Semantic Marketing

Scott Brinker has a great article on the role of marketing in a semantic Web world.

This is a very valid question, since the semantic Web world will IMO mark the end of the “destination” Web and the advent of the “me” Web: I don’t need to go to any Web site to get my information, it gets instead aggregated and filtered out of the junk I don’t want to see in the format I enjoy to consume it the most, one of the filters being the reputation I have of the author of the content as weighted by each member of my social network.

I agree with Scott that good semantic marketing will start with good, and accurate data and metadata about products/services, good distribution in particular via compliance with various established publication standards (microformats, RDFa, etc.).

If I’m correct on how data relevancy will be established by leveraging your social network, SEO will essentially become the old name for “Reputation Engineering” or “Reputation Hacking”. The more reputation your company has in a given social network, the more it will top query results.

In terms of ads, since we are left with a single destination that one can see as the next-generation RSS reader, I see two models:

  • Contextual ads next to the content/data my collection of queries is typically retrieving. This is similar to the ads you have in Google Reader.
  • Suggestions (similar to Google Suggests) as I’m creating my query in my semantic query builder, companies pay for certain categories of products or names to show up higher in the list (imagine a Google Suggests where companies can bid to push words higher in the list of suggested items).

Upromise: social savings for college education

Looking at the daily Google hot trends today, I noticed a social money service called Upromise.

Upromise is marketed as a way to save money for your kids’ education. It is a subsidiary of SLM Corporation (“Sallie Mae”), the U.S. largest student loans company.

You essentially save by spending.  You get “1-25% back from eligible purchases from 600 online retailers”, “8% back from participating restaurants”, “1-3% on select items at grocery/drugstore”, “10% EXTRA on select items at participating grocery/drugstore and at Upromise dining restaurants; and 1% everywhere you shop when using the Citi Upromise World MasterCard”.

For online transactions, you have to start shopping at participating shops from the Web site (so that they can track your purchases) and for offline transactions, you have to register your existing Credit/Debit card or grocery/drugstore store loyalty card to your UPromise account, and Upromise uses this information to track your purchases and match them up with cash rewards from participating merchants. The privacy notice mentions that some programs might require additional information like Frequent Flyers mile numbers or telephone number.

Other members can be linked to the account, which makes the contributions from family and friends possible.

Upromise screenshot

For restaurant cash rewards, Upomise use Restaurant Cashback.


The service is essentially a compromise on privacy for value. I find the promise on rewards very high (“up to 25% on select items”) and would be curious to hear from people who have used the service.

I personally find the idea of “saving by spending” a bit ironic. I would imagine that people would save much more by not going to the restaurant in the first place or not buying that brand product and instead buying the white label product. But I can see that in some cases, the system works: for instance, cash-rich retired grand parents who, for good reasons, might want to enjoy brand products or nice restaurants, while helping their kids and grand-kids out.

In short, I’m really curious to hear from real participants with real success stories of having saved a significant portion of a student loan via this program.

I see more opportunity in smart savings programs built into Web services like Wesabe or For instance, assuming you’ve been to a restaurant several times you would see a message that would help visualize how much this money could represent by the time your kid gets in college, if you hadn’t been to this restaurant, or at the very least, if you had chosen a cheaper alternative nearby.

Creating valued content people buy in a world of free

A few days ago, I bought The Future of Reputation book from Daniel Solove. I had already downloaded it for free in PDF on my computer but bought it nonetheless for $9.99 on

The reason, according to Kevin Kelly most excellent article Better than Free: embodiment. Embodying the book in the form of a lightweight, low-power long-lasting reading device is something I value more than the content itself.

Kevin lists 8 other qualities that makes something better than its free counterpart, and although I list them below I encourage you to read the entire article:

  • Immediacy
  • Personalization
  • Interpretation
  • Authenticity
  • Accessibility
  • Embodiment
  • Patronage
  • Findability

A bank’s payment strategy in 3 words: Convenience, Convenience, Convenience

The Bankwatch had an interesting post titled Payments – the impossible dream for Banks? this week outlining the importance of payments for banks and the challenges they face in bringing about innovative and user-friendly payment solutions. Colin’s line of thought is that:

  1. Banking has moved to self service
  2. Self-service allows two types of financial activity … view balances, or move money.
  3. Moving money is payments.
  4. Payments, as currently offered by banks, are mostly hell and they cry out for innovation
  5. Payments innovation is not about technology or standards (SEPA), but about customer experience

I cannot but connect this “hell” experience with one of the most interesting questions raised during the Mobile Web Wars conference last week:

Why  people are willing to pay for apps on the iPhone, but not on Facebook?
Why people are willing to pay $3 for ringtones, but not $1 for music files?

A participant was arguing that the reason was the “mobile effect” i.e. the fact the mobile is a relatively new communications channel that is so personal that people value it more than the PC channel. But at the same time, Bart Decrem, CEO of Tapulous, a social app company for the iPhone, was saying in the background: “Ease-of-use, Ease-of-use, Ease-of-use”, in other words: convenience drives customer value and their willingness to pay.

Something pretty obvious some would say, but this idea was made to me much clearer in the last few days while trying out two new services:, a London-based bill sharing online application, and TipJoy, an online tipping (“micropayment”) service. Both services address different user problems, but they both address it very well with an extreme focus on convenience.

TipJoy for instance, does not require what you would normally call “payees” to register: you can simply donate to any URL on the Web you want. As Web site owners register and add the TipJoy button on their Web site, they essentially claim by the same token URLs and collect tips. From the payer / tipper perspective, a single click on the TipJob button is required, nothing more: the button is already configured by the payee with a pre-defined amount (in the order of 5 to 50 cents). This is convenience at its best.

Expensure solves the problem traditionally solved by complex spreadsheet. I used it to share bills between an upcoming WE trip with my friends and I was extremely satisfied with the application. It’s all in the details. For instance, I was able to set a ledger and experiment adding expenses to it without having to invite my friends to the service, something that would have refrained me from starting to use it, b/c my friends are too busy to receive unwanted invites from applications I found not worth using after a trial. In this case, I did, and ultimately send the invite to 5 friends.

Both applications touch on the problem of payments, but with an extreme focus on a relatively highly context-specific problem and a very well designed solution to the problem. Yes, I could have used my bank’s transfer service, or checks, plus a shared Google Spreadsheet, as I did in the past, but I will certainly not do so now that my social network is almost set up with Expensure. Same thing with TipJoy: while I could have used a PayPal button on my blog, I can see the value of simply providing a pre-defined amount to users willing to tip me, and will most likely go with them in the end if I ever want to be tipped for writing these articles (I’m not really and I’m doing this on the side of my day job).

What was the most interesting to me, what the following FAQ excerpt from Expensure:

Can I pay somebody back using Expensure? Soon. Right now we are focusing on making Expensure the best shared expense tracking app out there.

and from TipJoy:

Why can’t I withdraw cash from my Tipjoy account? There are legal implications to allowing this transaction which we are currently working through. We expect that you will be able to withdraw cash very soon. In the meantime, if you have a minimum of $5 in your account after removal of applicable fees, then you can do the following with your earnings: 1. Donate to any official charity you’d like 2. Purchase an Amazon gift

Both of these companies are clearly focused on providing the best customer experience first, then only will they figure a way to monetize it. They probably have listened very well to this presentation from Paul Graham on how being benevolent and focusing on solving problems is more important than thinking about making money when starting a business.

The only thing that these companies are missing is that they are not a bank or Credit Union, but as good entrepreneurs, starting a new CU or bank is probably not an option they will choose. Just like PayPal partnered with Wells Fargo, I would not be surprised to see an innovative bank or CU partnering with them to handle the back-end aspect of their solution, in particular legal compliance in each legal framework/geography they do business in.

So, when real-estate agents are asked about RE investments strategy, it’s: “Location, Location, Location”. When asked about early-stage investments, VCs talk about “People, People, People”. Perhaps, when banks are asked about their payment strategy, or their general banking strategy for that matter, bank should say: “Convenience, Convenience, Convenience”.

Financial services pay the most for prospective customers’ attention

I was encouraged this WE to look into the cost-per-click of some financial services keywords in the U.S. using Google Adwords Keyword Tool.

As of the time of this writing:

  • “video cameras” costs you an estimated $3.14 per click,
  • “buy car” costs you $4.81,
  • “wireless” and related: ~$5.00,
  • “dsl” and related: ~$6.00
  • “real estate investments”: $5.47
  • “buy computer”: ~$8.

Now get this:

  • “buying mutual funds”: $12.66, “online stock trading: $18.06
  •  “best credit card deals”: $25.94, “balance transfer credit cards”, $18.23
  • “auto insurance quotes”: $34.58, “insurance quotes: “$29.77″
  • “high yield checking account”: $17.81, “checking account rates”: $20.44
  • “mortgage refinancing”: $32.58, “home equity loans: $23.74

I know this is a very superficial research study, but there seems to be a pattern here: financial services firms are paying significantly higher than firms from consumer sectors for prospective customers’ attention.

What can we learn from it? IMO the cost per click is a function of

  • profitability of the related service offered over the average customer relationship duration, and
  • likelihood that the prospective customer who has clicked will subsequently actually buy the service online,

then my quick conclusion is that there is probably good business opportunities in online comparison services for financial services products, as well as in new financial services that leverage the Web and social networks to be cheaper and mass-market. Peer to peer lending is probably one of them.