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Edu Lead Gen Long Term

Often I write about how EDU lead gen is being battered by the current administration and the stock market. Today, I wanted to take a slightly different perspective which is more of a long term view.

For the past 10 years for-profit EDU companies have had to fight against some major issues to validate what they were doing was real. They had to fight against people not having broadband at home, no computers at home, and not understanding what studying online was. Why was I supposed to pay $30k for an education where I never got to meet the professor or my other classmates?

Broadband is almost in every home in the US, computers are everywhere and more importantly people are connected via mobile devices.

But people are still unsure about the quality of an education online and if the for-profit schools are “real.”

One of the greatest things to happen this year was a major initiative by the Obama Administration to actually spur more innovation in the Education sector. This has lead to a series of education start ups and new learning models which are introducing online education to gigantic numbers of people much quicker than any online school.

Sites like Udemy, Udacity, Coursera, KhanAcademy, and Skillshare are all introducing online learning to people who were not in the core demographic of for-profit schools.

What is this important?

First, mass acceptance is vital to legitimize any industry.

Second, these sites are attacking the spectrum of online learners from two ends, the young folks and the older folks who went to traditional schools in the past.

The fact that kids are getting more involved in online learning is great. The folks who are over 28-30 years old who are now trying online learning just happen to be the same people who are hiring these days.

The biggest outcome of the boom in online learning is that employers are now starting to see more of this in the workplace, see the quality of education and experience it for themselves.

This is a major boost for the for-profit sector. If more employers are willing to hire graduates of the online schools this will help them reduce their loan default rates and hopefully increase their graduation rates.

What happens now?

In the coming months you will see many of these free and pay for courses platforms continue to explode. This will lead to a short term erosion in the for-profit sector’s target pool of candidates. Long term there are many potential outcomes.

1) The for-profit schools use these platforms as lead gen tools. The people on these sites self identify that they are life long learners. Perfect candidates for long term degrees.

2) The for-profit schools offer lower cost single course offerings and make their degree a-la-carte oriented. This may face some accreditation issues but this maybe more in line with what the students/customers want.

3) The continued increase in technology penetration into the home will invariably increase the target market for the for-profit schools.

Personally I think 2012 will be a flat year for the online schools but going into the next 24 months, I think you are going to see massive growth, acceptance and product offering changes from the for-profit sector.

I think this view point is further bolstered by the comments made by Mr. Andreesen of Andreesen Horowitz which can be found here and here.

 

 

Trusting EDU Lead Gen Again

In 2010 the EDU market essentially ran out of gas and has been forced to come up with more sustainable fuels to keep the system going.

The EDU lead gen market went from a booming industry to an industry that had two parties, vendors and buyers who didn’t trust each other anymore. Suddenly there were “ad police” in the market sending you screenshots of what was wrong and not kosher according to the new DOE standards.  When the police arrived, a community based group called the Education Marketing Council put forth self imposed regulations and standards.

All of this lead to a massive decline in the publicly traded EDU stocks, a drop in overall lead flow and layoffs at various organizations.

Why did all of this happen?

It happened mainly because very few if any lead buyers knew where their leads were coming from. If they knew where they were coming from, they were not 100% sure if those leads were fresh.  Think of it like if you went into Whole Foods and bought a really expensive steak which looked fresh but you really had no idea how long it had been there, where it had come from, if it was organic, if it was grass fed, etc… You mainly relied on the fact that it was sold by Whole Foods, a historically  reputable company.

The effects of buying bad leads from a high quality provider caused a massive sense of distrust in the industry which spread like wildfire. It seized the lead gen engine that had run so smoothly for the last 10 years.

In a so called performance marketing system on boarding vendors costs on average $20-60k (conservative test buy of 500 leads a month for 3 months at a CPL of $25)  before you know if the leads are viable or not. I am not sure if that is “performance marketing,” anymore.

Leads are Commodities…or are they?

The EDU Lead Gen market is a commodity market. Everyone is just selling information. However, this market is unique in that the leads can be graded by the following factors:

  • Freshness – how long it took to get to the buyer. And how many middlemen it passed through to get to that buyer.
  • Source – What was that lead fed in terms of a marketing message. Was the message filled with false statements etc.
  • Certification – Did the lead go through a system like Targus Info to validate that it is in fact a real phone number and contactable?  Also does that phone number match the name on the lead?
  • Modeled – Based on the buyer’s historical success rate, does this lead look like it has a stronger chance of becoming a paying student?

After 2010, several EDU companies invested heavily into differentiating their leads and spent thousands on travel visiting their clients assuring them that they were going to be transparent moving forward.

But for some reason, this didn’t really resolve the trust issue in the industry. Media buyers still were skeptical of on-boarding unknown vendors. Mainly because if the bigger guys played by the rules, the little guys had a lot of incentives to play in the grey area and test the limits.  The other reason is that the majority of actionable metrics were retro-active. You had to wait until you got enough info to determine if the lead was bad and kill the source. This took time and a lot of money.

Enter LeadID

In 2011 a company called LeadID entered the market. It is headed up by Ross Shanken, an old TargusInfo guy. He set up a simple system which essentially gives a lead a stamp of origination. This stamp essentially stays with the lead no matter where it goes in the market. If a buyer buys a lead with this stamp they can see how many hops it took to get to them. It also shows how long it took to get to them.  All of a sudden the EDU market has a way of showing a buyer that they are actually delivering what they are promising.

Huge.

It is easy to compare this system to something like a CarFax. It is a report of what happened to X car. The main differences are that you can get around a CarFax and not report information and a CarFax is somewhat retroactive. LeadID is in real time and once implemented you can not get around it.

I won’t go into the tech too much but here is a quick video explaining the concept behind LeadID.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jjyXQpc2QKA

 

As a media buyer what does this mean for you?

If you have ever bought a used car you have been trained to “ask for the car fax” through various commercials and friends recommending the system.

As a media buyer imagine how much time you can save by just asking “Show me that you have LeadID implemented.” If not, simply say we are not testing new vendors without this.

This one question has the potential to save you that initial media testing cost and save you tons of time listening to the exact same sales pitch.

This strategy has a lot of potential benefits for media buyers in the EDU industry and the system as a whole.

  • It creates trust and honor in the system. If you stamp your product with a seal, you better be delivering what was promised. The buyer now has real time insight into if you are delivering it and can call you out at any time. This is also a metric that doesn’t require a ton of Excel time to find. It is in a simple actionable dashboard within LeadID.
  • You can finally start to pay more for the good stuff while the media source still exists. A major issue with media buying today is that the inventory itself changes so fast. If you want to replicate a Facebook buy from 3 months ago, that is virtually impossible. There are new users, new ad units, and much higher prices. Being able to reward vendors now versus 3 months from now is big.
  • As a media buyer you can spend more time talking about strategy with your vendor versus interrogating them about their “transparency.” Once again going back to building a solid relationship and partnership.
  • You have one more point to negotiate prices be it positive or negative.
  • You can cut outliers in the data quickly. Cut anytime during the month if they are not delivering what they originally promised.
  • There is no real implementation time on the buyer side. It is a web based interface.

Is this all good?

No, of course there are issues with any new technology. To really make this work, it needs to be a standard and used by the majority of people in the industry.

Since it is technology, it may be possible to break it. The inherent mentality of a vendor is that they will always be testing/hacking to find the highest level of performance.

It also won’t erase the mass mis-trust in the industry right away. It will take some time for both buyers and vendors to realize the true value and get back to the more important conversations.  This may require some re-training in the industry to show that new vendors can be given the benefit of the doubt.

What should be my next steps?

As a media buyer, vendor or C Level exec – the easiest thing to do is evaluate the technology for yourself. You can find Ross and his team at the upcoming Insights Summit in Las Vegas. I believe they will be presenting a case study with a current publicly traded client. You can also email Ross directly at ross@leadid.com.

Before your meeting with the LeadID team, I would encourage you to ask yourself and your organization a few questions:

1) When you hear from new vendors – are you hesitant to reply to their emails knowing that you can’t test them or just don’t want to deal with the boring sales pitch?

2) Are you rewarding higher performing vendors? Are you able to cut bad vendors fast enough?

3) What is the average cost of your test buy? How many enrollments does that usually provide?

4) When is the last time you had a call with a vendor to talk about corporate plans 6 months out and actually have the vendor execute on a plan?

5) If your financial projections for 2012 and 2013 are flat, what are other ways you can save money in your media buy?

 

 

Startups are Destroying the US Economy

In the past few weeks, I have been lucky enough to visit a variety of conferences regarding entrepreneurship.

One of the most recent events was sponsored by Bain Capital and the Accelerator at the University of Texas at Austin. It had three engaging speakers, a professor from Rice University who had done well in business, a CEO who had sold a company for over a billion dollars, and an entrepreneur who sold a small personal item belt.

During the course of the discussion I think most people discounted the entrepreneur who sold the belt, since it was low tech, it was a physical product and she had not taken money to develop her business. Kim Overton’s company SPI Belt is 100% bootstrapped.

People started paying attention her once she said that she was making close to $8 million dollars on these tiny low tech belts. And the kicker was that she didn’t have to answer to anyone and she still had 100% ownership. By most definitions she runs a successful small business.

Why I bring this is up is because it hints at an issue with American culture. In 2012, millions of entrepreneurs have taken the route of creating a startup instead of creating a small business.

The laymen distinction between a Startup and a Small Business is that a small business is an industry that already has a definitive revenue model. A startup just has an idea with no current revenue model.

From a macro-economic perspective, my personal take on this is that early stage investors are actually destroying value by taking a strip mining approach to entrepreneurialism. In a traditional strip mine, thousands of tons of earth are moved to find ultra valuable minerals in tiny concentrations. This is not sustainable since it disrupts the larger eco-system which doesn’t repair itself quick enough.

In current day startup investing billions are spent to find the next Facebook or Twitter.  On top of the engineering costs millions more are spent on PR to create buzz. In reality they are trying to be market makers to define the value of a particular technology.  Most of the PR is professing why you should be using X technology to share, communicate, be involved, engaged etc.

Daily, companies are funded that have no revenue model and intentionally shun traditional monetization programs like advertising.

Now, what are the effects of this approach?

  • Thousands of well educated individuals go into jobs being mainly compensated via investment capital or even worse shares of equity. This usually equates to a shoe string budget for the person and it greatly limits disposable income. From a macro-perspective I am sure that thousands of entrepreneurs choose not to buy a home or durable goods since they are not sure if their income stream is going to be consistent. This undermines economic value creation.
  • From a time perspective, if a young person spends 2-3 years in various start ups that all ultimately fail, this is time that could have been spent working in a traditional business driving real sales, and potentially more tax revenue.
  • They are repeating failure. They are encouraged to continue to take risks and continue to waste time and money. There are few instances within the Silicon Valley culture where people say “hey, I think you failed enough, I think it is time for a regular job.”  Silicon Valley has created a culture which is a kin  watching a gambling addict. They will double down on every hand even if they know they are going to lose.
  • Startups are fairly elitist. They look for people with pre-existing skills or a higher education in many cases. Startups don’t usually create jobs for under-educated people and don’t really have the resources to train people. Once again preventing larger economic growth for people who don’t have access to higher education.
  • Startups are clustered. The investment and startup community is rather incestuous. If you really want money for a startup the most common advice you will get is to move to Silicon Valley. This creates a brain drain in communities which need it the most and relegates them to stagnation. Imagine what would happen if those sample people stayed in their community, grew a small business and infused their enthusiasm to a more traditional business. Perhaps their community would start to see growth again and retain talent long term.
  • Start up culture has rebranded the concept of panhandling or begging. Asking for money in exchange for an idea/vapor is the exact same thing as begging. If you have no intent to ever monetize your idea but create really cool technology, your concept or start up is undermining fundamental business rules.

By now, most of your are thinking, this article is really offensive and doesn’t cover every start up. And you are right. I apologize for that. But keep reading it gets better.

Should early stage investors stop gambling on new ideas? No.

So what should change?

There are a few things that need to change to create more talent in America that generates real revenue.

  • An investor should embed startups with the concept that having a revenue model from day 1 is not only good but also necessary for funding. No exceptions.
  • Startups should understand that the ultimate goal is to get information about users and get more eyeballs. What that statement means is that ultimately we need to sell advertising/products to your user base. If you don’t feel comfortable with the concept of selling, you shouldn’t be starting something up. The other perspective on this is that your start up should reduce costs. EG – making transmission of data, faster, cheaper, easier. That is value people will pay for.
  • Larger companies need to restructure research in house. Millenials fear large companies since they appear to be boring, slow and lack innovation. Internal skunk works will create macro-economic value through salaries/taxes and potentially create new revenue streams for the company. Plus you get to train the person to work in a much more diverse set of individuals.   The idea of an internal skunk works department also helps keep knowledge in a system where it can deliver value now or later. If a start up dies, most of the knowledge dies with it. There are lot of start ups which come up with the same idea but with minor variations. If the core idea is corrupted or not able to make money, we are now wasting resources two times over. There really should be a site of concepts that never worked. F**Kedcompany used to be that resource.  I suspect that this site will come back very soon. The IBMs, HPs and Ma Bells of the world were some of the best incubators of all time. The US military is also one of the best investors on the planet. Why aren’t more startups aiming at being inside HP or selling to the US military?
  • The concept of early stage investing should always include mandatory focus groups and professional managers with a record of selling a product or service to customers. Focus groups of real customers keep your product realistic. Only work on ideas that people actually want and understand. Technology should work for us, we shouldn’t have to learn it.   Having a person on the team that knows how to make money will force you to compromise. This is a short term compromise. Once your company is large enough you can start experimenting more with “cool” features.
  • Investors need to get back to fundamentals of revenue and costs. Coming up with bullshit metrics to justify the company’s growth curve is selling snake oil. Time on site, number of page views, engagement, social velocity are useless terms unless your site has a true way of making money from all of those people.
  • Instill common values about not wasting resources, be it money, brain power, or time.  If you are interested in seeing how spending limited resources might actually cause  a collapse check out this MIT Study.
To really see any of this work, the unfortunate fact is that we need to re-align values. The only quick way that happens is through a major catastrophe or market crash.
For more information on how Silicon Valley was created I suggest reading the NPR series here. 
My advice for today is get off your computer/phone/tablet for a moment and look outside at a local business. Imagine how long he could give away his product for without you paying for it…The Internet is reality, it must make money eventually.
What I would like to augment in this article:
If there is a university researcher out there that wants to help me gather data on how much startups take from the economy and how much they actually produce, please email me! The only true way to verify the thoughts above is through hard statistics and defining if a dollar invested in a failed company actually creates any value, or if it is a 100% loss.
I welcome your thoughts/comments!

 

The New iPad and the Future of Display Advertising

As many of you know the new iPad was released on March 16, 2012. From an app developer standpoint thousands of developers had to upgrade their app’s graphics to take advantage of the new Retina display.

Older apps that were graphics intense looked very grainy. Apps that relied more on elements that were scalable by CSS tended to adapt without much modification.

What does all this mean for Display Advertising?

If you already have a new iPad go to CNN.com. You will notice the images on the page look grainy and the 300 x 250 ad unit at the top right looks very grainy. Any of the standard IAB ad units look grainy. To test this on CNN.com using an iPad simply “pinch” the page and as it gets smaller the pictures and text in the ads will actually look sharper. This is because you are getting closer to their native resolution.

There are several potential problems with grainy ads on websites:

  • The ads will have a lower click through rate since they look un-professional
  • The ads do not adhere to brand guidelines creating an inconsistent brand experience
  • The publisher of the site may see lower revenue due to the lower click through rates.
  • For readers with vision problems or older readers the ads will be even harder to read. Naturally if your eye can’t read it, it skips over it. Once again bad for CTR rates.

What is causing my ads to look grainy or pixelated?

  • Your ads are most likely adhering to a very old file size limit that most ad-servers have built in. The file size limit was created to ensure that the ad renders quickly even on slower connections. As broadband penetration has increased file size limits have not really increased much. Essentially everyone still plans around the lowest common denominator accessing your site. Decreasing the file size and compressing the images makes them less scalable on larger screens and therefore causes the graininess.
  • Graphics that usually have a max file size, look decent on high resolution monitors and can be easily scaled down to fit older lower resolution monitors. The issue is that most images can not be scaled up to accommodate super high resolution screens like the new iPad.

What can my website do to look consistent on the new iPad?

  • For starters, check out how many people are actually accessing your site via the new iPad. You can see this in your Google Analytics data. If you don’t have a lot of people accessing your site via an iOS device, I wouldn’t bother with any changes.
  • A simple brute force change you can make is to upload higher resolution images to your site. This will slow your site down but it will keep the look and feel of the ads consistent.
  • You can implement a different CSS specifically for the new iPad. This is not recommended since you will end up rebuilding these style sheets every time a new product is released.
  • You can code your site in responsive design to accommodate for various screen sizes. Since the pixel count on the new iPad is so high, that actually becomes your largest canvas and you then work to scale the site for various screen sizes from there. The benefit here is that you are not designing for a specific device and it is much easier to maintain.
  • If you are using a third party ad network to fill your inventory ask them to only traffic ads with high resolution on your site.
  • Last but not least write into your ad network and ask them for a larger file size limit or ask them for different versions of the ads. The other option you may have is to ask for text only ads which are not flattened into images.
  • Lastly, you can use smaller images which may not show the grainy or pixelated effect as much.

What else should I be thinking about?

Since this affects all images on your website, it is important to test your website on variety of devices. I would strongly suggest going to your local Apple store and pulling up your website on one of the new iPads to check out how it renders.

Another key thing to think about is if you are using landing pages, those are usually graphic intense but highly compressed. Make sure those pages render to the original intended quality.

 

EDU is ripe for disruption – SXSW – EDU 2012

The Education industry had a major presence at SXSW Interactive 2012. There were folks from the traditional schools, various technology providers, book publishers, and of course students.

The major themes from the show point to a potential tectonic shift in the fundamentals of how to deliver knowledge, how to measure knowledge and what today’s definition of knowledge is.

All of this was rooted in the following problems with Education these days:

  1. Education is too expensive, especially at the higher education levels
  2. Learning materials are outdated before they are printed
  3. School budgets are being cut
  4. Manufacturing jobs are expected to decline and the need for knowledge workers continues to expand
  5. New technologies allow for different types of engagement, does the concept of testing book knowledge still work?
  6. Attention spans of kids these days is becoming shorter
  7. Interest levels in key areas like Math and Science have been suffering especially in minorities and women
  8. Class sizes in the K-12 sector are too big, and many kids are slipping through the system
There is no doubt that Education has some issues. Did the SXSW 2012 conference fix any of those issues? Not at all. But it was highly effective in putting attention on the issues. I also think there are some exciting technology platforms which are helping reduce the cost and scale issues.

EDU has 3 Macro Level Issues:

  1. Cost
  2. Scale
  3. Jobs
Ultimately any form of education is intended to prepare you for a job or way to generate value for the economy. Some may argue against this but the reality is that we need to train people to keep our economy strong.
From a cost perspective, some of the most interesting models revolved around just flat out free courses.
  • Udacity.com – Spawned from the Stanford AI course, this follows the MOOC methodology and offers a certification at the end.
  • KhanAcademy.org  – this has become the darling of the industry especially within the math community. Delivering high quality lectures about complex topics.
  • MITx – MIT has been putting its courses online for a few years now, but more recently they re-focused and are now allowing for certification under these free courses.
From a scale perspective, there are a few approaches out there that were highlighted during SXSW.
  • Udemy.com – an online learning platform which allows regular people to teach others. You can either charge or host free courses. The courses can be broken up into chapters, you can host slides, videos and lecture notes in one place. You also get to see what other students are taking the class.
  • SkillShare.com – this site is focusing on local real life gatherings to teach any topic. For instance if you are Photography pro, you can find a class in Austin teaching you about digital flash photography. The course is taught in a local bar, church, outside, and for a fee usually. It is a great way to learn new things and usually focuses on passion topics. Consider this the Pinterest.com of education.
  • Virginia Tech’s – PlaidAvenger.com – Prof. Boyer teaches a physical class of 3000 students. He uses tools such as Twitter, Facebook and SpreeCast.com to interact with his students and assess them.
From a job perspective, there weren’t any platforms which allowed you to verify what you have learned. My guess is that most employers will take years to change their job requirements of “bachelor degree required” and realize that many students will not have degrees.
  • This is a major opportunity for anyone interested in building a verification system that employers will use. Consider this a Klout score for a highly dynamic education which may be drawn upon from a variety of sources.

What does this all mean for the For-Profit EDU sector and the future of the US Economy?

For the for-profit schools, there are some great opportunities to buy into these platforms. Why? Because they are amazing lead gen vehicles. People are already self identifying that they are life long learners and willing to commit to a schedule. These are key factors in creating high LTV students for schools.
Schools don’t want to give away free classes all the time. Why not let these sites help students get more accustomed to online learning and then sell them on your brand rather than jumping over the hurdle of teaching them about online learning?

The other benefit of these platforms versus the current online classes is that they help create long term communities based on interests. These platforms are built around social so they automatically pull from the social graph and help find new connections based on real world interests. As an on online student if I know more about the other people in my class, the more likely I am able to draw support from them. It is also a good way of learning when you can start to argue a point of view on a topic, which increases your critical thinking skills and knowledge retention.

From a technology perspective, these new platforms highlight that the new device formats are enabling much richer learning experiences. You can have a shared workspace while video chatting with other students on a iPad  these days. Why are our schools focusing on an one way old format of video lectures? The key is not just being social, but it is about convergence. How can we leverage video, the social graph, and instant communication to create higher knowledge retention and much higher levels of engagement. The focus must shift from learning to pass a test to learning because you are truly interested in a subject.

Another major point of the new technology platforms is that the courses are asynchronous. They allow people to learn when they have time. Most people drop out of school because they have a major life event which reduces their free time. Why not be able to pay for a course and learn it for a period of 2-3 years? Why can’t the online schools be more flexible for the reality of life?  Loyalty and brand in the Education space will be built upon not only the quality of education but it will also be based on the “realness” of the education. Does the school realize I might have a kid this year? Does the school realize I might lose my job this year? Does the school teach me what I really need to know for my dream job?

From a cost perspective, I think schools will start to offer a la carte degrees. The requirements of liberal arts classes in an economics degree are what upset people these days. You have to $50k a year to learn stuff you have no interest in. How about I spend $30k and learn exactly what I want and need? Online schools are capable of shifting resources from an operational perspective much faster than a traditional school. Why not take advantage of this “curated approach” to learning and create more students that stay in school.

The US economy has much to gain from these platforms. It will enable thousands to learn new skills necessary for non-manufacturing jobs. The learning platforms also preserve older trade skills which are quickly being lost, for instance how to make jelly at home.

None of these new platforms will drive major long term growth for the economy unless employers accept them as valid learning systems.  The term “life-experience credits” will be increasingly important. From a financial point of view, these new learning systems delivering value at scale and in a cost effective format will help reduce our dependence on student loans and allow for greater expendable income at a younger age. Imagine how many more 20 year olds may purchase long term assets instead of servicing their loan payment?  From a macro economic point of view will drive significant increases in wealth and lead to greater stability in the economy.

I think EDU is being targeted for a disruption, especially under the current Democratic administration. Will this top down approach yield a true revolution in EDU? It is too soon to tell, but November 2012 will be a good time to check in again….

What Siri means to online marketing

Siri, the new personal digital assistant by Apple came out a few days ago and everyone has been playing around with it. The real questions we should be asking Siri are the following:

1) How does Siri actually work?

2) What will Siri means for my business?

3) What does Siri mean for online marketing?

How does Siri actually work?

Siri was originally previewed at the All Things D conference in May 2009. The original presentation video can be found here.  Siri is a semantic search engine. What that means is that it takes into account multiple factors like your location, the previous thing you mentioned, your previous searches, etc to determine what you might want next. Think of it like this – it is like a childhood friend, as you have more experiences together, it starts to know what you might do next.

Could you tell which guy or girl your best friend might approach at a bar? Eventually Siri will be able to do that. It just needs more info.

Siri being so closely integrated into the iOS platform is now getting millions of data points and voice samples from people all around the world. All of that is fed back into a central algorithm which is constantly learning. Siri is almost like a giant re-targeting platform. You create a datapoint for every action you make, the only difference is that this data is being generated in real life not just from your home computer.

What does Siri mean for my business?

It is hard to say for certain what Siri will mean for everyone’s business but I can tell you what you will need to make sure Siri is able to find you.

1) You need to make sure your phone number is available online. Also make sure your correct address is registered in multiple places on the web. Siri takes into account location data. If you own 3 restaurants make sure they are all listed separately.

2) Your website should be mobile compatible. Start simplifying your site, get rid of flash and check it on an iPhone and Android device to make sure it is easy to navigate.

3) If you are a commerce company – I would suggest that you take a look at Apple’s SDK and see how you can create an API for Siri to access. For instance if you ask Siri – can you look up the price of the new Steve Jobs biography – Siri will need to get the info from somewhere. I think Apple will start to undermine the world’s dependence on Google and make sure they have direct data pipes into each site.

This section could go on and on but the key thing to remember here is that you need to engage the consumer or the consumer’s friends with your business to create data for Siri.

It is also important to remember that Siri may start to increase repeat business. Making sure that a customer engages with their phone in your business is going to be key to creating a data point in Siri’s algorithm. You might offer an in store coupon, a text message drawing or a free song to make the consumer pull out their phone in your business location.

What does Siri mean for online marketing?

Siri means a TON for online marketing.

As Siri grows and starts to be ubiquitous on not only all iPhones but also iPads, I think you will start to see mobile search actually decline. Siri will just get you the info you need rather than making you browse various websites. This is a massive change. If you haven’t used an Android phone before, it has had Voice Search capabilities for a while now, I suspect over the next 12-18 months you will see Android based Siri alternatives. Siri’s core speech recognition platform is based on Nuance communications which has an API making it easy for app developers to get the core power of Siri. The part that any competitor will miss is that Siri has a head start and has a semantic/contextual engine. This will be the hardest thing to replicate.

Ok back to marketing – Siri will have an impact on SEO marketing too especially from mobile devices. In the next 24-36 months I would suspect that the majority of searches are being done via voice commands instead of typing. Siri will pick the most likely choice for you, similar to Google’s “I am feeling lucky” button. This means that if you are not number 1 Siri probably won’t consider you unless there is another data point in its system suggesting another result will be more valid for you. Essentially this is how search should have been for the past 10 years. We don’t need 10 billion results. We need 1-3 results. And if we had someone like a friend who really knows you well suggest one – we will always go with the personal recommendation first. Siri will become the biggest word of mouth reference for your brand.

When we look at how Siri will affect lead gen marketing this is a perplexing situation. I tossed around a few ideas in my head about how this could pan out. But the simplest answer was always based on the following assumption “If I had a real secretary – how would she get me info on X.”

For instance if I asked my secretary or in politically correct terms “my personal assistant” – can you find me a bank that offers a better mortgage rate than 5%? She may do a bit of research but condense the results that she shows me to 1-3 initially. If I didn’t like any of those I could always tell her to find another one.  The thing that remains to be seen is how she finds the first 3. Will there be a large scale Siri ad platform? It sort of makes sense if they are building a giant semantic search tech, why not monetize it?  Remember Siri is going to be a human like experience. Start saying good bye to your keyboards and other computer specific input devices.

I believe Siri will get queries about what is the best school offering a MBA in healthcare management. It is just a matter of how a brand can really get in front of that consumer if they have never had any interaction with them before. This makes me think that Apple will go towards building a more robust ad platform. But knowing Apple it won’t be just a simple – here are three ad spots, they will force engagement and a unique customer experience. I could see them buying something like Quora and mashing that up with Siri. Imagine a quick presentation of 3 MBA schools in Quora’s format hand picked by Siri!

There will be a definite change in how mobile paid marketing is done. For home computers I think the time horizon is around 3-4 years before we see mass adoption of voice technologies. The fact is that most computers probably won’t be upgraded with voice tech, the computer itself will be replaced by devices which are more touch sensitive and voice activated. Think iPads or Windows 8 on steroids. Devices which could legitimately replace your desktop or laptop. They will remain small since most of your info will be in the cloud. They just need fast processors and fast internet connections moving forward…

This is all fine and dandy but when should I start getting my company to think about Siri?

The answer is now. The best way to watch how Siri will impact your business is actively watch people using Siri in real life, watch how they search for prices in a store, watch how they book tickets to a movie, and more importantly listen to how they ask the question. Within the next 12-24 months you are going to see the mobile usage model change drastically.

I would strongly suggest that everyone buys both an Android phone and iPhone if you are in online marketing. These two platforms are going to change your life.

Social has been fun, the semantic age is going to be even more fun. Siri will start to curate the web.

PS – if you are an app developer or business owner, I would love to hear how you plan on integrating voice technologies into your life.

A note from the lead developer of Siri