much appreciate it. I know I say this all the time, but I wouldn't do the show without your support. It means so much to me and I really, really appreciate it. I hope you have a great rest of the week. I hope you have a great 2020. And I really do look forward to speaking with you here on Thinks Out Loud next time.

Until then, please be well, be safe, and as ever take care of everybody.

Tim Peter

By

December 18, 2019

The Decade in Review (Thinks Out Loud Episode 269)

December 18, 2019 | By | No Comments

Decade in review: Group of customers using mobile devicesLooking to drive results for your business? Click here to learn more.


The Decade in Review (Thinks Out Loud Episode 269) — Headlines and Show Notes

Welcome to my (I think) last podcast episode of the 2010's and (I think) last blog post of the 2010s. Almost 2,600 posts. Almost 270 podcast episodes. What have I learned over the last decade? What’s changed for me? And for you? How will those changes shape where we go in the 2020’s?

This isn’t a trip down memory lane. It’s a glimpse into a future path, one that will influence your business for years to come.

Want to learn more? Here are the show notes for you.

Relevant Links — The Decade in Review (Thinks Out Loud Episode 269)

Mobile and the Changing Customer Experience

AI

Google and the rest of the Frightful Five

Thinking Strategically

Learning

Subscribe to Thinks Out Loud

Contact information for the podcast: podcast@timpeter.com

Past Insights from Tim Peter Thinks

You might also want to check out these slides I had the pleasure of presenting recently about the key trends shaping marketing in the next year. Here are the slides for your reference:

Technical Details for Thinks Out Loud

Recorded using a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Mic and a Focusrite Scarlett 4i4 (3rd Gen) USB Audio Interface into Logic Pro X for the Mac.

Running time: 15m 43s

You can subscribe to Thinks Out Loud in iTunes, the Google Play Store, via our dedicated podcast RSS feed (or sign up for our free newsletter). You can also download/listen to the podcast here on Thinks using the player at the top of this page.

Transcript — The Decade in Review

Well, hello again everyone and welcome back to Thinks Out Loud, your source for all the digital marketing expertise your business needs. My name is Tim Peter. This is episode 269 of the big show and as ever, thank you so much for tuning in. I think we've got a really cool show for you. This one's going to be a little different than what I normally do.

This is in all likelihood, the last podcast episode of the year, which means that it's the last podcast episode of the 2010s. It's also probably the last blog post of the 2010s. And obviously that's got me reflecting on the end of the decade and you know, what all we've done here at the blog and what we've done on Thinks Out Loud as a podcast over the last, you know, 10 years or so and, you know, since we started altogether. So, you know, I think it's a really interesting thing to look back and say, how has this decade shaped where I am, where you are, and how is that affecting where I go from here, where you go from here.

There's been a lot of change for me over the last decade. I suspect there has been for you too. In 2009 and 2010, depending on where we want to time this from, I was working for The Leading Hotels Of The World. I ran digital globally for the company, technically for a subsidiary of the company. I was the managing director of that subsidiary, and we ran digital globally for the company as well as about a hundred of its member hotels, plus some other stuff — an online travel agency and some other things. I actually wouldn't start Tim Peter & Associates. It's under these auspices that I do the podcast and the like until April, 2011. And most of the content on the site prior to that really focused on lessons I'd learned working for larger companies that small business owners can apply to their businesses.

This podcast wouldn't start until a year after that, September 2012, so just over eight years ago. But in that time, we've produced roughly 32 episodes a year, so about three a month pretty much every month for the last eight years-plus. And it's remarkable to look back and think about what changed during that time. And much as I talk about in the lessons you can learn from Jeff Bezos, what hasn't changed? And the answer is a lot.

One of these days, I'm going to go through some of the old podcasts and some of the old blog posts, and I will hold myself accountable by saying, "You know what? Here's some predictions that really didn't go well, but that I was confident we're going to be a big deal or something everyone should pay attention to that turned out to be, you know, not so much."

But for today, I want to talk about what went right. So what's, what's interesting to me is that next month the iPhone turns 13 years old. And in fact, the project that led to the iPhone actually started in 2005, making the phone — in concept anyway — almost 15 years old. 2005 coincidentally is when I started this blog.

Mobile and the Changing Customer Experience

And what's really fascinating to me is that I've been talking about the mobile web — and I have to say, it sounds adorable to talk about it that way to mean now — but I was talking about the mobile web a lot in 2009. And one of the things I think I got really right was this idea of how mobile would change the customer experience. There are a host of, you know, either blog posts or podcast episodes — I will link to these in the show notes; I'm not going to recount them all now — but a host of of items that really talked about how mobile would change the way your customers interacted.

And some things that I think are really interesting in that list are, you know, there was a blog post that talked about, "Do you think the mobile web is bogus? Think again" and "Is this the year of mobile?" which was published in 2010 — January, 2010 — and I made the argument at the time that really 2009 probably was the year of mobile, almost certainly because of the iPhone, but it led to thinking about how that changed customer experience. There was a post that I wrote, oh geez, somewhere in 2015 that said, it's not mobile first, it's customer first. We have to think about how our customer evolves and expects things to work. And that of course, led a couple of years later to a post, to our podcast episode I reference all the time about how "customer experience is queen and what does that mean." And then around the same time, a blog post that talked about why personalization starts with a person. And just how we have to think about our customer overall and how their behavior shape what we do. There's a whole bunch of posts that really get to thinking about those strategies. You know, one called the forgotten social network and how customers use email and why that's still important to us.

That was originally published way back in 2010 but was most recently updated in October of this year. I got a new update in there, so we can talk about it in a more relevant way of where we are right now, but stays true. But there's all these fun things about, you know, does your business depend on your customer's stupidity from 2010 where people are talking about how they're going to keep information away from their customers — you know how they're going to depend upon an information disparity, which today just seems ridiculous than anyone thought that way. But it still does matter.

And of course, that led to probably one of the most popular posts I've ever written about the race you can't win and why it is you can't depend on an information disparity favoring you when it comes to pricing. Because again, people carry the internet in their pocket. They know everything they need to know about your product or service because it's so critical to them. So this isn't something that is new or something that I just started talking about last week. You know, we've been talking about this for quite a while.

Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft

Of course, the companies that really get it right. In terms of doing this would be Google and the rest of the frightful five, or as I named them back in 2013 “AGFAM” — Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft — and the fact that they really get it and are using data to understand our customers and understand how to provide them a better experience.

See how these things all tie together. And this clearly is something that's been on my mind for a long time. Ah, that episode of the podcast was episode 30 so that was 2013 that was, gosh, six years ago, but still is relevant today. And what I thought was really interesting as I went back through some of the archives was there is a blog post from 2011 called "Why the mobile web scares Google to death" and how it was really important to them to make sure that they got people to continue to search instead of using apps.

Oh, there's another very popular post as part of the Travel Tuesday series I've run for a long time about "the big myth about hotel metasearch" and how metasearch isn't a product. It's really just a feature that's part of search and that's something we've seen play out in the last few weeks with Expedia and all the problems they are having, which I will again link to in the show notes.

That's what I've been talking about the last two weeks here on the podcast. So it's interesting to me that these ideas of mobile and how that shapes customers' behaviors and how Google and the other members of the frightful five respond to that and how that has to change our strategic thinking.

AI (Artificial Intelligence)

Of course, that leads to, we need to collect sufficient data such that we can personalize for our customers and so that we can create Better experiences for them, and so that we can power some AI and some machine learning that enables better experiences. So, you know, how do we use these tools in a way to compete?

Learning

And that leads to the last topic and one that I'm probably most proud of. If you look over the course of the history of the blog and the history of the last decade, you know, one topic I've come back to again and again and again is this idea that we need to keep learning. Probably my most favorite post about this goes back to 2012 and it was called "The most important skill" and is all about how we have to keep learning. I did a podcast episode a hundred episodes ago in 2016 about how to keep up with technology as a marketer: the quick and dirty guide. What Amazon's Jeff Bezos can teach you about digital marketing and how we need to, as my friend Mike Moran likes to say, "do it wrong quickly" so that we can learn and continue to improve and continue to create better and better experiences for our customers.

And I think that's a great place to wrap it up.

Of the things that I think I've done well over the last bunch of years, over the last decade, and that I absolutely think I have to keep doing and would encourage you to keep doing as you go into the 2020s is keep learning because that's the way you'll be able to compete as customer experience continues to change.

Conclusion

You know, maybe something comes along that will take the place of mobile, whether it's wearables, whether it's, you know things like the air pod, whether it is things like the watch or glasses or something else. I don't know that we know, but we know that the customer experience will continue to change.

We know that Google and the rest of those frightful five are going to continue to try to adapt quickly. We know that we have to think strategically about how to address our customer's needs, and that always comes back to customer experience. AI undoubtedly is going to play a significant role.

Now we'll see in 2030 if that prediction holds true, but I'm going to say AI is going to play a pretty significant role throughout the 2020s in how we do that.

And the companies that learn fastest and learn best are the ones that are going to be really great shape when we're looking back 10 years from now to today.

So that's what I want to leave you with, whether the predictions I made a decade ago turn out to be right a year from now or two years from now, or five years from now. The one that I feel really confident about is if we just keep learning, you're just going to keep winning.

Now we are coming into a couple of short weeks here at the end of the year. Next week is Christmas. The week after that is New Year's. I don't know if I'm going to get another episode in before the year is out. So if this is the last time I speak with you before the holidays, I hope you have a wonderful holiday season, a terrific Hanukkah, a terrific Christmas, a wonderful new year.

Closing

As I like to say, looking at the clock on the wall. We are out of time together for this time, but I do want to thank you so much for tuning in. I really do appreciate it. I want to remind you that you can find the show notes for today's episode as well as an archive of all the past episodes, all 269 of them by going to TimPeter.com/podcast. Again, that's TimPeter.com/podcast. Just look for episode 269.

While you're there, you can click on the subscribe link in any of the episodes you find there to have Thinks Out Loud delivered to you every single week. You can subscribe to Thinks Out Loud on Apple Podcasts or Google Podcast or Stitcher Radio or whatever your favorite podcatcher happens to be. Just do a search for Tim Peter Thinks , Tim Peter Thinks Out Loud, or Thinks Out Loud. We should show up for any of those. While you're there, as ever, I'd really appreciate it if you could provide us a positive rating or review. It helps new listeners to find the show and figure out what they're in for before they start listening. So it makes a huge difference for us and it really means a ton to me.

You can also find Thinks Out Loud on Facebook by going to facebook.com/TimPeterAssociates. You can find me on Twitter using the Twitter handle @tcpeter. And of course you can email me using that forgotten social network by sending an email to podcast@TimPeter.com. Again, that's podcast@TimPeter.com.

One big difference over the last 10 years since we started the podcast was we have a sponsor and I'd like to thank SoloSegment. SoloSegment focuses on AI-driven content discovery and site search analytics to unlock revenue for your business. You can learn more about how to improve your content, increase your customer satisfaction and make your search smarter by going to SoloSegment.com.

With that — I know I said it already — but I really do want to say thanks so much for tuning in. I very much appreciate it. I would not have done this show for the last eight years. I wouldn't have done the blog for the last 15 without you taking the time to read and respond and listen. It means so much to me.

I hope you have a great rest of the week. I hope you have a tremendous holiday season. I hope you have a happy, healthy, and wonderful New Year and I will look forward to speaking with you here on Thinks Out Loud next time. Until we talk again, please, as ever, be safe, be well and take care everybody.

Tim Peter

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December 11, 2019

The Lessons You Should Learn from Expedia’s Recent Troubles (Thinks Out Loud Episode 268)

December 11, 2019 | By | No Comments

What do Expedia's recent troubles mean for your business? Screenshot of Expedia.com home pageLooking to drive results for your business? Click here to learn more.


The Lessons You Should Learn from Expedia’s Recent Troubles (Thinks Out Loud Episode 268) — Headlines and Show Notes

Literally days after our episode calling out the dangers of Google forcing your company to become a "hidden intermediary" — and using Expedia’s recent troubles as one example of where things are going terribly wrong — Expedia fired CEO Mark Okerstrom and CFO Alan Pickerell. The reason? Well, apart from a "disagreement over strategy," the real issue is that the company simply doesn't have a plan for dealing with Google's rising dominance. And, as stated, that's something you want to keep from happening to your brand.

How can you do that? How can you avoid Google taking over your share of the market? How can you compete with the search giant to win customers and profits? Tim Peter & Associates' president Tim Peter has a few ideas for you on the latest episode of Thinks Out Loud.

Want to learn more? Here are the show notes for you:

Relevant Links — The Lessons You Should Learn from Expedia's Recent Troubles (Thinks Out Loud Episode 268)

Subscribe to Thinks Out Loud

Contact information for the podcast: podcast@timpeter.com

Past Insights from Tim Peter Thinks

You might also want to check out these slides I had the pleasure of presenting recently about the key trends shaping marketing in the next year. Here are the slides for your reference:

Technical Details for Thinks Out Loud

Recorded using a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Mic and a Focusrite Scarlett 4i4 (3rd Gen) USB Audio Interface into Logic Pro X for the Mac.

Running time: 15m 52s

You can subscribe to Thinks Out Loud in iTunes, the Google Play Store, via our dedicated podcast RSS feed (or sign up for our free newsletter). You can also download/listen to the podcast here on Thinks using the player at the top of this page.

Transcript — The Lessons You Should Learn from Expedia's Recent Troubles (Thinks Out Loud Episode 268)

Well, hello again, everyone. Welcome back to Thinks Out Loud, your source for all the digital marketing expertise your business needs. My name is Tim Peter. This is episode 268 of the big show, and thank you so much for tuning in. I really appreciate it. We have a crazy show today. I did an episode last week that talked about the biggest risk to your business is becoming a hidden intermediary, and I really used what's going on with Expedia lately to illustrate the problem of becoming hidden intermediary — how Google, how Amazon, how Facebook, how Apple, you know how the big tech giants are really threatening companies that don't provide a direct value-add to their customers. And you know, one of the things that drove this was that Expedia reported really, really crappy earnings in Q3.

And I talked a little about the fact that, you know, they needed to sort this out and they probably would, well, no sooner did I publish the episode. Then the very next day Expedia fired Mark Okerstrom, the CEO, and Alan Pickerell, who was the CFO. Like out. Gone. Hit the bricks.

Phocuswire who covered the story brilliantly. I'm going to link to a lot of focus wire stuff here because they're really great at this. They do a wonderful job, but I will say, I thought the framing of their headline was kind of funny because it's “Expedia group CEO Mark Okerstrom out amid board disagreement over strategy.” I think the biggest disagreement that the board had was that, you know, Okerstrom and Pickerell thought they were the right people to lead that strategy. And the board, you know, disagreed.

So I'm, not that I was in the room, but I'm pretty sure the biggest disagreement was, you know, "are these, in fact, the people who can fix this?" Now I want to point out, I tweeted on December 3rd, another story about this that was also from Phocuswire because at the Phocuswright Conference, Mark Okerstrom talked about the challenges that we're having with search, and I tweeted — and this is important to those of you who are listening, who are not in the travel industry — I said, “don't let Expedia fool you. This isn't just about travel. Google is coming for a lot of folks.”

I also tweeted on December 3rd, you know, a link to an article from the Motley Fool that said, “why Expedia blamed Google for its earnings debacle.” And I said, because "Google is a huge problem for Expedia. That's why, and they may be coming for your business next."

This is a thing I've talked about a ton when it comes to travel. Google is the dominant player in organic paid search, organic search, paid search, and a thing called metasearch, which if you're outside of travel, don't worry about it. Well actually, let me rephrase that. If you're outside of travel, you don't need to know precisely what metasearch is, but you should worry about it because it is a canary in a coal mine. And I'm going to come back to that canary in a coal mine in just a second. This is a thing that I've been talking about since at least 2014 when I referred to the big myth about hotel metasearch. Which you know, the nice thing about predicting things years in advance is you only need to be right once. 😉

But there was another Phocuswire article from November 14th where they talked about Skyscanner becoming a search company, pivoting from their original model of being a metasearch engine and instead becoming a marketplace with bookings. Functionally, they're getting out of the business of aggregating search results, right? They're no longer going to be a search engine primarily, and instead they're going to sell travel directly, which by the way, is exactly the problem that, you know, Expedia and Booking.com and the like and TripAdvisor, who I all talked about last week, seemed to be having.

Now remember the canary in the coal mine that I talked about a moment ago? Well, Social Capital CEO Chamath Palihapitiya was speaking at the Phocuswright Conference a couple of weeks ago, by the way, that is run by the same people who run Phocuswire, and I'm going to quote pretty extensively here from a a CNBC review of this. So I'm quoting from the CNBC article. It says, quote

Speaking at The Phocuswright Conference this week, Palihapitiya said that while he “loves” Google and its stock as an investor, he warned that time is running out for companies who have become reliant on it. “The longer it takes for Google to find a second act, the more you’re f—-d,” he said about those companies, adding that investor patience will wane. “If you are in the business of being a parasite on top of Google, your medium-term and long-term prospects are terrible; you’re an impaired company, you don’t know it,” he added. The only way to win, he argued, is to offer unique value; many companies have done the opposite, becoming more like their competitors and relying on Google to drive volume. That’s a recipe for disaster. “This is accurate,” tweeted fellow venture capitalist Bill Gurley, of Benchmark, Thursday evening.

Palihapitiya pointed to the travel industry, calling Google’s travel efforts a “canary in a coal mine” and citing both Expedia and TripAdvisor. “At the core of it is the decision that they will capture the overwhelming majority of profit in the travel sector,” he said about Google.

He's not the only one saying it either. Ben Thompson on Stratechery a couple of weeks back now, on November 12th, actually right after Expedia's earnings call, referred to "the Google Squeeze" and the challenges that Expedia and people like TripAdvisor and Booking.com will have in competing as you go forward.

This is a huge deal, and it's not about travel. This is what Google's doing in a number of markets. Look at what's happening with online retail. Look at what's happening with Google Shopping. Look at what's happening with Google News. They aggregate demand to use Ben Thompson's phrase, and because they have the demand, they control the marketplace for whatever that product or service is.

And this is a huge issue for all kinds of companies. Mark Oak Ostrom got fired because of this, by the way, to point out how rare this is. He was named CEO of the company two years ago. Less than two years ago. Find me another example of a CEO of a public company that by the way, is doing basically okay, right there.

Their revenues were up 9% year on year. Their costs were up dramatically more, but find me a CEO who gets booted after two years. And the reason he got booted was because the board didn't believe that he had a good plan for dealing with the fact that Google's going to come along and you know, eat their lunch or drink their milkshake, or you was whatever your favorite, you know, analogy is basically the board said, mr , mr Pickerell, we understand what you say you're going to do and we think it's not going to work.

Now. Last week on the show, I laid out a three point framework for how you can succeed and make sure what just happened to Okerstrom and Pickerell doesn't happen to you. I said, you must differentiate. You must become a destination and you must diversify. You must get your traffic and your revenue from more than just one source.

A lot. Don't get all your business from Google. In fact, I had a podcast, a podcast a weeks ago where I said, stop outsourcing your sales and marketing to gatekeepers like Google at a minimum. Don't outsource a hundred percent of it to those folks, but there's one more point that I want to add to that framework, and I hinted at it last week, but I want to get a little more in detail about it this week, which is, I said, you have to differentiate, you have to become a destination.

You have to diversify. And you have to deliver. There was a fascinating article that on marketing charts that said, uh, uh, here's what B2B content marketers are prioritizing in 2020 and near the very top, they had increased conversions and near the very bottom they had no the customer better, and I thought that was insanity.

Because I think the first of those follows from the last of those. You don't increase your conversion without knowing your customer better. One leads to the other, and we see this all the time when I've talked about customer experiences queen, this is what I'm talking about. Steffan Berelowitz had another great example, a guy from a company called Travel Tripper that said, consumers want Amazon to be a travel booking site.

Why?

Because they really like the experience that they have on Amazon. I talked about this actually two weeks ago with Amazon Go, instant gratification, and the boring future of business customers expect. That the experience will become invisible. It will become so seamless that they don't even notice it.

And that's kind of what Amazon has done with Amazon. Go and now travel. Customers say, why can't they do that for my travel too? That's a huge threat to an Expedia or booking.com and frankly to a Google. And the reason it works is because they're using data to understand the customer and using that understanding to create a deeper, deeper, richer experience.

Uh, there was another fantastic article that was out, uh, Oh, about a week ago from CMS wire about how brands still haven't tapped AI's full promise. Why do I talk about AI? I'm going to talk about customer experience. Because that's how you know your customer better. That's how you use the data to inform your decisions.

It's not that AI is going to tell you, here's exactly how you make the customer experience better. It's going to tell you, here are the pain points and here's what we understand about sentiment analysis. When people talk about our brand and our business, and here's where we see patterns emerge.

That co that you know. Uh, reflect challenges people have when they interact with a product or a service. And so you need to do that to understand what's going on and understand your customer better so that you can deliver a greater customer experience. And so that you can differentiate your product or service from those of your competition, especially the competitors who are the big guys like Google and Amazon and Facebook.

And that's how you can become a destination. And it's how you can diversify the marketing and sales channels from which you get your business. Because at a minimum, your destination, your own web presence becomes one of the places people want to go.

So you must differentiate. You must become a destination. You must diversify. And you must deliver. Because if you don't — like Mark Okerstrom and Allen Pickerell — your board or your company CEO or your customers are going to show you a fifth "D" — and that is the door.

Now looking at the clock on the wall, we are out of time for this week, but I want to remind you that you can find the show notes for today's episode as well as an archive of all our past episodes by going to TimPeter.com/Podcast again, that's TimPeter.com/Podcast just look for episode 268.

While you're there, you can click on the subscribe link in any of the episodes to have things out loud delivered to your favorite podcatcher every single week. You can also subscribe on Apple Podcasts or Google Podcasts or Stitcher Radio or whatever your favorite podcatcher happens to be. Just do a search for Tim Peter Thinks, Tim Peter Thinks Out Loud or Thinks Out Loud. We should show up for any of those. And while you're there, I'd very much appreciate it if you could provide a positive rating or review. It gives other listeners a great insight into what the show is about and helps them understand whether it's something they'd like to listen to too. It makes us easier for new listeners to find us and when it would mean so much to me

You can also find Thinks Out Loud on Facebook by going to facebook.com/TimPeterAssociates. You can find me on Twitter using the Twitter handle @tcpeter. And of course you can email me, just send an email to podcast@timpeter.com. Again, that's podcast@timpeter.com.

As ever, I'd like to thank our sponsor. Thinks Out Loud, is brought to you by SoloSegment. SoloSegment focuses on AI-driven content discovery and site search analytics to unlock revenue for your business. You can learn more about how to improve your content, increase your customer satisfaction, and make your search smarter by going to solosegment.com

With that, I want to say thanks so much for tuning in. I really appreciate it. It means so much to me. I hope you have a great rest of the week, a wonderful weekend ahead, and I look forward to speaking with you here on Thinks Out Loud next time. Until then, please be well be safe and as ever take care everybody.

Tim Peter

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December 3, 2019

The Biggest Risk to Your Business? Becoming a "Hidden Intermediary" (Thinks Out Loud 267)

December 3, 2019 | By | No Comments

Intermediary being bypassed: The Biggest Risk to Your Business? Becoming a Hidden IntermediaryLooking to drive results for your business? Click here to learn more.


The Biggest Risk to Your Business? Becoming a “Hidden Intermediary” (Thinks Out Loud Episode 267) — Headlines and Show Notes

In business, there are suppliers and intermediaries. And both face serious competition over the next few years. Google, Facebook, Amazon and others continue to create competitive pressures even in industries where they're not a primary player. But the biggest risk your company faces is if these powerful competitors turn your business into a "hidden intermediary." What is a hidden intermediary? Why is becoming a hidden intermediary so dangerous for your business? And what can you do to stop it from happening to you?

The latest episode of Thinks Out Loud explains what it means to be a hidden intermediary, why it's such a threat, and how you can differentiate your brand and business to triumph against this powerful threat.

Want to learn more? Here are the show notes for you:

Relevant Links — The Biggest Risk to Your Business? Becoming a “Hidden Intermediary” (Thinks Out Loud Episode 267))

    Subscribe to Thinks Out Loud

    Contact information for the podcast: podcast@timpeter.com

    Past Insights from Tim Peter Thinks

    You might also want to check out these slides I had the pleasure of presenting recently about the key trends shaping marketing in the next year. Here are the slides for your reference:

    Technical Details for Thinks Out Loud

    Recorded using a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Mic and a Focusrite Scarlett 4i4 (3rd Gen) USB Audio Interface into Logic Pro X for the Mac.

    Running time: 17m 35s

    You can subscribe to Thinks Out Loud in iTunes, the Google Play Store, via our dedicated podcast RSS feed (or sign up for our free newsletter). You can also download/listen to the podcast here on Thinks using the player at the top of this page.

    The Biggest Risk to Your Business? Becoming a "Hidden Intermediary" (Thinks Out Loud Episode 267) — Transcript

    Well, hello again everyone and welcome back to Thinks Out Loud, your source for all the digital marketing expertise your business needs. My name is Tim Peter. This is episode 267 of the big show, and thanks so much for tuning in. I really appreciate it. It means so much to me. So I think we've got a really cool show.

    There was a post on Seeking Alpha. And Seeking Alpha talks about whether or not people should invest in stocks or not. And I want to be really clear. This is not intended as financial advice. I'm not a financial advisor. I don't make stock picks. So please, please, please don't make, don't make investment decisions based on what I'm about to tell you here.

    But this blogger on Seeking Alpha basically said people should sell their shares in Expedia. And he listed a few reasons why that was so. First, he talked about the fact that that functionally they have no moat. There's nothing that prevents others from entering Expedia's business.

    And he gave a bunch of examples of people who have [entered Expedia's business], among them Airbnb and you know, companies like Marriott focusing more heavily on getting people to book directly with them to make reservations directly with them. And he, he said that this is a real problem for them. And of course he said another huge problem for them is the fact that Google is increasingly getting heavily into the space of letting people find and choose and book hotel rooms, which by the way, that's where Expedia makes most of their money.

    You might think of them as a travel agency where you book your flights or you book car rental or things like that, but about 70% of the revenue comes from actual hotel reservations. So they don't have a big moat. They're facing huge competition from Google, and this makes them an unattractive stock to this blogger.

    Now, I've talked for many, many episodes of the show about the fact that Google is a real threat to lots of companies, and clearly Expedia is one of those, and it's not just Google, right? Facebook can enter these types of businesses and Amazon can enter these types of businesses, and I will link in the show notes to, you know, past episodes where you can hear me talk about that. I don't want to beat that to death.

    What I do want to do is take a step back and talk about why Expedia is in this circumstance that maybe they're in big trouble. And maybe they're not. Maybe this blogger is wrong. But I think he's getting at something that is fundamentally true.

    Which is that one of the things digital does is it exposes what I like to call "hidden intermediaries." You know, we all know what intermediaries are: They're people who facilitate an exchange between a supplier and a purchaser of some kind. But on the internet there are all sorts of hidden intermediaries, and I'm going to explain what that is in a moment.

    Expedia clearly is a traditional intermediary. They connect the sellers of travel — so hotels and car rental companies and airlines — with people who actually want to consume those products, people who need a hotel reservation, people who want to rent a car, people who want to book a flight. So they're a clear intermediary.

    And one of the traditional things that digital has done is created this, this reality of disintermediation, a place where because digital allows for the rapid integration of value chains, it also allows for the rapid disintegration of value chains. You know, we often talk about, we as business people often talk about, you know, integration being this really cool thing, but we don't always talk about the disintegration part where things can be taken apart really easily.

    You know, Google has entered travel in a fairly meaningful way, in a reasonably short timeframe. You know, they've gone from someone who directs traffic to people like Expedia or Booking.com or TripAdvisor as a for instance, to being a place where you can find a hotel or you can find a flight, or you can read a review right there without ever leaving the search results.

    And obviously that's a big challenge for companies like Expedia. But, but there's this idea of the hidden intermediary. And to me a hidden intermediary is somebody who offers something that either is so generic or lacks differentiation so much that they can be disrupted in pretty substantial ways.

    So to give you an example, if you think about real estate agents, I used to think that real estate agents were intermediaries. You know, they got between the seller of the home and somebody who wanted to buy the home. But they provide a very real value in that most people don't know how to sell a home and most people don't know how to buy a home. And yes, you can have for sale by owners. Those all exist. I get it. But that's not how most real estate is transacted.

    And there's all kinds of reasons why real estate agents continue to have some market dominance. You know, they control the access to the multiple listing systems. There may be legal, you know, hurdles, legal barriers in some states or some jurisdictions that make it harder for people to sell homes directly or require more specialized knowledge. But at least the real estate agent fulfills a useful function. They know how to market a property. They know how to reach buyers so they can bring some real value to it in addition to controlling access to the MLS or controlling access, you know, to some of the legal stuff.

    But the hidden intermediaries have been the real estate brands. You know, if you think about the brands, if you think about the agency you go with, most people don't care about that as much as they used to do.

    They don't care that you're a Re/Max real estate agent. They care that you got good reviews on Yelp or you got, you know, good recommendations from friends of yours who've used them. And that's why you're seeing companies like Redfin or Zillow enter the market and be very effective very quickly.

    They've exposed these hidden intermediaries, the brands between the agent and either the buyer or the seller. Now maybe someday technology will knock out the agent too. We're seeing examples of that, you know, companies that are buying real estate and just marketing it directly, buying it directly from the seller and selling it directly to the buyer with no agent in the middle.

    So that's certainly a possibility of another disintermediation that will occur. But the hidden intermediary was the brand. And we're seeing many of those brands really struggle to attract new agents because of this. So for many companies, you need to think about whether you're a supplier, whether you're an intermediary, or whether you're a hidden intermediary.

    And being a hidden intermediary being one of the most dangerous ones. If you're an intermediary, you already know you have problems, right? I don't think I'm telling you something you don't know, that Google can come along or Facebook can come along or you know somebody else, Amazon can come along and knock you out of the picture. If you're a supplier though, you need to ask whether or not you offer something truly exclusive, something that your customers can get nowhere else.

    You know, if you're a hotel, if you're a restaurant, if you manufacture a product, you're probably a true supplier. There are other examples, but I mean, you know, just using those as for instances. But if you're a hotel or you're a restaurant or you're a manufacturer and customers have a lot of other options, if you're fairly generic, you may be more of a hidden intermediary than you think you are.

    Because your customers may be able to get what you offer from someone else.

    So what do you do about this? Well, if you're a supplier first, it's good to be a supplier. You need intermediaries and intermediaries need you. And if you think about marketplaces like Etsy or eBay or Zillow, they seem to have some value add because they work for the person who's creating that listing. They offer them ways to make that product and service available to more people more easily. But that could change over time. Facebook's Marketplace offering shows one way that eBay or Etsy could be in trouble in the longer term. Alibaba's Taobao platform could also represent another long-term threat. But the reality is any supplier could be disintermediated because they're just too generic.

    So the first thing you want to do is you want to differentiate. You want to think about "what separates me from my competition?" and actually I'm going to use a buddy of mine's terms. My friend Mike Moran always likes to talk about the fact that differentiation isn't just what makes you different; it's a difference that's so valuable to your customers that they're willing to pay extra for it. You know, to put it bluntly, your customers would have to be stupid not to buy from you. So you want to think about how do you look at what separates you in such a way that people would absolutely pay a premium for it.

    You also want to diversify your offering. You know, the channels where people can find your product or service. If you're a supplier, don't put all your eggs in one basket. Don't assume that because you get good amounts of business from — pick the intermediary of your preference — that that's the only way customers can find you. You know, if you're getting a lot of business from Google, look and see, can you get more business from Facebook? Can you get more business from Yelp? Can you get more business from TripAdvisor? Can you get more business from, I don't know, FindMyDoctor.com? Think about all of the different ways customers can find you and, to use an old, you know, platitude "don't put all your eggs in one basket," but instead use multiple baskets to spread the risk.

    Think about the value-adds that you can offer that make your product or service more valuable to your customer. What makes it special?

    And I think there's a fascinating real-world case study that we have seen in recent years with bookstores. Now, bookstores aren't suppliers. They're an intermediary, right? They were for a long, long time a place to simply buy books. And when Amazon came around, they were the original example of companies that got disintermediated. See Borders bookstores, for example. What bookstores have done a tremendous job of, especially independent bookstores, is making themselves a destination unto themselves.

    They're not a place to buy books. I mean, you get books there, but they offer curation and communities and cafes and all sorts of other things. They've become a service offering, not just a seller of merchandise. And that service, that experience is something beyond just what you're going to get anywhere else. And that's something that an Amazon or a Google or a Facebook cannot easily replicate.

    This is what I mean when I've talked in past shows about how "customer experience is queen," because it can be a thing that sets you apart and is very hard to duplicate. You need to think about how can you become a destination unto yourself?

    If you think about the companies that compete well with Google or compete well with Facebook or compete well with Amazon, they're places where people go because I know that that's what they do when they do it really well.

    So they've differentiated in a very specific way. Think about, think about Indeed.com if you're doing a job search or LinkedIn if you want to connect with your professional network. They're really just intermediaries, but they're so specialized that it makes it simple for people to choose them.

    So is Expedia in big trouble? Maybe. I don't really know. I'm not going to make a prediction about that one way or the other. I'm going to say that, if they cannot differentiate — if they just become another place where you can book a hotel room or find a rental car or book a flight — without adding something beyond that, then, yeah, they're probably in real big trouble.

    The thing you want to avoid is being like them. What you want to do regardless of whether you're a supplier or an intermediary or especially a hidden intermediary, is you need to differentiate. You need to become a destination. And you need to diversify the channels through which customers can find you. Because that's how you're going to compete in the long run. Today, you may feel like you're a supplier, but I guarantee you there's somebody out there who's trying to turn you into an intermediary and more important the person they're trying to hide that from is you.

    Now looking at the clock on the wall, we are out of time for this week, but I want to remind you that you can find the show notes for today's episode as well as an archive of all our past episodes by going to TimPeter.com/podcast. Again, that's TimPeter.com/podcast just look for episode 267. While you're there, you can click on the subscribe link in any of the episodes you find there to have Thinks Out Loud delivered to your favorite podcatcher every single week.

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