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SOS: Strategists on Strategy

Connecting Customers to Your Content, Part 1


Customers have a lot of different information sources to select from, and a lot of different tools and methods to find and access content. Some people will go directly to a familiar site, others prefer to have content come to them through RSS feeds, and many discover new content sources via referrals from colleagues and search engines. Because many methods are available to users, you must ensure that you’re best positioned to reach as many customers as possible in ways most convenient to them.

To encourage current customers to keep returning to read your content and to reach new customers, you must create many doorways to that content. “Connections,” then, represent the second of my 12 Cs framework for thriving in the digital world …Read Full Article on ClickZ

– Lee Huang,


April 2, 2008 Posted by | Branding, Marketing, Media, Organization, Product Development, Success Factors, Web Site Design | | Leave a comment

Surviving Your Competitors, Part 2


In part one of “Surviving Your Competitors”, I examined how the new competitive landscape falls into four categories: nimble upstarts, evolving blue chips, citizen journalists and bloggers, and technology disruptors. Some of these rivals aren’t direct competitors. They won’t appear on any formal research report from an industry analyst or measurement service like NetRatings, comScore, or Hitwise, because they aren’t categorized as competitors or aren’t big enough (yet) to be measured. These companies aren’t going head-to-head with you. Instead, they’re going against a segment of your business or revenue model. Some are doing so on purpose, while to others, like technology disruptors and aggregators, you’re just collateral damage.

Each of these companies, then, impacts your business to some degree. When you add up the companies, each of which is taking a bite out of your business, you’re in trouble. Whereas a direct competitor might be like a wrecking ball that’s big and easy for you to see coming, these indirect competitors are like termites. They’re small enough you may not notice them, but there are many of them. Together they can cause as much damage, if not more, than a wrecking ball.

For example, craigslist is a competitor to any publisher with an online classifieds business, although a publisher wouldn’t consider craigslist a direct competitor. Perez Hilton is a competitor to any entertainment publisher and even a source for discovering new music, much more than just a simple gossip blog.

Key people throughout your organization must acknowledge that these new competitors are indeed threats, even though they look different. And your team must respond. The unfortunate reality is that it’s possible, if not probable, that many people in your organization won’t believe you and may dismiss this perspective due to brand arrogance or ignorance. You’ve got to find the key data points or deliver a compelling case study or situation analysis that will resonate with your colleagues to get them to open their eyes. Fact is, if key leaders in your company don’t acknowledge the full competitive landscape, the company will suffer the consequences … Read Full Article on ClickZ

– Lee Huang,

March 14, 2008 Posted by | Branding, Marketing, Media, Organization, Product Development, Success Factors, Web Site Design | Leave a comment

NYC Event Recap – “I Hate My CMS ? The Perils and Promise of Modern Content Management Systems”

We had a full house for our panel discussion on Content Management Systems on February 26, 2008 ! Although it was a morning meeting in NYC, lots of people from around the country called in, including many at 5:30am ! It was a no-holds barred session where we discussed the good, the bad and the ugly about CMS. Our great group of panelists covered the best practices for successfully planning and deploying a content management system, minefields to avoid, real life case studies, industry trends, and the vendor landscape.


Event Description:

No matter what type of website your company publishes, it’s likely that a content management system (CMS) is at the core of your operations. But while CMSes are among the most vital systems in digital businesses, they are also among the most cursed due to their limitations and idiosyncrasies.

In the early days of the web, many companies built their own systems, only later to standardize on one of the emerging commercial offerings. But now, with the popularity of open source, as well as the growing complexity of content operations, there is no clear path to CMS success. Some companies continue with the major vendors, while others take the custom development route. And there are a large number of viable open source platforms, particularly for smaller operations.

This panel attacks the CMS issue from all of those viewpoints, plus provides a perspective of a leading technology analyst. We explore both the technology and business issues surrounding CMS selection and operation, as well as inviting audience members to share their own “tales from the trenches.”


  • Stephen Powers, Principal Analyst, Forrester Research
  • Tim Peters, Managing Director, Leading Hotels of the World/
  • Albert Lee, Director of Technology, New York Magazine
  • Tristan Louis, Former Technology Executive, HSBC

Moderated by Joe Galarneau, CTO of Thomas Publishing Hosted by Lee Huang and Joe Galarneau.

– Lee Huang,

February 29, 2008 Posted by | Chapter News, Content Management Systems, NYC Chapter | , , , , | Leave a comment

Surviving Your Competition, Part 1


    Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.–Michael Corleone in “The Godfather: Part II”

Excellent survival tip, but what do you do if you don’t know who your enemies are?

Learn from Arnold Schwarzenegger. In the classic movie, “Predator,” Schwarzenegger plays Dutch, leader of a team of commandos on a mission in the Central American jungle. His team comprises seasoned professionals ready to defeat any enemy, or so they think.. But they encounter an opponent they’ve never faced before: an extraterrestrial warrior. It can turn invisible, it possesses high-tech weapons, and it hunts them for sport. The commandoes, taken completely by surprise and unable to respond effectively, are killed one by one. Only Dutch survives. Once he realizes he’s never faced an adversary like this before, he quickly and objectively assesses his enemy’s strengths and weaknesses, then adapts his offensive strategy to embrace his environment and ultimately emerges victorious.

OK, clearly I had a film fest over the weekend. As online publishers, though, you’re living in a digital jungle, where it’s a battle for survival. This column, part of a series that discusses the 12 Cs for thriving in a digital world, examines competitors, including predators and hostiles, all of whom you’ve never faced before.

Before you lose more battles to this new competition, you’ve got to get into “Dutch” mode so you survive, nay thrive, in the digital jungle, and don’t get crushed:

  • Quickly identify all your new competitors.
  • Understand what makes them tick.
  • Develop a new arsenal and offensive strategy.
  • Jettison legacy anchors that hold you back.
  • Respond in kind.

Read Full Article on ClickZ

– Lee Huang,

February 28, 2008 Posted by | Branding, Marketing, Media, Organization, Product Development, Success Factors, Web Site Design | , , | Leave a comment

San Franciso Chapter Launched !

SF bridgeThe San Francisco Chapter of the Internet Strategy Forum launched on February 27, 2008. Under the leadership of Lisa Demoney, Online Marketing Manager at Joie de Vivre Hospitality, the SF-ISF chapter had a terrific 1st meeting with a great turn out. Jeremiah Owyang from Forrester was the guest speaker and he gave a wonderful presentation on Social Media trends and best practices. If you’re interested in joining the San Franciso chapter, contact Lisa at

February 27, 2008 Posted by | Chapter News, SF Chapter | | Leave a comment

The 12Cs for Thriving in the Digital Age

The 12CsI’ve just written my first article for a new column on “Online Publishing” for ClickZ.
Hope you like it. Also, the info is relevant to all industries, not just publishing and media.

The 12Cs for Thriving in the Digital Age
Twelve actionable ideas to grow audience, monetize digital assets,and improve digital operations.

As an online publisher, your day might go like this:

You wake up in the morning, pumped up and optimistic about this new digital world we live in and all the great opportunities it offers. You think about how you’ll seize upon the promise of it all, engaging your customers in new ways; establishing deep, meaningful relationships with them; expanding your audience via community and viral campaigns; creating new user experiences that are compelling and differentiated from the competition; and ultimately hearing the virtual cash register cha-ching as you capitalize on the new digital revenue streams.

But by midday, reality sets in. You shake your head, feeling overwhelmed and somewhat scared about needing to deliver on the hype and promises you’ve made and keeping your online business in business. You secretly wonder if your company has what it takes to survive in a marketplace comprising an increasing number of competitors whom you’ve never heard of and who don’t behave like you. You need to develop new content strategies that require things like metadata, taxonomies, entities, and relevance. Emerging technologies are way over your head; and you must consider new distribution and marketing options, like SEO (define), RSS, widgets, and social bookmarking. And let’s not forgot all the organizational challenges you face with insufficient resources, lack of new media skills, and legacy organizational structures.

Plus, the rules of the game have been thrown out the window, and new rules are being created every day, often by your competitors and disruptive technologies.

To survive, nay, thrive in this digital world, you must have a digital strategy that integrates the key disciplines (i.e., content, marketing, technology, sales, business development, research, etc.) as well as a deep understanding of the details and how to execute them. You’ve got to be completely customer-centric and deliver a value proposition that’s meaningful and embraced by your audience. You must welcome the new and experiment, but go in with eyes wide open. Invest in new technologies and new skills. Too often companies still work in silos, but with a cohesive strategy you’ll be able to create a unique, compelling, and desirable Web experience for your audience and provide your advertisers and sponsors with highly targeted ad opportunities… Read Full Article on ClickZ

– Lee Huang,

February 17, 2008 Posted by | Branding, Marketing, Media, Organization, Product Development, Success Factors, Web Site Design | , , , | Leave a comment

Business Sponsorship – the single greatest success factor

successOne of the topics I’ve obsessed on more and more over the years is the way development succeeds or fails. It’s always felt somehow fatalistic – as if there were forces beyond my control at work. I started off thinking it was what happened during a project. Then later, I adjusted this to focusing on what happened before the project started – strategy, scope/timing decisions, decision-making structure, etc. Lately though (and fueled in good measure by a panel discussion between ISF and SIM I participated on), I’ve adjusted this again to focus on the question of business sponsorship.

There is no single greater success factor to online development than the influence of its business owner. It’s that simple.

Here’s why: the factors preceeding and surrounding a project *do* determine the outcome, and it’s the business sponsor who creates those conditions. The sponsor is the one who makes the most important of all decisions – scope/time. The sponsor is the one who needs to make or approve critical decisions. The sponsor’s the one who needs to run political cover where needed, smoothing obstacles beyond the project lead’s scope of empowerment (and let’s face it, “influence” only goes so far as a conflict resolution tool).

When I think back to every project I’ve worked, probably 90% of them have started in jeopardy for lack of the right sponsorship involvement. Almost always, unrealistic scope/time decisions are the first step down a wrong path. Lack of strategic clarity is right there at the start to increase the risk and ensure a stream of constant changes throughout the project. (Note to Agilists – I just don’t buy that requirements need to change all the time – if the right work is done on the front end, the right answers are reached, and why should those change?) Then you usually have a lack of clearly defined decision-making structure that makes it much harder to stick to already aggressive timelines. Huge amounts of time can be wasted spinning wheels, when the right planning and a little discipline could make this routine and speedy.

Part of the issue is that Internet development is an inseparable hybrid of marketing/business and technology. This means that someone with a business and/or marketing background usually finds themselves in the role of business sponsor. They usually won’t have had the years of hands-on experience to learn all the painful lessons that we Internet specialists have acquired. And there’s also what seems to be a prevailing sense that force of will can overcome obstacles – it can, but there are limits (or maybe risks is a better word) when it comes to development. And then of course there’s the fact that everyone’s an Internet user, so everyone has an opinion. A CMO once remarked to me that no one at the executive table has an opinion about database architecture, but everyone feels free to opine about the choice of colors on a brochure. Same thing here – in spades.

So how does this get resolved? Those of us who require the sponsorship need to improve our ability to communicate to this mindset. Don’t just say, “it can’t be done.” Provide data, details, choices, tradeoffs to show that you’re not putting a finger on the scale or just being obstinate. There’s also been enough time now for Internet specialists to climb the ranks and assume roles that place them in the sponsor’s seat. You also get sponsors who’ve had their own painful experiences and learned to respect the process a bit more. But at the end of the day, this is something that will be with us for a while to come. If all else fails, a good belt of whiskey works wonders…

– Dan Leeds,

January 10, 2008 Posted by | Organization | , | Leave a comment

Backlash on Facebook Ad Program – BUT What Were the Advertisers Thinking ?

facebook.gifThere’s already been a lot written about the massive backlash against Facebook’s new ad program so I don’t want to rehash it. I should add that there are some positive developments today as The NY Times and Charlene Li are reporting that Facebook is making changes that are steps in the right direction.

  • “Late yesterday the company (Facebook) made an important change, saying that it would not send messages about users’ Internet activities without getting explicit approval each time.”

Rather than just criticize Facebook, I’d like to take a look at the advertisers who are in the Beacon program because it takes two to tango. Many of those advertisers who participated in the Beacon program have damaged their brand because of the “opt-in/opt-out” controversy. Some key questions from an Internet Strategist’s perspective are “what due diligence did they do on the program before jumping on board”, “what analysis did they do from the customer’s perspective (where was the customer advocate ?)”, “how did they assess risk/reward of participation,“ and “who at the company green-lit the initiative.”

Many advertisers jumped on the opportunity to get in on the groundfloor of the “Facebook announcement” and to ride the wave of free publicity by being mentioned in all the press releases and news articles. Makes sense from a macro marketing perspective, but if they had a “customer advocate” who analyzed customer behavior/needs and privacy issues, they would have quickly realized that Beacon would most likely have a negative impact on customer online experiences and that privacy groups would have a field-day. All this, unfortunately, has resulted in damage to some brands and given them some black eyes. There is always a risk/reward to consider, but this was a big risk.

The key to a brand is trust, and participation in this program has damaged the trust that consumers have with some of the participating brands.

In several of the articles that I’ve read, Overstock is mentioned as an example of a Beacon participant that has been the source of a lot of unhappiness for customers. For example, a customer bought a Christmas gift for someone and the recipient was immediately notified via alerts and the surprise was ruined.

NOTE: I do want to give Overstock kudos as they’ve quickly realized their mistake and today’s NY Times article reports:

  • “ has decided to stop running Facebook’s Beacon program on its site until it becomes an opt-in program.”

I don’t mean to single out Overstock, but all Beacon participants should have thought more about their customer needs and properly balanced it with the marketing opportunity and riding on Facebook’s PR coattails.

Obviously, the impact on the brand varies. For a person who’s Christmas surprise was ruined by Beacon, they may never go back to that brand and will probably share their negative experience of “ruined holiday, lack of privacy” with all their friends and contacts. In other situations, the brand may just be impacted for the short-term. Either way, since there is so much competition and alternative options online, brands (whether e-commerce site, content publishers etc.) can ill afford to risk alienating customers and getting bad virile press.

When making key decisions, it’s critical that Internet strategists look at all aspects (customer needs, marketing/ad opportunity, monetization, ROI, partner trustworthiness, technology, privacy etc) of a “potential solution or program” holistically, in order to properly evaluate the risk/reward and ultimately make the right decision.

Lee Huang,

November 30, 2007 Posted by | Branding, Marketing | , , | Leave a comment

Centralizing Your Web Marketing Function

Org ChartMany organizations are planning to consolidate their web marketing functions under one centralized department, rather than having individual business units handle it. To successfully do this requires convincing business units of the benefits of a centralized web marketing department, as well as implementing organizational changes and new business processes to ensure smooth on-going operations. If you’re planning to go this route, here are some pointers to help you reap the desired benefits and avoid any nasty surprises.

1. What’s In It For Me
You’ll need to get buy-in from folks at the business units early on by convincing them that a centralized web marketing department will make them more successful so that they are willing to partner with you and to relinquish some autonomy. Here are a few key benefits of a centralized web marketing team:

  • A team of web marketing experts that is dedicated to leveraging this evolving platform and implementing best practices will deliver more successful campaigns for each business unit.
  • Expenses will be reduced because the centralized group can realize cost savings from vendor consolidation, volume discounts, and increased negotiating power.
  • Time to market should be reduced since the experienced web team should be able to deliver campaigns faster and work with vendors more efficiently. * (see point 3 below).
  • By “aggregating” assets/brands, the centralized team can create more cross-unit marketing campaigns and bundled deals that will expand reach, exposure, and value propositions.

2. Welcome to the Client Services Business
All these individual business units are now your clients. Therefore, in addition to your day job of “web marketing,” your centralized team will have a new set of “client management” responsibilities. You’ll need to collect project requests from the business units, evaluate their goals&requirements, present solutions, answer questions, and report out regularly on project status and campaign results. All this requires clear accountability, tracking systems, escalation procedures, and service level agreements.

3. Project Prioritization
It’s important to know at the outset that no matter how hard you try, your centralized team won’t have the internal resources to complete every project request. You will inevitably get more requests from the business units than you can handle at once. Therefore, you’ll want to have outside vendors and freelancers available on-call to assist you when you get overloaded. There will still be times though, when you’ll need to play triage and put some projects on hold pending resource availability. You’ll need to have a thick skin when its time to inform the business unit of this. To minimize the obvious frustration that this will cause and subsequent shouts of “bottleneck”, it’s important that you establish a clear “project prioritization process” and get buy-in. For example, one option is that each project request must include an ROI model that describes anticipated benefits. Projects will be reviewed and those with higher anticipated ROI will be completed sooner. This process also helps weed out project requests that aren’t worth doing.

4. Aligning Compensation Plans
Too often when companies reorganize and change individual responsibilities and departmental objectives, they forget to update individual compensation plans and departmental key performance indicators. Therefore new responsibilities are still tied to legacy metrics and this misalignment causes huge problems. To avoid these problems, you need to update compensation plans and targets so that they properly reflect the goals of the new organizational structures. In addition, you’ll also need to clearly define what (if any) department allocations/chargebacks are needed with this new structure and how it impacts the budgets and P/L of the business units.

Lee Huang,

November 28, 2007 Posted by | Marketing, Organization | Leave a comment