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Competition Redefined – Lessons from Wesabe’s Demise

Posted on October 11, 2010 by Sean

Competition breeds excellence and we all enjoy the fruits of the fight. It brings us better phones and better food and better experiences at (usually) better prices. Without competition we might not have Android smartphone software or the Macbook or the commoditized coffee chain from which I write this blog.

There are two groups of winners in any competitive arena, first and most obvious - the winner of the event, whether it’s a sports team who won the series or start-up who secured the most VC interest. The second group of winners is us - the market, those for whom the gadget was designed, for whom the game was played. If the winning team is at the receiving end of millions (or billions?) of dollars, we’re at the receiving end of a product polished, edited and refined by the competitive process; and for us, the more brutal the competition, the better.

In his post-mortem essay, “Why Wesabe Lost to Mint” Wesabe co-creator, Marc Hedlund responds to speculations surrounding the Wesabe vs. Mint competition, and debunks several misunderstandings associated with Wesabe’s eventual acquiescence.

If you haven’t used or heard of either, both Wesabe and Mint were/are personal finance web-applications. In his essay, Hedlund makes his intentions clear. “I prioritized trying to build tools that would eventually help people change their financial behavior for the better, which I believed required people to more closely work with and understand their data” he says.  A noble pursuit, to be sure, but in the end, not enough.

It wasn’t the name.  Hedlund mentions several examples of screwy-names-turned-profitable, listing Google, Yahoo and Amazon (I might also submit Hulu). While the term “mint” helps conjure images of fortresses full of gold bars or the literal creation of money, Wesabe supplements bland sushi. No matter, he says, it wasn’t the name that held them back.

And it wasn’t the timing, either. According to Hedlund, Wesabe had nearly a 10 month head-start on Mint. In the world of all-night programming binges and instant market feedback, 10 months is an eternity. While he admits that there are some advantages in not being first (learning from competition missteps, free market research etc.) it is generally valuable to be the first to market. Wesabe was first and they still failed.

“Most people simply won't care enough or get enough benefit from long-term features if a shorter-term alternative is available” Hedlund concedes. As someone deeply interested in personal finance (and well-versed in the usefulness of web-apps) I’ve tried both services and found Hedlund’s hypothesis true, without question. While Wesabe might have yielded the most permanent results (Long-term personal finance improvement) I never got past the myriad of fields and required data-entry. Simply put, Wesabe was too hard to use.

Mint, at the other end of the spectrum, might be too simplistic to effect real change. Yes, it gives me a nice macroscopic view of my finances. It sends me emails when I am approaching my determined budget-limit in certain financial categories. It’s effective in that regard, but I believe long-term, sustainable personal finance goals are met when the user develops responsibility and discipline - qualities likely to come through a series of repeated micro decisions. The sad irony is that while Hedlund and I are simpatico in this regard, he is the co-founder of an out-of-business personal finance enterprise and I am the user of a semi-ineffective personal finance web application.

In my experience, most of us slave over branding issues and domain name ideas and spend too much time doubled-over and panting with exhaustion trying to beat the competition to market. Mint wasn’t first, and yet they won because they gave us what we wanted.  Maybe it’s time to consider what the user actually wants, rather than what we want them to want.

For now, I’ll just check my email and make sure it’s okay to buy another cup of coffee.


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Google Annouces A URL Shortener

Posted on October 7, 2010 by josh

For all of the Twitter users, you are very aware that a shortened URL is a beautiful URL. Google is starting to understand that and is jumping on the bandwagon by announcing there very own URL shortener.

Google’s URL shortener now has a website where anyone can go to make short’s. It was only available as part of certain Google products (I used it as a Chrome extension), but now anyone can just go to to make their own shortened links.

Aside from standard and simple shortening of a URL, Google says they want to make it “...the stablest, most secure, and fastest URL shortener on the web.” Also, a neat new feature allows you to track clicks to your shortened URLs:


Google URL Shortener Stats

 I know there are a lot of shorteners out there right now but with the analytics and the fact that Google will be backing it with additional changes and updates, this is a pretty solid URL shortener to consider using.



This Month in Online Marketing (September 2010)

Posted on October 6, 2010 by Josh Mc

Confession: I am hopelessly addicted to Google Reader. I love to learn and will forever be interested in new ways people are succeeding in online marketing. Because of this, I decided I would write a recap of some of my favorite posts from the past month, as they relate to the different parts of online marketing.

  • By far one of the biggest news stories this month was the release of Google Instant. You can find more about it here, and whether you love it or hate it, it is definitely progression in the search world.
  • We wrote about the Google instant announcement earlier this month, but the SEO’s out there should be happy to know that SEOmoz said it is having less impact then most algorithm updates Google does.
  • Search Engine Watch had a good article showcasing all the different AdWords match types, and how you can effectively use them in your campaign. Great for getting a little bit more out of your PPC ads.
  • In Bing’s ongoing effort to try and take searches from Google they have announced a rewards system that pays people to search on Bing. Simply install the Bing bar and you can receive points as a reward on every search that you do. If you like Bing you might as well install it and get rewards for your searches.


Bing Rewards

  • Twitter can be a difficult beast to get a good grasp on; this article gives you some of the essentials to starting a Twitter the right way. They break down nine ways to build a Twitter community with substance.
  • Lastly, this story is not necessarily marketing related, but it is still cool. Google has made street view available on Antarctica. It leads to some pretty cool penguin pictures as well.

Please let me know if there was an exciting article you read last month that I missed, as we would love to share them with our readers!


Web Development for the Non-Programmer Part Two

Posted on October 1, 2010 by Trevor

This article is the second in a series on web development for the non-programmer. For the first, go here.

Web developers use web technologies to communicate with others over the internet. Specifically, web developers create the documents that web servers pass to clients, either directly or through software that automatically generates the documents. Servers can create and provide any kind of documents: the client, however, must have software that can read and display the documents. The primary type of software used to display web documents is called a "browser". There are many browsers; several in common use are Firefox, Chrome, Internet Explorer, Safari, and Opera. Most browsers accept several different types of encoded document, such as HTML, CSS, and Javascript, that work together to display a web page. They also accept resources like images and embedded media, and can often be enhanced with "plug-ins" that recognize additional documents like Flash, Quicktime, and Silverlight. One of the web developer's primary jobs is to ensure that web pages can be properly displayed in all of the major browsers.

The basis for a web page in almost all cases is Hyper Text Markup Language (HTML) or a closely related language like XHTML. HTML is a standardized "language": a method for encoding content in a document. It's accessible to both humans and programs; it does this by wrapping human-readable text in "tags" that indicate the role of the text in the document. For example, a paragraph of text could be wrapped in "p" tags that tell the browser it is meant to be displayed as a paragraph. HTML also provides "links" to other documents in the form of URLs that can be retrieved either immediately (for embedded content intended to be displayed as part of the page) or when the user performs an action such as clicking on an link (when accessing a separate document such as another web page that's intended to replace the current page).

HTML provides the content, but it provides only rudimentary control over the formatting of the document. For that, most web pages rely on Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), a language specifically designed for formatting. CSS code can be integrated into the document or linked as a separate document. It provides the browser with descriptions of the elements of the document; for example, the color of a piece of text, or the size of an image. CSS is a more volatile language than HTML, and different browsers often display the same document differently. One of a developer's major skill requirements is the ability to make documents appear the same across disparate browsers, or at least to make them look good.

Increasingly, web pages are becoming "dynamic", providing animation and interaction without requiring a round trip to the server to retrieve another page. CSS provides a very limited amount of interaction, such as changing the format of a link when the cursor hovers over it, but general dynamic content requires a language such as Javascript. Javascript is actually just the most well-known among a family of languages based on the standardized ECMAScript. Unlike HTML and CSS, Javascript is not simply a method of formatting static content. It is a "procedural" language that describes the steps necessary to perform an action, and more closely resembles the languages like C++ that are used to create computer programs. Because of this, Javascript is able to make the web page act like a program, moving and responding to user input.

Internally, browsers use something called the Document Object Model (DOM) to keep track of the elements of a web document. The DOM is a hierarchical organization of page elements that stores all of their names and properties. Each of the technologies we've discussed in this article works by manipulating the DOM. HTML describes the elements on a page, and HTML tags often have a one-to-one correspondence with DOM elements. CSS sets many of the properties on DOM elements. Javascript can directly access and change the DOM, causing the browser to respond by changing what it displays to the user.

All of these technologies occur on the client's machine after it downloads the document(s) from the server. They don't have access to other documents or programs on the server unless the client retrieves them separately. They depend on the browser to understand them correctly and display their content to the user. Because they are visible directly to the user, they take up much of the focus in web development. Issues regarding these technologies often revolve around the changing standards, such as the new CSS3 and HTML5 versions, and support for various features among the browsers.


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Tips on Creating a Sales Ready Message

Posted on September 28, 2010 by Joelle

As humans we are constantly sending and receiving messages. Messages can come to and from friends, employees, the culture, and the media at large. Messages can be as small as a conversation over the company water cooler or an IM chat, to a company promotion or advertisement. Individual’s response to a message is largely dependent upon the quality of the message and how the message was delivered. 

At a loss as to why your ideas are not selling? Or why your return on advertisements is continually minimal? If this is you, most likely your messages are lacking key components of a sales ready message. Creating messages with clear objectives, that have a strong call to action, are essential in seeing conversions in your message. Use the checklist below to make sure that your messages include all the essential components, and improve upon the ones that don’t.

Objective- What is your aim in sending the message? Having a clear objective will set the framework for you message, without a clear direction you are likely to have a message that has no real focus or is cluttered and conflicting. For example: When creating an email marketing campaign: What products, brands, or social networking sites would you like to see sales growth in? Tip: Keep the objective simple.

Targeted User- Who do you seek to reach with your message? Exchanging messages with the correct and appropriate audience is essential. The objective you want to send to your customers may vary by marketplace and the type of consumer engaging in that marketplace. The nature of ecommerce opens the gates, so to speak, as to whom the potential recipients of messages are. Tip: Do not make your target user group to narrow; otherwise you will limit your customer base.

Creative Messaging- How will you make your message stand out against the crowd? With the millions of messages being exchanged daily, you have to make your message rise to the top if you want it to be considered. Use mediums that are accessible by your target user and that are relevant. Be creative while staying within the bounds of the structure of your brand. You want your messages to communicate your brand image with words, images and media.  Tip: By default think outside the box, lean more on the side of creative than conservative. You can always decide to scale it back, but more often than not it will keep your messages fresh, new and exciting.

Call to Action- Does your communication seeks a response? Creating messages that call the target user to action clearly communicate that you have an offer and they can have a response to the offer. If you are saying “Buy Now, On Sale, Everything Must Go!” Do you give the customer the opportunity and channel to immediately do so? If you are not making it possible or easy for the customer to respond, it will not be a surprise when you do not reach your message objective. Make the purchasing process as easy and simple as possible. Tip: Your call to action should stem from your objective; if these do not align you need to rework your call to action.

Conversion Goals- Do you have a way for measuring your message’s success? If your goal was to increase sales by promoting a special sale, do you have a way of measuring sales from that promotion? Measuring success will help you know if your messages are effective or if you need to rework one of the messaging components. Tip: Setting a goal and forecasting the response can help with identifying changes that need to be made for future messages.

Include these five components for a better sales ready message. You will see that improving the quality, clarity, and call to action of your messages exchange will generate a higher sales response.

Message better to sell better.



What to Look For In Contract Negotiations

Posted on September 24, 2010 by Zach

Being involved in marketing at Gordian Project I see a lot of contracts. Add that to the fact that we have a lawyer on staff, and you get to learn about the finer points of contract negotiation; such as what certain things mean in contracts, what’s important to look for and when the right time is to push for a better deal or compromise. You also learn a fair amount of lawyer speak and legalese which can help wading through these types of things. Being a small company it’s always important that we save money when we can and spend wisely so we always push for better deals, less restrictive terms and shorter contract lengths. Our motto when it comes to contracts and agreements are, “You don’t get what you deserve, you get what you negotiate.” This rings true in life and in business. When a contract slides across my desk or enters my inbox here are some of the things I care about, they also tend to be my first points of negotiation.


Of course pricing is always going to be the main negotiating point. Many times that can be represented as a one time or monthly flat payment, a percentage of sales or a combination of the two. Don’t forget to run the numbers for the different options, especially if you are working on a combination of flat payments and a percentage. In the short term a higher percentage and lower flat payment may look good, but in the long run you might be paying more than a lower percentage and higher flat rate would have you pay. Don’t forget to shop around and do your research, if you know someone is getting a good deal then you have an idea of the concessions that are available.

Contract Length

Contract or agreement length is one of the next items I usually look at. I normally look out for the red flags and ask the following questions. Is the contract trying to lock you into a two or more year term? What is a term you are comfortable with concerning this contract? How does the renewal work? Is it automatic or are there more negotiations? When thinking about these questions you want to make sure that you are looking at the costs for the entirety of the term in order to understand the costs structure and what you are getting for those costs.


Terms are another point I always look for. Some of the key questions I ask are: How do they want you to pay? Do you need to keep a minimum budget? Are there payment terms? If there are when will you be receiving the invoice and when you get the invoice how long until payment is due? Most often I push for invoiced payment terms, with the industry standard 30 days from the date of the invoice. These payment terms give us plenty of time to receive and process the invoice and typically we are able to hold onto the dollars longer than other options with these terms.

Contract Termination

Contract or agreement termination is like an opt out and if good termination language is in place the length of the actual term becomes a bit less important. This enables one of the parties to end the contract, usually with a written notice and a certain length of time. For example, the agreement may include language that lets either party terminate the agreement for any reason within thirty days of written notice. I almost always try to get this included if it’s not already. This is important because if the service or product is not working out the way you wanted or priorities have changed, you are able to get out of the agreement without staying for and paying for the entire term of the agreement. Beware of people who will not even think about adding this for you, sometimes they are just trying to lock you into an agreement without caring about your goals or priorities.

If I can’t get some kind of contract or agreement termination I certainly make sure that if it makes sense there are performance metrics that need to be achieved. Doing this at least holds the other party to some kind of performance levels with which you are aware of beforehand. Sometimes this means completing projects, increasing sales, reducing cost, etc. That way, especially if you can’t get out of the contract via termination, you both understand what kinds of things are expected during the term of the contract or agreement. If these are not achieved typically the contract or agreement is terminated. A common mistake here is not putting in a timeline; make sure that if there are performance goals, both parties understand when and how those are to be achieved, as well as when they will be evaluated during the term of the contract or agreement.


Amendments are simply something you need to keep in mind. Sometimes there may be a need to make an amendment to the agreement such as adding or removing an additional service. Just watch the language in the amendment to make sure you are not agreeing to anything you are not aware of, or that it’s not increasing or extending the term of the original agreement unless that's what you want.


I include goodwill as a caveat, sometimes people push so hard for a good deal or better terms that they forget about other opportunities and values. If you use up all of your goodwill getting a great deal there may be none left for co-marketing, press releases, white papers, blogs, social media promotion or other items that might be more valuable than a better deal.

I hope that helps, I would be interested in what others look for in contracts or agreements as well! Happy negotiating! offers its customers tens of thousands of plumbing, home improvement, and building products in a range of categories including Kitchen and Bathroom, Water Heaters, Lighting, Pumps, Tools, Access Doors, Valves, Commercial and more. Individuals and businesses can shop quickly and easily at 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Should you Tweet? -Maybe

Posted on September 20, 2010 by Sean

With Twitter’s meteoric rise to popularity and its proven success as a marketing channel, many businesses are rushing towards it with arms open, hoping to embrace (and convert) the 105,779,710 existing users and the more than 300,000 active users per day.

Twitter Logo and Bird

But, though the service is evolving, we have to remember that human dynamics (largely) has not. Twitter is a real time conversation mechanism. The same principles that apply to actual, verbal conversation – the perceptions of trust, values, integrity, insight, responsiveness, which fuel our engagement - absolutely apply to this service.

So now, with tightening budgets and unprecedented buzz, a cash-strapped marketer might be inclined to adopt Twitter as a viable marketing channel.

But, if you weren’t an early adopter, maybe it’s time to pause before leaning into the social media giant as new, reliable marketing stream. There are already blog posts explaining “How to use twitter to grow your business” so I’ll leave the “HOW” to them. However, before you “join the conversation.”, pause to consider the WHY.

Whether you’re convinced that Twitter is congruent with your business model or, you’re of the “it’s free, why not?” school of marketing. I humbly submit two suggestions.

1)      Please ADD something to the conversation.

Keep in mind that Twitter, unlike many social networks is actually grounded in conversation. Each Tweet is a pithy, 140 character remark or reply made in real time, by real people. Whereas a blog post (or even Facebook status update) usually requires some level of pre-meditation, a Tweet is often a quick thought fired off (sometimes too) hastily by a person, to another person (or an assembly of followers.) A calculated advertisement is likely to fall on unmotivated eyes if you’re only trying to coax a “follower” to follow you back to your website and make a purchase.

2)      Please add something NEW to the conversation.

If you’re still vacillating on whether or not to market your product through Twitter, consider yourself a late-adopter. Active Twitter users are savvy, we follow selectively and, unlike Facebook or Myspace (yes, I said it), there is delineation between “Followers” and “Following” – meaning, there is more social currency in having an abundance of followers, than there is in following the population of a small country. Consider the hyperbolic, but appropriate example of perpetual comedian/Late Night host, Conan O’Brien – who has over a million followers, but follows only one person, Sarah Killen – who he seemingly picked at random. Companies like Southwest Airlines do well by incorporating personality and customer service into their tweets.

So, if you’re anything like me, you spend as much time as possible avoiding advertising, and Twitter is a great way to selectively reduce the amount of advertising in your life. Don’t go ruining that for us.

The bottom line to would-be Tweetvertisers: We control this conversation, what have you got to say?

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Web Development for the Non-Programmer

Posted on September 14, 2010 by Trevor

"Web Development for the Non-Programmer" will be a new series of articles I'll be posting (along with my one-off articles). In it, we'll explore the facets of web development on a conceptual level, without going into technical details. This will help you to understand what your developer is doing and better communicate and plan development projects. You shouldn't need more than basic knowledge of computers to understand these articles.

Conceptually, web development is using technology to allow large numbers of dispersed people to communicate. It shares this goal with development in other medias such as radio and television, telephone and cellular technology, and even newspapers and magazines. More specifically, web development uses computer technology to deliver individualized, interactive communication to a large group of people. It does this using the Internet.

The Internet is the name for the worldwide network of computers connected to each other by cable, fiber optic backbone, and satellite using the Internet Protocol (IP), which gives each device a unique address at which it can be found. The internet has a hierarchical structure: large fiber-optic "backbone" cables provide the major links between hubs, and mid-level Internet Service Providers (ISPs) connect individual computers with these hubs. The internet is simply a way for computers to connect with each other, and is used for many different kinds of connections. It can be used to transfer files, play "online" games, send messages and email and even remotely control devices. Often, specialized computers called "servers" are set up whose primary purpose is to automatically provide services over the internet so that other computers (called "clients", and usually human-operated) can access them. There is one service on the Internet that allows certain computers to be referred to by an alias (called a "domain name") rather than their IP address. When using this service, a client will connect to a Domain Name Server (DNS) and pass it the domain name of the computer it wishes to reach (for example, ""). The DNS then sends the client the IP address of the target computer, and the client then connects directly to the target computer. Many different services make use of domain names to make internet addresses more accessible.

One specific type of service that uses the internet is called the World Wide Web (or Web, for short). Web servers provide documents (or "pages") and resources in a specific format that allows them to "link" to each other (and other services). The primary purpose of the web is to display formatted text, but web documents also typically incorporate images, embedded media, and dynamic content. Web documents are human-readable, but are usually displayed in a program called a "browser" (like Firefox or Internet Explorer) that interprets the encoded document and reacts to user input. Each web document is identified by a unique Uniform Resource Locator; a piece of text composed of the domain name of the server and a server-specific path to the document.

To display a web document, first the browser consults the URL, getting the address of the document's server. It then passes the path to the server. The server provides the document, either by retrieving it from storage or by running a program to generate it dynamically. It sends the document to the browser, which builds a visual representation to display to the user (including retrieving any other documents that may be necessary). Often the browser also reacts to user actions such as mouse clicks on various elements of the document by changing how the document is displayed or by retrieving new documents from a server.

The Internet and the Web are the platforms on which web development takes place. Web developers create software and documents for the servers that provide the web pages to clients, and make sure that the clients can view them correctly. Some web developers maintain complete control over every aspect of the server, while others simply write the documents that are to be passed to the client. There are several current topics regarding the internet framework that are of special interest to web developers. One is IPv4 saturation: the current format for IP addresses only has room for a limited number of addresses and is likely to run out of new addresses this year. There is a new format called IPv6 that provides room for many more addresses, but it has not been universally adopted yet. Another issue is net neutrality: the idea that ISPs and backbone servers treat all servers and service types equally (for example, they don't prevent access to certain web pages).

Make sure to come back next month when I talk more in detail about the basis for web pages and online programming languages.


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Big Changes Coming from Google (Update: It's Called Google Instant)

Posted on September 8, 2010 by Josh Mc

The search world is buzzing today with all of the possible changes that could come from Google's morning press event. Yesterday Google started hinting about a change with their creative logo and a quote from a Googler saying "it is fast, fun and interactive, just the way we think search should be."(SER) Today is no different. The current logo on Google's homepage adds color to the letters as you type, hinting at what many bloggers have been reporting on, streaming search results. If you haven't seen this yet, check out the video below from

We should know by the afternoon if this is rolling out to everyone, as well as what else Google may have up their sleave, but one thing is for sure, the way we search is changing.

What do you think about this change? Do you like it?


Update: Google announced that the real time search is called Google Instant and should be rolling out to Firefox, Chrome, Safari and IE 8 today. Google said this is being done to help people save the time wasted when typing a search that the user may not even want to begin with. They predict it is normally around 25 seconds, and Google Instant will completly change this.


Google Instant Response Time


MAP (Minimum Advertised Pricing) Misguiding's

Posted on September 7, 2010 by Jeff

In my most recent blog, Internet Retail and MAP (Minimum Advertised Pricing), I concluded my post with a simple statement of experience, “If anything, the aggressiveness of MAP policies has heightened.”  I thought I might note a few of the most recently communicated MAP requirements. Not only are these mutually exclusive and/or misguided attempts to improve individual brand positioning, but more importantly they create a poor customer experience. The very thing MAP policies are traditionally communicated to improve.

  • Homepage Logo – While it makes for a positive speaking point, every brand image can’t be on the homepage. For one, a cluttered homepage is unprofessional, and in actuality the homepage has little real relevance to most customers.  The retailer’s goal is to land the inbound customer on a page much more relevant to their search.  This request generally comes from a traditional understanding of showroom brand positioning.  With limited retail shelf space there is an innate value to insuring a given brand is represented up front.  This is, of course, not the case online.  Most customers don’t enter through the “front door”, or homepage, as the entry point, search terms, refinements, and navigation are much more critical.  For examples, look to e-commerce leaders like Amazon and Zappos who do not present logos on their homepage.
  • Product List and Search Manipulation – Again, everyone can’t be on the first page of search or navigation based product results.  While merchandising is a key component of a successful retailer strategy, there is also significant importance given to the purity of search results.  For long term success it is critical that a retailer maintain focus on showing customers the most relevant results as they search and navigate, rather than artificially favoring any one brand or product.  Google has set the standard in terms of purity of search, and their organic search results cannot easily be manipulated by paying.  That concept needs to translate to search within the retailer’s property as well.
  • Customer Service Days and Hours – In the same way a manufacturer would not burden themselves with managing a showroom’s business details, it makes little sense to involve themselves in the management of the same for an internet retailer.  At the heart of the issue is customer service.  Thankfully, in the online arena, there are several 3rd party means of measurement.  Those include services like BizRate, LivePerson Rating, and the BBB.  A Quality Internet Retailer will subject themselves to these rating services.
  • Compliance With a MAPP That Is Not Effectively Policed – When a MAPP is not effectively implemented or consistently policed over time, the brand, as well as its Quality Internet Retailers, takes the hit.  For the brand, the market becomes cluttered with poor quality, fly-by-night sites and listings that degrade their reputation with the customer.  For the retailer, the inability to compete makes investing in the brand a tough proposition.  Ultimately, in this scenario, only the poor retailer benefits, and only in the short run.   Allowing the Quality Internet Retailers to compete is likely the best way to drown out the noise and bring the brand position back to the level of quality expected.