Business Web Site of the Week – Advertising to Sales Ratios

Advertising is, of course, a public promotion of a product or service. And it usually costs money. But how much money should you be spending on advertising?

These advertising to sales ratios from AdAge Magazine can help you benchmark your advertising spending by showing the average amount that businesses in your industry spend on ads. Covering dozens and dozens of industries, the reports show advertising as a percent of sales, advertising as a percent of margin, and ad growth percentage.

So promote that product! But don’t overspend. Use these ratios to find your happy medium.

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Can you trust this information? The motivation behind free Internet research

A recent comment on this blog post brought an issue that’s been percolating to the forefront of my mind: Can you trust information that you find online?

The short answer is “kind of.” Here’s the longer answer.

It was noted that a resource that we recently highlighted – which gives statistics on the digital economy – was put out by a think tank devoted to keeping digital content under traditional copyright restrictions. Lots of folks in the online world think that the Internet is based on a new kind of copyright, a more fluid one.

The question is, does this publication come with ulterior motives? Does it provide data that is skewed toward answering questions the way the organization wants those questions answered? In this specific case, I think the answer is that the report might give away some preconceived notions in the way it presents data, but that the data itself is so well-cited and from such upstanding research sources that what is presented can be trusted.

In general, though, we can take some thoughts away from this specific example. Most importantly this one: organizations putting content out onto the Internet for free generally have some sort of motive for doing so. Whether that motive is profit through the sale of advertising at their site, to draw attention to a product/service for sale, or to push some sort of ideological/organizational agenda – there’s usually some underlying reason for what might initially seem like a feat of pure altruism. Not that this is always bad. I’m more than willing to put up with ads at sites like Advertising Age, because the statistics and reports are worth it. I recommend the free version of Hoover’s all the time – even though it’s riddled with ads for the premium, for-purchase version – because the free version offers a lot of value.

Ads and buy-up promotions are one thing. They’re pretty easy to recognize and take into account. But when the motive for reports and publications gets tied up with ideological or organizational agendas – this can be much harder to detect.

For example, can we believe an association of health care schools when they said recently that more health care schooling will be required in the very near future?

(Incidentally, I believed the American Library Association – an organization that relies on getting new members – when they said that more librarians would be needed, and then had a really hard time finding a job.)

Another example: Here at the library we rely on statistical reports from industry associations (free and purchased) all the time. They’re hands-down the best way to find information on specific industries. We carefully analyze these reports to make sure they’re well-researched and cited, but there’s also the possibility that these reports are skewed in one way or another.
In a perfect world we probably wouldn’t get statistics from sources that are involved in any way in what they’re researching and reporting on – but that just isn’t going to happen. So I think there are two ways to proceed: 1.) With vigilance, 2.) at your library.

  • Test your vigilance – When you’re looking at a report or a piece of information that you’re hoping to put to use, be aware (as Jill, the blog commenter mentioned earlier, was) of who put that piece of information out there. Google that organization and see what people are saying about them. This may be an inexact science, but anything you can pick up about the organization will help you feel more confident about how you’ll put the information they provide to use.
  • Locate a library – Libraries have been doing this online information vetting for quite some time. Use their expertise. See the good folks at the Librarians’ Internet Index for reliable Web sites on every topic under the sun, investigate the BizToolkit for reviewed business research Web sites, and check out Docuticker for statistical reports.

The trend is for more free information online, as evidenced by the emerging freeconomics model, so going forward you’ll have plenty of opportunities to access free stuff online, and plenty of opportunities to think about where that stuff comes from.

Oh, I almost forgot: the government puts out a huge amount of statistical research, and we use these reports all the time here at the library. Can we trust them? Well, following the advice of rock stars has gotten me to where I am today, so I think the timeless words of the geekiest rock band of all time will suffice as an answer for now: “Don’t Worry About the Government.”

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Business Web Site of the Week – American Customer Satisfaction Index

A satisfied consumer is a happy consumer, and one that will return in the future for more of the same. But how can we track this phenomenon? To track the happiness of consumers over time and identify customer trends, consider the American Customer Satisfaction Index.

The ACSI gives a score of 0-100 for ten economic sectors, 43 industries, and hundreds of actual businesses. You can use this data – which is updated annually – to look at satisfaction levels for your general business sector, or to find out how happy customers are with big players in your industry.

In addition to ratings by industry and company, you’ll also find written commentary about what these ratings mean – to the economy and to you.

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Everything You Need to Find a Job (Except a Spot on Celebrity Apprentice)

Note: Guest Post from Hill Business Librarian Deborah.

As the impending recession becomes a bigger, uglier, and more menacing reality, I predict that we’ll see new stories about the correlation between troubling economic times and heavier library use. In other words, now is the perfect time to shill for practical business information resources at the Hill Library!
You’re probably thinking, “Dudeman, it’s mad impractical to launch my business plan in a recession economy!” Now, I know that if you pay any attention to the credit crisis blame game, rising energy costs, or the uncertain fate of the U.S. dollar, investing in a new business venture sounds risky. Wait and hear me out; the Hill Library is good for more than just business planning resources.
If you have to temporarily halt your path to becoming a top entrepreneur of the decade, the Hill Library collection can still meet your immediate career information needs — whether you need to land a “real job” or temp your way to some quick coin. See below for examples of job hunting resources from the library’s collections.
The Hill Library print collection contains books on vocational exploration, including the classic text:

  • What Color is Your Parachute?, by Richard Nelson Bolles

Other books will help you update and polish your resume, which is a good idea for any wage-earner working in a recession (or so my boss keeps telling me):

  • Encyclopedia of Job-Winning Resumes, by Myra Fournier and Jeffrey Spin
  • Resumes That Knock ’em Dead, by Martin Yate

You can prepare for the interview stage of your job search with books like:

  • Winning the Interview Game: Everything You Need to Know to Land the Job, by Alan H. Nierenberg
  • 501+ Great Interview Questions for Employers and the Best Answers for Prospective Employees, by Dianna Podmoroff

The Hill Library Special Issues Index and online databases can help you find salary surveys and industry outlook articles from trade journals, or lists of potential employers, such as:

Other resources, like the Best of the Business Web database, can guide you to free and relevant career development Web sites:

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I call bull! on these podcasting market statistics

Earlier this month, eMarketer released some projections about the podcasting market in the U.S. According to the report, the American audience for podcasts by 2012 will be 65 million. Spending on podcast advertising will grow to $435 million.

Personally, I don’t believe it.

Audio podcasts are clunky. They’re difficult to maneuver. You can’t easily search them, or scan them, or skim through them like you can something in print. If you’re hoping to learn a specific something from a podcast, you more than likely have to sit through the whole thing to get to the point, and when the point comes you probably miss it because you’ve tuned out.

I just don’t see podcasting as an effective sales/business/educational tool. Perhaps for entertainment, and maybe that’s what these statistics refer to, but still… I’d be surprised if they were around in 2012 at all.

Has anyone had any luck with business or educational podcasting? I’d love to be proven wrong.

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The Entire Communications Industry, in Less than 200 Pages

The 2007 Digital Economy Fact Book (pdf) is a tightwad researcher’s dream: In-depth, statistic-heavy, well-cited, and freely-available online. One could hardly ask for more.

This report covers so much ground that any sentences I try to write about it are positively littered with commas and semicolons, and quickly become confusingly long. So instead, I’ll just list out some of the topics covered to give a feel for the extent of the info available here. Bet you can’t get to page 188 without learning something new…

Growth of the Internet (page 1)

  • Demographics of internet users
  • Internet activities performed
  • World usage statistics by country
  • Top browsers and search engines

Hardware Sector (page 15)

  • Adoption and penetration rates of new technologies and tools
  • Semiconductor sales and forecasts
  • Sales/market share of PCs, cell phones, smartphones/PDAs, data storage devices, gaming hardware, televisions, MP3 players, and software

Communications (page 37)

  • Telephone subscribership
  • Broadband adoption
  • Wireless industry
  • VOIP, Email/IM, RFID
  • Third Generation Technology
  • Spectrum (I don’t know what these last two things are either)

Digital media (page 63)

  • Television
  • Internet video
  • Cell phone content
  • Music
  • Radio
  • Gaming
  • Online news and classifieds
  • Blogging, podcasting, and tagging
  • Social networking

Electronic commerce (page 83)

  • B2C and B2B e-commerce
  • Internet advertising
  • Online finance
  • Online travel
  • Online health care

Threats to the Digital Economy (page 97)

  • Malicious software
  • Spam
  • Phishing
  • Identity theft
  • Piracy

Worldwide Digital Economy (page 109)

  • Funding for new ideas
  • Mergers and acquisitions
  • IT spending
  • IT employment
  • Outsourcing and offshoring
  • International digital economies

(Source: The best blog/research source on the Internet, Docuticker)

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Our Changing Population: Nation-wide and State-specific Immigration Statistics

The Pew Research Center recently released a fascinating report on the future of America’s population. This report, called U.S. Population Projections 2005-2050, is based on trends over the last half-century and looks largely at how immigration will affect our nation. Some highlights:

  • In 2005, one in eight Americans were foreign-born. By 2050, one in five Americans will be foreign-born.
  • The U.S. population as a whole will grow 48%, to 438 million people, by 2050.
  • 82% of the dramatic population growth projected by the Pew Center is due to immigrants arriving and having children. Only 18% of growth is due to current residents reproducing.
  • By 2050, the U.S. racial/ethnic population breakdown will look like this: 47% non-Hispanic white, 29% Hispanic, 13% Black, and 9% Asian.
  • In the next half-century, the Hispanic population will triple in size.
  • Current annual immigration to the U.S. is 1.4 million. By 2050, that may be as high as 2.1 million immigrants per year.

These forecasted population trends are fascinating and important to be aware of if you plan to build a lasting business, but might feel a bit broad and inapplicable to your business this week. The Pew is a great source for big trend, mind-boggling reports, but to unboggle yourself a bit and bring this topic down to the local level, you might consider a site like the MPI Data Hub.

The MPI Data Hub is put out by the Migration Policy Institute and provides state-by-state data on foreign-born populations. The site includes state-specific fact sheets on the following broad topics: demographic and social; language and education; workforce; and income and poverty. Use the map to select a state and then navigate the various fact sheets using the tabs at the top of the page.

You’ll find a huge amount of information on local immigrant populations, including stats on country of birth, family size, English language proficiency, educational attainment, top occupations, and average earnings. 

What all of this comes down to is that the population of the U.S. is dynamic. Doesn’t it make sense to keep up?

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2008 Pacific Rim Economic Outlook

Note: Guest Post from Hill Business Librarian Scott.

The Pacific Economic Cooperation Council (PECC) has recently released its 2007-2008 State of the Region Report. It’s a resource that profiles the economies of individual countries within the geographical expanse of the Pacific Rim, and focuses on regional and global issues such as the impact of the environment on economic health, and the consequences of the U.S. subprime mortgage crisis.

This detailed report can be accessed here (.pdf).

The PECC is an independent, multi-sectoral organization committed to the promotion of cooperation and dialogue in the Asia-Pacific.

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YourBusiness 2.0: Increasing Your Online Presence

You’ve probably heard that the Internet is great for making professional connections and finding new business, but you might be wondering how to proceed. If so, don’t miss InsideCRM’s 50 Social Sites That Every Business Needs a Presence On. This article lists tools to “help your company network, advertise, recruit, and more.”

The list is divided into several categories: Social-Bookmarking Sites, Professional-Networking Sites, Social-Media Sites, and Job Sites.

A span of fifty sites, even when they’re neatly organized, is a lot of ground to cover. Can you find time to investigate just one tool in each of these categories?

And has anyone had success, or experienced frustration, in using 2.0 tools for business? Let us know by leaving a comment. We’d love to hear your story!

Update: This morning I came across a report from the Software & Information Industry Association providing the results of a survey of businesses and their thoughts regarding 2.0 technologies. It’s called Business Use of Web 2.0. Of those businesses using 2.0 technologies, almost half have already reached new audiences with them and over half feel that these tools have helped to increase user engagement and loyalty. Check out the report for further data on how many businesses are using these tools, and which ones they’re using. You’ll also find discussions of challenges and issues associated with 2.0-type activities.
InformationToday NewsBreaks 

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Business Web Site of the Week – Bloomberg CEO Spotlight

Ever wonder what CEOs at some of the world’s biggest businesses are thinking? These executives control a big portion of what goes on at companies that in turn influence national and world economies.
Bloomberg’s CEO Spotlight can help shed light on what goes on between these CEOs’ ears, by interviewing several per day and publishing the video interviews online. While archives of these interviews seem to be hidden… you can still browse through the most recent dozen or so on the site.

At the time of publishing of this newsletter, interviewees include the CEOs of General Motors, Qualcomm, Forbes, and the Credit Suisse Group. Use these interviews to learn more about company strategic directions, inner-workings, and key talking points. Windows Media Player required.

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