A correspondent named Susan Anderson wrote me recently to complain. She said she was tired of my puffy, long-winded pontifications. "Where's the practical, down-to-business strategy advice I signed on for?" she asked.
Recession and war do tend to concentrate the mind on social and political questions. But the real value of a home front is its ability to produce goods and services, to keep going and growing.
Making money, in other words, is our patriotic duty. Many e-merchants are doing their duty now. Business is picking up, not just at Amazon.com and eBay, but at little "suggestion sites" such as Surprise.com of Palo Alto, CA, which directs shoppers deeply into other sites by offering gift-giving ideas.
New ad formats have debuted. Yahoo's Geocities has put its box ads on a timer. The ad overlays content for about 15 seconds, then clicks itself away. Also, Yahoo's stock-quote service features boxes that expand into banners when you mouse over them.
There's innovation in how ads are counted. In Germany, Digitale Hanse monitors ad placements in real time. The service can not only track your media planning and tell you how you're doing now, it can track your competitors and keep you on top of what they're doing, too.
New business models are developing. Albert Sweeney's Big Co-op Inc. in Riverside, CA, launched less than two years ago. It has a "virtual vendor" capability that allows small merchants to stock their own shelves, and it pays cash to people who refer new customers. It's "cooperative marketing and selling at its best," writes national director Harvey Hess.
The above aren't merely ideas. They're real, growing businesses that emerged during the worst recession technology has seen in decades. They're only the tip of the iceberg for new growth next year:
The great thing about technology is that it never stands still, even when the market is falling. In recent months, we've seen a new generation of PC chips, a major new operating system, and a new version of America Online introduced. Each have new capabilities waiting to be exploited by entrepreneurs. We've seen how peer-to-peer could piggyback on the Internet and rival the growth of the Web itself. There are more and better services on the way. The Internet will soon be everywhere, all the time, whether there's a wire around you or not. That's new capability you can take advantage of.
You can come up with new ideas to use the existing Web or find ways to profit from the Internet that's coming. All you need is a brainstorm and the ability to build out an idea. Ideas can come from anywhere, at any time. While you're holiday shopping this week, remember to bring some paper and a pen.
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Dana Blankenhorn has been a business reporter for more than 20 years. He has written parts of five books and currently contributes to Advertising Age, Business Marketing, NetMarketing, the Chicago Tribune, Boardwatch, CLEC Magazine, and other publications. His own newsletter, A-Clue.Com, is published weekly.
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