Category Archives: economy

Marketing is about choices – or is it? You decide

Marketing is about choices – or is it?

I recently went through a mental exercise of trying to determine what makes great marketing companies…. well…. great.   There are the obvious, and historic , iconic brands of the last 100 years – Coke,  Ford, AT&T,  McDonalds, Bud,  Chevy.  These brands have become part of the American DNA.  They will not necessarily be the great marketing giants of the next 20 years, but like that old pair of jeans, somewhat comfortable,  but  not what you will brag to your friends about.


None of these companies excelled at consumer choice.  Coke gives you with/without caffeine and  with/without sugar .  Ford and Chevy have nearly gone out of business by trying to offer too many choices, or more correctly, dictating what the consumer should choose.  Bud gives you regular or lite.  McDonalds is about the burger.  These companies have used massive advertising to direct the consumer choice to their pre-determined, limited set of options.


The companies that are dominating consumer choices now are Google, Apple, Facebook, Your Cable/Internet Providers, and Amazon.com.   They all seemingly put choice back in the hands of the consumer.  Google presents you with literally whatever you want.   Apple provides endless apps on the first really open smartphone.  Facebook opens a world of new and past friends and lets you choose who you want to be friends with, or not.   Cable television began to break up the monopoly of the networks by providing consumers 100’s (and now 1000’s) of channels of choice, coupled with video on demand.   In this era of consumer empowerment, does brand matter?


The conclusion I came to is yes , and now more than ever.  Fundamentally, marketing is about directing a consumers choice to a specific product or service.  Google only makes money when you choose to click on a product search that was highlighted via advertising.  Apple needs you to choose their marketplace for apps.  With thousands upon thousands of apps, what will be the mechanism for consumer adoption?  The featured list of apps on the iphone is really what? It is a mechanism to show you that you have unlimited choice , but then direct your choice in a specific manner.     Facebook is a huge social marketing machine that tries to influence your choices by having your friends influence you.  Influence the Influencers, and you direct choices.

Your Cable providers can offer you 100’s of channels, and as has been seen in recent days, can take those channels away.  They do however; seem to come the closest to providing relatively influence free choices. (Their advertising for paid VOD movies aside).


Amazon provides a brilliant mix of peer reviews and product recommendations.  They are really the more direct version of Google.  Search on what you want to buy, get a couple of choices.  If you don’t like what you see, they suggest close alternatives. While their marketing value proposition is about unlimited choice, their technology is all about limiting your choice, so that you will make a choice.


So, the older model had a marketing organization pre-determining a consumer’s choice through some form of market research and then marketing the heck out of those choices.  Now, companies give the illusion of unlimited choices, monitor and track the actual choices that are made and then capitalize on those choices and utilize more subtle earns to influence those choices.


Marketing is marketing.  The techniques evolve, but the goals remain the same.  Buy my product or service and not the other guys.

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Filed under advertising, Apple, E-Commerce, economy, facebook, mobile advertising, Mobile Application Stores, mobile commerce, smart phone, Smartphone, Social Media, social networking

Going Off (Portal) in Vegas

lasvegassignNext week I will be attending my 25th CTIA conference. This year’s Vegas show will occur with the twin backdrops of the overall economic mess coupled with the positive trends in mobile application use.

On Thursday April 21, I will be on a panel discussing the Off-Portal business models. The irony is that although I have made a living for the past several years in the Off-Portal marketplace, I believe that this model is not relevant to the future. Let me explain.

For those who are not familiar with the lingo for this segment of the mobile business, let me define a few terms. (If you know all of this you should skip down)

Mobile Carrier Portal – This is the homepage on a handset of a carrier’s wireless Internet service. The carrier determines what services are promoted and placed on the portal. verizontodayh4webThis is also referred to as “on-deck” or “on-portal”

Off Portal – This is any service that is available to the subscribers of a carrier that is not linked to the carrier owned homepage and direct links. This service is usually promoted through use of a shortcode.

Shortcode- a five or six digit number that is used to provide information or other services via SMS

Premium Shortcode – A five or six digit number that is connected to a service that the subscriber will pay a one time or monthly payment.

The mobile value added service market has been divided for the past 5 years between “on-deck” providers and “off-portal” service. The services were predominately information and news services, coupled with fee based ringtone, wallpaper and games services. The advantage of being an on-deck provider was free promotion for your service by being within the captive (or semi-captive) carrier internet web service.

Alternatively, off-portal services were promoted with a mix of traditional web advertising and search engine optimization, coupled with television, radio and print. The off-portal application and content providers also promoted their services via premium shortcodes. To use an off-portal service the subscriber sends a message such as “join” to the code, goes through an opt-in process and gets subscribed to a service such as monthly ringtones. The billing of these services is provided by the carrier.

It seems that regardless of a company’s portal status, they had envy for the other model. On-deck providers wanted the “freedom” to promote their services and drive even greater traffic to their site, while off-portal services desired the free promotion model of the on-deck players.

ovistoreThis game is largely over. Just as the original AOL closed portal gave way to the general Internet, the protected closed gardens of the carriers are done. If their portals are “done”, then off-portal, as a concept is done.

The explosion of smart phones with powerful standard browsers, large screens, pointing devices and keyboards renders a pre-installed carrier bookmark almost valueless.

If you have a fee based service that is on a carrier’s portal, you will have to promote that service with investment that will eventually approach the advertising investment of the off-portal services. This trend is further accelerated by the 3rd party application store trend.

The application stores are filling the promotion void created by the reduction of prominence of the carrier portals.

So on Thursday I will sit on a panel to discuss the challenges and opportunities of the off-portal business model. This business model has made 100’s of millions of dollars for application and content providers and, of course, the carriers.

My opening comment will be that this model is in its end days.

My next article will be on what a carriers and application providers should do to manage this transition.

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Filed under android, Apple, economy, mobile, Mobile Application Stores, mobile commerce, mobile games, Open Network, Ringtones, shorcode, Smartphone, subscription servcies, syndication, Verizon, wireless

Cheers and Jeers for Mobile without Numbers

My article “The Future of Mobile – without numbers” created a large reaction.  I received a full inbox worth of cheers and jeers.  For those who cheered, I say “thanks.”

comedy-tragedy-maskFor those who jeered, I say, “Thank you very much!”  I have always believed that when people challenge your thinking and your logic, you have the opportunity to learn and make your own arguments better.  With this in mind, I have created a couple of broad categories of challenges from my critics.   (If you have not read the original article you should first check it out with this link)

 These areas are:

1-The sociological, technological and economic feasibility of my hypothesis that social networking and VoIP will fundamentally change the mobile industry

2-What should the Wireless Service Providers do to counter this threat?

Item 1:

To explain and expand on my logic more fully it is useful to look at some history.

What was the key invention that made the Internet a global phenomenon?

It was not TCP/IP, or browsers or even Google.

barilan_internet-thumbThe key invention was the Domain Name Server (DNS).  DNS translates a domain name to an IP addresses.   It is much easier to remember www.nytimes.com, instead of its IP address (170.149.173.130).  DNS servers are continuously updated around the globe as Internet services switch IP addresses; add new destinations or new web services are created.

DNS is also what makes email possible.

Prior to global DNS services the translation of a name to an IP address took place (if at all) in the equivalent of a local address book on your computer.  You would update this local file with new IP address/Web name pairs as you discovered them, with the obvious problem that your local address book did not automatically update to track changes.

 Does this sound familiar?        

For nearly 100 years telephone services have been in the local address book mode.  As a telephone subscriber, the implied requirement was for you to carry your own version of a local DNS in your pocket. Antique telephoneYour phone contacts would only update if you physically made a change to your address book.

The phone company would issue all subscribers a regional, printed, version of DNS on a yearly basis, the big phone book.

This fundamental use case did not change until the introduction of phones with imbedded contact lists.  With embedded contact lists you could scroll through a list and click to call.  This feature eliminated the need to dial or punch all the digits yourself, but was still limited to your personal updates.

Prior to the ability to look up and retrieve phone numbers for people and businesses on the Internet, the only global DNS equivalent for telephone service was “411”, information service.

The use case for smartphones is the start of a fundamental change.  With their larger screens and easy keyboard entry, you just type the name of the person you want to call and press send.  The connection with the phone number is further eroded.  The contact list still, however, must be maintained personally, just like our Grandparents did with their paper versions.

I can still remember the phone numbers from my friends in high school, but have to look up my kids’ numbers.  The reason is that I never use my kids’ numbers; I just type their name.

The ability to take your phone number with you when you change providers (landline or wireless) was a big boost to the manual updating of address books.  This was made necessary because of the lack of Global DNS in telephone service.

The emergence of large, ubiquitous social networks is the final missing puzzle piece that will finally alter this 100-year pattern and make phone calling similar to typing “nytimes”, instead of its IP number.  These social networks provide several key elements.

They are a collection of your friends, family members and business associates.  Your network(s) contain the majority of people you need, or want, to communicate with on a regular basis.

fhw1uoifmega5hwmediumSecondly, your networked friends should give you permission to view and have access to their actual phone numbers.  This access will give you the equivalent of global DNS for your contact list!  The updating of the phone numbers will no longer be your responsibility, but the responsibility of your friends.  This is the same scenario as a Webmaster updating their web services IP address for DNS.  Even if Voice over IP (VOIP) services do not emerge as a dominant mobile trend (I believe they will), then the social network aspects will be a major force unto themselves.

So, at least to this point the logic is that Social Networks = Global DNS.

The last aspect of social networks is that they can easily provide an “always connected” status.  This is the way instant messaging services (AOL, MSN, Yahoo, Skype) work today.  This always-connected feature creates a direct IP path between any two (or more) members.  If you have a direct IP path, you can easily create voice and video communications services.

The combination of social networks providing DNS-like service and IP connectivity is the core of the technological argument.  The fact that the Internet has trained a large segment of the world to access sites and services by name, instead of by IP number is my proof point that there should not be a sociological issue with my scenario.

The economics of this scenario are more difficult to predict.  I agree with those who said that the social networks and VOIP providers such as Skype would not run a global communications network without significant revenue and profit.  The issue to consider is:  Have the economics of providing a significant portion of this service forever altered in a significant manner?

VOIP service for home or business is significantly less expensive for the consumer than a direct-wired solution using 100-year-old twisted pair telephone technology.  The ease of provisioning and maintenance, and the lower cost of transmission and billing, has changed the economics of landline services.   It is less expensive to transmit and manage a very high bandwidth data path using Internet technologies, than to maintain individual transmission paths.  

Why not the same for mobile?

Item 2:  What should the Wireless Carriers do?

If I were the CEO of a major service provider I would execute the following strategy:

vzw_logo_1024Recognizing the importance of the trends that I discussed, the game that is now being played puts this mobile carrier at a structural disadvantage.  If you think you are going to lose at the game that is being played, you change the game.

The Carriers should obtain their own DNS service for their subscribers that updates continuously and allows for one click friend calling.  This service should be a collection of the key social networks.  

The Carriers should Interface/partner with Facebook, LinkedIn, etc and create a superset DNS of their subscribers’ contacts.  Then they should build the social networking application(s) directly on the phones to permit IM, voice, and video communications. The existing mobile numbers can be used as the equivalent IP addressing scheme.  The integration with the social networks will also permit contextual communications as the subscriber has access to their friends profile and status.

The strategy of partnering with the social networks for calling DNS functionality and contextual communications would create tremendous value. 

The marketing possibilities for a Wireless Carrier with this strategy are huge.

If this strategy was implemented by just one carrier (Verizon for example) then they could market to your friends list to switch and get In-Calling rates (free) when they call each other.  If 98% of your calls were within your social networking contacts, then it would make sense for that group to be on a single carrier.

The Carriers have tried viral marketing in the past with In-Calling and T-mobiles Fav-5 program.  What I am suggesting would be many orders of magnitude more impactful.  The first carrier that figures this out and executes will steal many of their competitor’s subscribers and really change the game.

The last issue for the Carrier strategy section is to counter the VOIP threat.

My strategy would be to embrace and profit from it.   There are two obvious moves to capitalize on mobile VOIP.  First, follow the strategy of the landline providers by creating your own VOIP mobile service that utilizes your connections into the social networks.  You can have a flat monthly fee for VOIP calls.

Secondly, you can also provide a “bring your own VOIP” service plan.  The Carrier would charge a lower monthly fixed fee that would reflect their lower costs in servicing these 3rd party subscribers.

theatre_and_the_internet

Over the past five years the bulk of new mobile service investment has been on mobile data applications. Mobile  voice services have not evolved beyond the basic voice call, callerID, voicemail stage.  This is the opportunity to merge the data application investments directly with the core voice service.

The real issue for the Wireless Carriers will be in the recognition of this threat and the real opportunity that this fundamental disruption in the market it creates for a first mover to capitalize on the changes and redefine how people communicate.

I hope I have addressed many of the Jeers that I got last week.  I welcome your comments on these expanded explanations and logic!

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Filed under android, Apple, blackberry, CEO, Content, Distribution, E-Commerce, economy, Google, mobile, mobile advertising, Mobile Application Stores, mobile commerce, mobile games, Open Network, reviews, Ringtones, skype, smart phone, Smartphone, Social Media, social networking, subscription servcies, Web2.0, widgets

Does President Obama Need to Bail Out Twitter?

obama tweets

During this historic week there will be many pressing issues for the new administration: The Economy, Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel and Hamas, Global Warming, Energy, Education, Social Security, Health, and lastly Twittgm logoer.

Billions are being given to GM to build more car&trucks that the public really no longer wants. For a fraction of that investment we could save Twitter and the worlds premier micro-blogging network.

To Twitters credit they have finally hired a business development person. A good step in figuring out the revenue side of their equation. However, here is my New Year’s gift to Twitter.

Twitter has a large following and seems to have no way to make money, or does it?

One of my colleagues seems to have broken the revenue code for Twitter. Since she asked that I protect her identity I will call her “Mickey”. Mickey has been blogging with Twitter for a couple of years. Her Tweets have a modest number of followers: perhaps a couple of co-workers, friends, relatives and a few random lurkers. What was valuable about Mickey’s Twitter existence was her Twitter name. It seems that a company that wanted to broadcast their product messages on Twitter desired Mickey’s Twitter name. Similar to those who made money by domain sitting on website names, there is actually a real economy in Twitter names!

Mickey and this company negotiated a settlement with real cash exchanging hands.

band

A recent article in Venture Beat revealed that 93 of the top 100 brands do not own their own Twitter brand names. Naturally this “opportunity” is not unique to Twitter. Clearly the same economy exists at Facebook, MySpace and Bebo.

All of these social networks have become large transmission networks for targeted content and thus have an obvious commercial value.

A big difference between Internet domain names and the private namespaces of social networks is that they are privately owned and reserved by the owners of the SN. The Internet has the Uniform Dispute Resolution Mechanism, while there is no such mechanism for Social Networks. These networks operate within the normal commercial guidelines of any business and are thus subject to trademark and copyright laws within the jurisdictions of their business. Namespaces for Social Networks are in a big gray area right now.

In the Twitter terms and conditions they state:

“We reserve the right to reclaim usernames on behalf of businesses or individuals that hold legal claim or trademark on those usernames.”

Now back to Mickey.

Why should Twitter allow their subscribers to barter usernames and not profit from the network that they own?

Here are my two suggestions for Twitters Commercial Business Model.

obamaFirst, Twitter should recover all trade names for companies that are owned by individuals who are speculators and not official company officials. (At least Mickey got her payment!) This move would signal that Twitter is serious about the business use of their network. Any company that wants to do business on Twitter and capitalize from their valuable network should have to pay a direct fixed monthly fee to Twitter. In addition, a variable monthly fee can be gained based on number of Tweets and followers. These businesses would pay for access to millions of subscribers, just like advertisers pay for television ads.

Second, Twitter should build a business-matching engine. This feature would suggest that users follow certain commercial channels based on their Tweets, interests and other fans and followers.

These suggestions are not going to garner 100’s of millions for Twitter, but they are the prerequisite to larger advertising and subscription models.

If they follow some of these ideas, Prsident Obama can spend more money for the bailouts of CitiGroup, Ford and GM.

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Filed under advertising, E-Commerce, economy, mobile, mobile advertising, mobile commerce, obama, politics, social networking, Twitter

Catch the Next Wave in Mobile

The key to the future lies firmly in what you do in the present.  This is the theme of every time bending sci-fi story.  Change what you do now and your future timeline will alter.   This axiom has never been as true in the mobile industry.  With a significant portion of the industry for value added services treading water (or drowning slowly) in this economy, those who position themselves for the recovery wave  will ride to success and be the next hot thing.  If you miss that first wave, you sink.

So, enough for the metaphors , Let’s get to the predictions.

Where should you be positioned for that enviable wave of profitability?

What will be hot? My top three

-Location Bases Services – For real this time!

minority_report2The prediction of profitable LBS services has been around for as long as LBS services.  The reason I am now bullish on LBS is the convergence of social networks, large screen devices and third party LBS providers for applications.    The visions of “Minority Report” like talking billboards or auto-generated coupons as you walk past a Starbucks have been the visions of non-visionaries.

Nice for Sci Fi but not in reality.

The popular navigation applications such as VZW navigator have been the first step in this lucrative market.  The integration of LBS with social networking will be the next.

LBS will be the  bridge that will bring virtual social networking back to the real world.  looptCool apps like a Google map that automatically shows you the location of your Facebook friends, alerts you if a “friend” is at the same bar, game or locale as you.
This is being developed by Loopt – today.

Legitimate dating services such as Match.Com could obviously benefit from such a service.

Will this make the anonymous rogue of virtual space more dangerous or more marginal?

Regardless, this is coming and will be big   Position your application for this and you will catch the wave
mobilescreen
-Mobile Commerce  – The rest of the economy meets wireless

In a previous article I talked about the tipping point of large screen devices and keyboards.  That trend coupled with “open networks” is a perfect storm for true commerce on mobile devices.  The industry will break out of the ringtone and wallpaper commerce “sand box” to address the other 99.9999% of the economy.

We will be evolving from using mobile as an alerting mechanism for transactions such as banking, trading, ebay, sports, etc.  The next step is to use the mobile as the transaction vehicle.

There are already several mobile ticketing trials for airlines and events underway.
Using your mobile as a truecredit-cards mobile wallet is just over the horizon.

The barrier that will have to be removed is the 40-50% share of revenue that carriers take for the existing mobile oriented content.   Credit Card rates for merchants are one tenth of what carriers charge.

The carriers have been providing both a billing service and a “mall owner” function.  Open Networking and free application choice changes this equation.   Either the carriers figure out how to be the clearinghouse for general commerce using their networks, or they will be ultimately bypassed.   The consumer should hope that the carriers continue to play a role and benefit from this increased commerce flow.  Simply , the more revenue the carriers can garner from commerce generation, the less the basic subscription rates have to be.

In either case the revenue flow through mobile will increase geometrically

-Advertising –The arrival of universally acknowledged Mobile ROI
bwattachment499850-5

My view is that mobile advertising has been “Swift boated” by the other advertising media outlets.  This makes sense.  If I made my bonus purely on television, radio, print or web advertising, I would be less than happy for a share of those dollars, Euros or Yen to go to mobile platforms.  The claims that mobile advertising is impossible to measure seems rather suspect to me.  You can measure TV audience but can’t measure someone who clicks on your mobile ad?

With so much more content being produced for the larger screen mobile devices, the preferred monetization mechanism will be advertising first, subscription second.  The value chain for mobile ads, from creative, agency, platform, network, publisher and advertiser will mature and become fully mainstream.

More advertising revenue will benefit the traditional media giants as well as the new wave of mobile publishers such as game provider Cellufun.

Eventually the advertising model can help carriers transition the handset subsidy to the providers of goods and services.

These are my waves for the next couple of years, what do you thing I have missed?

Are you poised to cash in?

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Filed under economy, Google, hockey, location based services, mobile, mobile advertising, mobile commerce, mobile games, social networking, wireless

Wireless, Politics, the Economy and Hockey

Sometimes if you just take a moment for deeper observation at an event you can get a sense of what pundits spend a lifetime interpreting. Last night I took my youngest daughter to a Ranger game. They lost in overtime, 3-2 to the Edmonton Oilers, so I will not dwell too much on the fantastic comeback, the grit and determination and the ultimate let down.

Here are my other observations during those 4 hours:

Observation 1 – Wireless Gen
My daughter sent and received approximately 120 text messages. She communicated to classmates about the homework she would have to do when she got home, she chatted with her cousin about God knows what, She took three calls, and she cheered the loudest in are section. She does not have ADHD, she just multitasks at the rate of a cyborg!! This is the next generation.

Observation 2- Politics

obama buttonThroughout the game the roving camera guys put crazed fans on the big jumbotron. Twice last night, the fan was wearing a big Obama button on their Ranger jersey. When they saw themselves on the arena scoreboard instead of pointing to their Ranger emblem, they pointed to the Obama button! If seems the hockey Mom and Dad demographic in New York went for Obama.
Observation 3- More Wireless
The Rangers have several interactive mobile promotions during the game. The simplest is a text to screen application where your message is displayed on the scoreboard. What is “interesting” is that you text to one shortcode, get a thank you message from another shortcode and then are instructed to text a third shortcode for a free wallpaper. Also, the thank you shortcode responds with “Thank you for voting!” Opps? Did I vote? Time to check that campaign provisioning!

NOTE TO NEW YORK RANGERS MOBILE DEPARTMENT:

I herby offer – pro-bono (maybe you can pay me with an autographed stick) to fix your mobile applications to make them coherent and effective; to have them run on one shortcode, with proper messaging before, during and after the user interaction.

Observation 4- The Economy

rangersuites

I made a quick count on the number of empty luxury suites last night. I stopped counting after 23. Madison Square Garden has about 60 suites for the well-heeled New York corporate crowd. While I have seen empty suites in the past, the number of dark boxes is very large. As a proxy for the recession/depression on Wall Street, just counting the number of flipped light switched on luxury boxes is a leading indicator of the economy.

Observation 5- The Economy – Oh Canada! (Or is it just the Oil(ers))

Since the Rangers were playing a Canadian based team, the national anthems of both Canada and the U.S. are sung before the game. I like the Canadian Anthem, and can sing it with the best of them. I have to admit I was never quite sure who Canadians are “on Guard” from?

Anyway, I observed a very large number of Edmonton Oiler fans, from Canada. This is unusual. Usually the out of town fans come from New Jersey, Long Island and Philly. This got me thinking. Is there some other geopolitical trend that has caused these fans to be in New York?

I came to three possibilities – either they paid for a tour before the dollar increased in value, or they all work for oil companies in Edmonton and have more money than they know what to do with, or they are Canadian “snow birds” who escape the harsh Canadian winter to bask in the less harsh New York winter. You decide.

Amazing what you can observe if you just take a minute to look!

iamaranger800

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Filed under economy, hockey, media, mobile, New York, obama, politics, Rangers, wireless

The Perishable Opportunity of Managing for Success in a Down Economy

The Dow drops another 300 points, unemployment rises, spending decreases.  This hardly sounds like the environment for setting up your business for success, and yet this is exactly what your competitors are hoping for.

Let me explain.

Downturns in an industry or the economy have a necessary cleansing impact on our competitive capitalist environment.  In times of rapid growth, bad practices, poor process, and wasted resources accumulate like straws on a camel’s back.  The organizations usually do not notice the problems or choose to ignore them in limagnifyingglassght of the overall good growth in their products.

Then the music stops.  And the question is now what?

The knee jerk reaction is to pull back on everything-reduce headcount, reduce expenditures, conserve capital and just slow everything down and wait out the storm.  If this is all you do, you will, at best, not improve your market positioning, and very likely lag the recovery.

The downturn provides a unique, and yes, perishable opportunity.

Having managed through the dot.com bust, up-close and personal, I can definitely appreciate this position.  Let me explain.

In a down turn you get to catch your operational breath.  For example, you can kill those projects that were marginal and perhaps politically difficult to kill, and now you can kill them.  Priorities can become crystal clear.

You can really examine company processes and quality.  Fix those nagging product management and realization issues, get the quality tools in place that you never had time for, fix the old accounting system…

On the staff side, this should not just be a time for cutting headcount, and eliminating raises and bonuses.

This is the best time to upgrade your staff!  Every organization has a range of talent.  In a hot market you might be more inclined to hold on to mediocre team members, rather than invest the time and effort in finding someone new.  In a down market, there are more highly qualified people on the market.  Recruiting will never be easier than it is now.

If you upgrade your processes, products, quality and team in this environment, the cost to your bottom line is negligible!!  If the market is not growing anyway you have the time to make this investment.

If you do this, you will thrive at the front end of the recovery and leave your competitors in the dust.

If you stay with the status quo you miss this perishable opportunity.

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