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The Roundup May 16-17

Apple to Microsoft: Thanks for the ads, man!

The moment Microsoft decided to attack Apple, they increased Apple’s credibility. That’s a given any time you decide to respond to an opponent you previously didn’t acknowledge even had right to get into the ring with you.

(“Would Bill Gates have aired Laptop Hunters?,” Fortune, May 17) It’s a hard and merciless law in advertising that if you’re the market leader, you never — as in “at no time ever, no exceptions” — mention the other guy, especially when the other guy has a miniscule market share. A growing market share, sure, but miniscule, nonetheless. When you take on a distant second (or third or fourth), you always — as “every single time all the time” — score points on your competitor’s side of the board. You might score points — even more points — but always at the expense of running the ball into your own goal, as well. Starbucks: are you paying attention?

Buy me. Buy me. Buy me. Where are you going? Buy me. Buy me. Buy me. Come back!!! Buy me.

. . . visitors to Web stores who touch the goods but leave without buying may be subjected instantaneously to “remarketing,” in the form of nagging e-mail messages or phone calls.

A new Web service, called Abandonment Tracker Pro, is in beta testing and scheduled for formal release next month. Developed by SeeWhy in Andover, Mass., the service will alert a subscribing Web store when a visitor places an item in a shopping cart or begins an application and does not complete the final step.

(“Just Browsing? A Web Store May Follow You Out the Door,” New York Times, May 17) Okay, it’s a bad idea to follow a customer out the door and push them to buy what they’ve abandoned in the store. It’s a bad idea to capture information about a user, including their email address, if they haven’t clicked something like a a submit button. But I think there are some pretty good uses to this tool — for instance, recording abandoned merchandise and pushing that merchandise if the user returns to the online store. Or using that info to drive banner or text ads. Web marketing is a tricky business. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. Remember what Ben Franklin said to the Continental Congress? “Anyone who reads other people’s mail deserves what they get.” If you institute an ecommerce practice which will embarass you if the public finds out, then your decision is obvious. Stay away.

The shoestring venture gospel spreads . . .

With money scarce, equity options are being re-emphasized as a form of compensation. Some tech entrepreneurs are negotiating creative business terms with lawyers, public relations firms and other vendors, including a wave of cheaper, on-demand back-office software services. A difficult economy, many say, presents opportunities as well as hardships.

(“Silicon Valley startups slash costs to survive in downturn,” San Jose Mercury News, May 15) I want to stress that the shoestring mentality should be born, bred, and grown into a business from the very start. It should be the very DNA of a business. Remember always, though, that saving money never makes money . . . it’s simply about husbanding resources.

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