R&D in a Meltdown; Marketing that Taps into Obamamania

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Don't hold back. Yes, the economy is in shambles, but be careful that you don't cut back too much--especially when it comes to developing new products. The Wall Street Journal has a front page story on corporate R&D spending, which has stayed pretty much steady even as revenue has plummetted. That's because many great products--including the iPod and Miracle Whip--were developed during recessions. The Journal compares the fates of Apple, which raised R&D spending by more than 40 percent in the wake of the dot com bust, and Motorola, which cut spending. "Big R&D spenders say they've learned from past downturns that they must invest through tough times if they hope to compete when the economy improves," according to the article. Of course, many entrepreneurs already know this.

How to make it in online poker. Henry Blodget flags a recent New Yorker magazine profile of Chris Ferguson, who has made $7 million playing poker and who co-founded FullTiltPoker, one of the top online poker websites which has managed to evade a U.S. online gambling ban by locating its servers on a Indian reservation in Canada. So far, the company hasn't suffered any adverse consequences. For more on the poker business, which according to the New Yorker article is worth close to $4 billion, check out Inc.'s profile of Steven Lipscomb and his company, the World Poker Tour.

Marketing that taps into consumers' newfound activism. In the wake of Obamamania, consumers are hungry to be part of a quest, solution, or even a movement. (They're even running entire companies). It's not surprising, then, that groups of like-minded consumers would band together to collectively buy products. The NYT magazine columnist, Rob Walker examines how one California is tapping into that "latent activism" by organizing these affinity groups into their marketing strategy. The solar company, Vigrance, has started a campaign called 1BOG, offering discounts to blocks of neighbors who agree to pool money and buy solar installations for their homes. "The reason we call it a campaign is that we run it like a political campaign — house parties, signs in yards, bumper stickers," says Vigrance's CEO Steve Newcomb.

Play ball! Today is opening day for 22 major league teams. To get in the spirit, check out Inc.'s "Behind the Scenes" of Turner Field. Among the companies featured is Lena Blackburne Baseball Rubbing Mud, which makes--you guessed it--aged mud to be rubbed on new baseballs. To find out where the nets come from and how much the bases cost, click here.

10 Questions to Ask If You Think Your Business Should Fold. It's no secret that it's tough to keep a business going in this economy, but it can be hard to decide if or when it's time to close down shop. Entrepreneur Jay Goltz gives his list of ten questions to ask yourself if you're questioning keeping your business going, from whether you have outstanding loans to whether you still feel passionate about your product.

Twitter mainstreaming watch, continued. More proof Twitter has arrived: the past couple of weeks have seen a deluge of popular Internet videos gently mocking the phenomenon. Current has the animated "Twouble with Twitter," featuring a coworker who constantly yells his Tweets and the wrath of the fail whale. Stephen Colbert put Biz Stone in the hot seat and proceeded to twitter the entire time. Slate TV has an utterly deadpan "Flutter" mockumentary. The mircoblogging service even got a shout-out in the latest Sprint commercial. For more straight-faced covered Twitter, see Inc.'s profile of Evan Williams.

IRS filing extension may not be a bad idea for small businesses. There's a tendency for small business owners to blanch at the idea of obtaining a filing extension with the IRS. But filing an extension doesn't necessarily predispose you to an audit, and may not be a bad idea for procrastinators or those who may not be able to pay up, reports the Chicago Tribune. Read more about planning ahead for paying taxes at Inc.com here.

Is print-on-demand a solution for an ailing publishing industry? The publishing industry is crippled by the high cost of returns (books that don't sell and end up getting trucked back to their publishers for credit). In the Wall Street Journal, Richard Curtis, head of E-Reads, an e-book and self-publishing company, argues that the print-on-demand model could be solution, "The current [traditional] publishing model depends on publishers making an educated guess as to how many books will sell, but print-on-demand publishing starts with people searching for a book they want and then paying in advance." When a book is sold out, he adds, publishers could turn to the waste-less print-on-demand system rather than printing an extra 5,000 copies that they're not sure will sell. The downside? Major newspapers and journals rarely review self-published books. Still, one of the sector's major players, Author Solutions, which projects revenues of $100 million this year, just made its second major acquisition.

Is there such a thing as a free lunch, after all? Probably not. As people slash discretionary budgets, restaurants are suffering, and many are scrambling for creative ways to get customers in the door. One idea: pay-what-you-want options. Independent Street reports eateries in the states and abroad are giving it a try, as a way to get people eating out again. "It's a model for keeping a business running," said one Spanish owner. But the problem is, it's hard to get people to pay enough to cover costs—one café in Texas is averaging $7 per customer, while their costs are $8 per person.

Downsizing in the age of social networks. Social media software and services company Mzinga fired about 18 percent of its workforce last month during a second round of cuts. Hardly unusual in this economic climate, but what was surprising was how the news unfolded, reports the Boston Globe. As closed-door meetings gave rise to rumors within the company, a Forrester Research analyst wrote on his Twitter account that the company was having financial difficulties and needed to brief him immediately. Later, he posted a note on his blog advising Mzinga clients and prospect to stall until he heard from the company. 80 comments condemned the potential impact of publishing an unsubstantiated warning, so the analyst apologized. Shortly after, Mzinga's chairman announced the company's restructuring on its corporate blog, and enabled public comments. One employee who "re-tweeted" the Forrester analyst's apology on Twitter, ended up getting fired, and promptly twittered, "If anyone needs someone in social media biz dev(elopment) let me know." Mzinga's chairman also responded via Twitter: offering a recommendation on the LinkedIn profile of anyone affected by the layoff. If you followed that rigamarole, what do you think? Can companies benefit from leveraging social networks during a layoff? (via peHUB)

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Last updated: Apr 6, 2009




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