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Several weeks ago I posted about the comeback of the American consumer and its impact on the financial services market. Since then, I’ve engaged in the same discussion with healthcare device makers and distributors who are also wondering how a stronger consumer will impact their business.

The obvious reality is that every sector in the United States ought to be positioning itself in light of strong consumer sentiment and data.  Let me quickly set the table by restating a few key points from my previous post about market conditions and business climate that are relevant across industries, but are certainly applicable to healthcare equipment makers, manufacturers, and distributors:

  • The stock market is at or near an all time high
  • The business media seems to be whistling a happy tune about the comeback of the American Consumer
  • Earlier this year, according to Macys’, Target and Gap reported sales that topped sales estimates in January, 2013
  • This past February, the Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan preliminary index of consumer sentiment climbed to 76.3 from 73.8 in January
  • Ernst & Young cited stronger global markets and calls the US markets “very positive” in its most recent forecast.
  • With property values rising and the job market strengthening, Americans seem to be poised for an uptick in wealth

So, what does the comeback of the American consumer mean to Healthcare consumption? From 10,000 feet, two things: 1) The American healthcare consumer will have more money and more confidence to spend it and 2) that confidence and willingness to spend will be tempered by impact on the collective psyche still felt from the 2008 market crash.

Who will benefit from this consumer wealth effect?  Consumer medical specialties, like dentists and cosmetic dentists, plastic and cosmetic surgeons, dermatologists, fertility specialists, bariatric surgeons, and those companies who are selling to them, as well as hospitals and surgi-centers who will deliver care in these service lines. We believe that other specialty areas will also see benefits such as certain areas of orthopedics, We see a healthy return of discretionary income spending in the aforementioned areas. At a recent meeting of Plastic Surgeons in New York City, a Baltimore based doctor said: “we’re seeing people coming off the street and dropping a $1,000 to $1,500 on procedures, and that hasn’t happened in a long time.”  As I write, there’s a strong bi-partisan push in the senate to repeal the medical device tax. I wouldn’t hold my breath if I am a device manufacturer or distributor. Just as a reminder, the 2.3% excise tax is on the gross sales price of taxable medical devices. Regardless of whether the medical device tax is repealed or not, companies who better position themselves in this climate relative to the American consumer, will have a whopping advantage over those who don’t.

Here’s how healthcare device companies and distributors can better position themselves in light of the coming wealth effect:

1. Down-line Education – Three pronged approach: 1) Get out in front of the market by arming your buyers with the information they need to make an informed buying decision for your products. Include information on what the wealth effect could mean for both their business and patients.  It is likely that they themselves are feeling the wealth effect personally. Of course, buying certain equipment will put your buyers in a better position to serve the needs of their patients who will now feel more comfortable in spending discretionary dollars on healthcare services. 2) Consumer down-line education through web and digital strategies will provide fertile ground to drive consumer education and show buyers your commitment to their success.  3) Peer-to-Peer education for buyers of healthcare devices and products. Down-line education must have a strong digital component, especially with the rise of mobile and the coming of Google Glass, which will once again revolutionize mobile. [A quick aside: I was one of the privileged few to recently accompany a Google employee on a Google Glasses tour and indeed healthcare must be prepared for the coming revolution, but that's a post for another day.]

2. Brand Like You Mean It – This is a great time to get back into the market with a healthy respect for your customers. Communicate with them on a level that they come to expect and specifically communicate value.  Your visuals must be stunning, your value lasting.  Now, I have been on the record and continue to be by saying that branding is “not what you do,” it’s a “result of what you do.” For those companies who have been lacking in promoting their products and services to exceed market expectations, the time to start building a foundation for your brand has never been better than right now. This is especially true now because some of your competitors will inevitably continue to rely on the same strategies, thinking the same old ways, or their size, or whatever will produce results in this environment. Good, let them. For companies who consider themselves brand leaders in their space, don’t rest on your brand laurels, because your customers will now need more information to make buying decisions, and have more access to information about your products and your competitors’.

3. Mobile & Digital Will Drive Marketing Strategy Linkedin just surpassed 1 million doctors and nurses worldwide. Our own proprietary research shows that as of January 27, 2013, there were 500,000 people who have identified themselves in the United States as “dentists” on Facebook and 33,000 in the same category on Linkedin. There were 2,918 people who identified themselves as “general dentists” on Linkedin. Combine that with Healthcare topics being the most consumer-searched subject online in the United States, and you now have an idea of how important the digital environment is to your business. Educating the consumer and the market about the value of your products in the digital world is crucial to building consumer awareness and driving demand to your customers (doctors, dentists, hospitals, surgi-centers, clinics). Web and digital content must meet the expectations of the market, and if it doesn’t your company risks brand erosion. Positioning your products juxtaposed against value – remember, your customers and the consumer is once bitten and twice shy by now – will go a long way to making the case for your products. Your digital reputation and your customers’ must be spotless, because it is your reputation. So, move away from creating social pages and posting to meaningful digital strategies. Location strategies relative to how you sell should play a critical part. For example: if you’re selling an intra-oral camera, or gastric sleeves, you may want to share with your customers who else the in the area is using your technology via a mobile map application.  The very least you ought to do is mobilize your websites to make it easier for your sales force and your clients to access your products and services.

4.  Be a Category Creator – In Why It Pays to Be a Category Creator (Harvard Business Review, March 2013), the authors found that “category creators experience much faster growth and receive much higher valuations than companies bringing only incremental innovations to market.” Researchers found that category creators, while only 13% of the companies studied, accounted for 74% of the group’s growth. Consider the dental industry’s fore into sleep medicine. It was a blue ocean strategy, which opened up a new market for dentists and provided patients with yet different way to utilize and view their dentist. Whatever category you choose to create, and at the risk of overstating the obvious here, it has to be both ethical and make sense for the patient. So, be creative, you may surprise yourself.

It’s an exciting time to be in healthcare. Being nimble and entrepreneurial and taking advantage of selling into the current climate no matter size of your company is a virtue and highly accretive to growth in this environment.  So, jump right in, the water is fine.

Abe Kasbo is CEO of Verasoni Worldwide
Follow @akasbo or

Social Media Marketing Companies? Social Media Lines Are Being Drawn!

By: Abe Kasbo

Facebook stock began trading on May 18th. Not a Googlesque performance by any measure, the stock sputtered and continues to do so as of today. Yeah, it’s early, but Facebook’s stock seems to be exuberantly valued and trading at a premium, even today.  We have not learned much. The gold rush in social media, head-fakes and hesitation dribbles are by no means over.

It seems that enthusiastic lines in the sand are being drawn between social networking professionals and its skeptics. In his is recent column in Marketing Land, Ciaran Norris decries GM for pulling out of Facebook pointing out that the global advertiser dedicated a puny $10 Million out of $1.8 Billion to Facebook.  Apparently, GM did not like that Facebook would not let it advertise the way it wants to, using heavy banner ads. He points out, and we concur, that Cost Per Action rather than clicks is more valuable.  “What TV does, better than almost anything, is to create brand connections, and emotional reactions that result in us choosing one product over the other. And Facebook is working to prove something similar — that social connections, not hugely flashy banners, can do the same,” said Norris.

Social media relevancy in our lives in undeniable, but still begs questions: what value does it deliver to advertisers?  Ultimately does engagement the way it is defined in the social world pay off for an advertiser?  The answer may be that no one truly knows…yet.

The main stream business media is awash with anecdotal evidence about how some business transformed itself from a sleepy enterprise to a top selling juggernaut using social media.   Though empirical evidence over time is much harder to uncover – yes, of course, we only go back to 2004.  Yet, if social media enthusiasts are willing to tout its exponential growth, they must be willing to address its gaps.  If Dunkin Donuts is giving away donuts, they’re going to get a gazillion fans (6.3 million on Facebook and about 146,400 on Twitter), a small fraction of which seems to be or may be ”engaged.” D&D’s social strategy is exceptional and thoughtful, but the value of social media outlets to business, we believe, cannot be sustained by major brands alone. The shift to mobile is a key reason why.  Unless, businesses invest enough in creative campaigns to make it compelling for customers to engage in their brand.  That’s no small investment by the way, so once again we’re back to the big guys.

Yet social media outlets recognize that user generated content drives their raison d’être. Its that content that keeps people interested and engaged. People showing interest in people and the things they love, and brands are certainly a big part of that.  The Wall Street Journal recently ran a piece on how social media outlets are partnering with celebrities to drive traffic and interest. “We have a business model based on advertisements and as people spend more time on Facebook, we monetize that,” said Jason Osofsky, director of Media Partnerships for Facebook. The article cites celebrities like Ryan Seacrest, Shaquile O’Neil and Jessica Alba.  Ms. Alba’s following includes 3.2 million on Twitter and 4.5 million on her Facebook page. “You have to have a social-media presence if you want to have a successful business, scalable business,” Ms. Alba says in the WSJ article.  Yet one has to wonder that if Ms. Alba wasn’t a high profile celebrity, would she have those millions of followers?

The Los Angeles Times‘s story on why GM pulled out of Facebook quotes Chris Cedergren, president of Iceology, a West Los Angeles consulting and research firm that works with the auto industry, who said “social media has yet to be time tested as an advertising tool and that research has shown that ‘people don’t really pay attention to the advertisements.’” With network television viewership dwindling, the emergence of consumer generated video, which itself is highly fragmented, search appears to be a stronger and more reliable contender for advertiser dollars right now. At the risk of overstating the obvious, social media, as we are defining it today, is obviously still in its infancy and we believe it is right that people like GM demand more from it. Mass aggregation does not make a good case for advertisement. After all, Facebook is all about me and it’s my 15 minutes of fame. And, since I am paying attention to what interests me, mainly what I am sharing my friends and what my friends are sharing with me, the challenge for Facebook is to get me to pay attention in a meaningful way to its advertisers.  How will Facebook and its advertisers distract users from their never-ending 15 minutes of fame?  That coupled the staggering growth of mobile (iPhone, DROID) may prove more difficult for Facebook advertisers because the screens are smaller. Where do you place the advertising?  If Facebook’s business model is about monetizing aggregation, how do you do that if a good chunk of the aggregation is happening on mobile devices?

The elephant in the room is the fact that social media has been with us way before we identified it as Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.  One of the lessons here is that communities have always gathered online and off by interest putting more pressure on for Facebook and others in the space to produce meaningful results.  Somini Sengupta reported in the New York Times that Facebook is turning “Likes” into Ads as one of the ways to monetize aggregation.  Facebook is using links that people like or post as sponsored stories, with businesses like Amazon as the sponsors. Business will “pay Facebook to generate these automated ads when a user clicks to “like” their brands or references them in some other way.  Facebook users agree to participate in the ads halfway through the site’s 4,000-word terms of service, which they consent to when they sign up,” said the story. Yet, Nick Bergus, the man who’s “like” Facebook turned into an ad was furious enough to want to delete his Facebook account, but didn’t.  That kind of sentiment is exactly what Facebook and its advertisers fear of course, so as Facebook and its advertisers continue to learn about the platform, Facebook will be more under pressure more than ever before because of its place in the public markets.  At the same time, both social media marketing companies and the platforms themselves understand the addictive nature and lure of the medium and its role in our daily lives. And that may just allow it the cushion it needs to experiment with monetizing its users while keeping advertisers interested.

Look, social media has been with us when the big names were no names at all.  In healthcare,, a resource site for obese people seeking information on weight loss surgery, claims 600,000 members since 1998 and currently claims 3 million page visits a week from people looking for help. is another site that been successfully bringing people together about fertility related issues. was launched in 1994 “as a resource where sailors could find everything they needed to support their own pursuit of the sailing lifestyle.”  And, there are many other examples who are thriving as a business right now.

The onus is on the social world, like it is on television, print and other outlets, to prove its value in the market place. At the same time, businesses and agencies must rethink engagement and bring forth innovations of the intellectual and creative kind to drive campaigns.  Although, regardless of how things shake out on the desktop with respect to social, mobile is the real game changer here folks, let’s pay careful attention and see how the social world responds to monetization of the audience in this space.

Montreal, Canada. May 15, 2012. Verasoni Worldwide CEO, Abe Kasbo spoke at The #140conf, Montreal today where he discussed  “Social Health. Improving Health at the Speed of Technology.” Mr. Kasbo spoke about opportunities for healthcare providers to reach patients and the community, specifically citing the highly successful Twitter surgery at Raritan Bay Medical Center that generated press and awareness for the hospital’s orthopedic surgery program.

He also cited Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution as a catalyst for the online campaign that brought pink slime to the forefront of the American public’s consciousnesses and the subsequent outrage on social networks that led to several plants closing and schools cancelling orders of meat laced with Pink Slime.  Mr. Kasbo also discussed how innovation in the automotive could soon be driving us to better health – no pun intended of course. He shared how Ford researchers are working on a series of possible in-car health and wellness connectivity services and apps aimed at “helping people with chronic illnesses or medical disorders such as diabetes, asthma or allergies manage their condition while on the go.”

#140mtl featured speakers from the United States and Canada who covered topics such as Branding, Marketing, Customer Service, Social Business Strategy, Social Media Measurement, Non-profit, Education, Leadership, Human Resources, Media, Blogging, Building Community, Communications, Real Estate, the Arts, Gamification and Location Marketing.

About Verasoni Worldwide

Verasoni Worldwide is a full-service marketing and public relations firm with offices in Montclair, New Jersey and New York City. Verasoni Worldwide delivers expertise in to multiple markets including healthcare, financial services and banking, start-ups, government, not for profit, and hospitality and travel. Verasoni Worldwide is recognized as a leader in developing and implementing meaningful, cut-through campaigns for clients. Verasoni Worldwide is a pioneer of the integration of digital and traditional media, including public relations, advertising, brand development, reputation management, and global marketing communications strategies.



Check out this piece my Thom Forbes that came across my email this morning.  Affinity or lifestyle marketing comes to your friendly neighborhood grocery…about time!  I have been advocating integration of this type for years, in fact in our work with hospitals we have encouraged them to consider opening restaurants that offer healthy fare. It’s a natural, it’s not enough to tell people about the benefits of healthy living, it’s critical to show them.Can’t help but think that perhaps one hospital marketing strategy may be considering opening a restaurant :)

Whole Foods Opens Its First Wellness Club
Thom Forbes, Aug 15, 2011 07:41 AM

“If you know what’s good for you … ” is a phrase that’s fraught with threat. It implies that even if we do know what’s good for us, our actions suggest otherwise and may carry dire consequences. But even if we do know, deep down, what’s good for us, we often don’t know how to achieve it.

I’m not talking metaphysics here. I’m talking kale, and the new prototype Wellness Club that Whole Foods is opening in Dedham, Mass., this morning with the intention of not only showing and telling us what’s good for us but also how to prepare it.

A few years ago, kale was nothing more than a crossword-puzzle word to many of us. Then we began to hear how healthy this descendant of the wild cabbage — brought to Europe from Asia Minor by Celtic wanderers in the 6th Century B.C. — was for us.

The big question, as it is with so many healthy foods that don’t come in the cans and frozen packages that many of us grew up with, was “what do you do with it?” There wasn’t much of a trick to opening a can of Le Sueur Sweet peas and dumping them into a saucepan, or reading the instructions on a package of Bird’s Eye Cut Green Beans.

The Whole Foods Wellness Club, on the other hand, will provide answers to searing questions like exactly how to sear an Ahi tuna. Or pronounce “Ahi.”

“As at a gym, club members check in at a front desk, but in this case it’s steps from the salad bar, near the fish,” writes Kathleen Pierce in the Boston Globe. Once inside, members can use the reference library, take a lifestyle evaluation, or “learn how to prepare a dish — such as mango quinoa porridge — from a chef in a sleek kitchen, and then head out into the store to find, and buy, the ingredients.”

“The mission of the Wellness Club is to provide an inviting environment where members are empowered to make educated and positive lifestyle choices that promote their long-term health and well-being through coaching, delicious food and a supportive community,” according to a Whole Foods blog post. “It will feature courses and lectures developed by medical doctors, inspirational and informative skill-building classes, supper clubs and special events, coaching and support.”

Members get a 10% discount “when they shop for healthy foods.” But, as Pierce points out, “access to that empowerment comes at a price: It costs $199 to become a member of the Wellness Club, and monthly dues are $45.”

The upscale grocer intends to open four other Wellness Clubs before the end of the year — in New York; Chicago; Oakland, Calif.; and Princeton, N.J. — “and if the prototypes do well, we would open more in 2012 as part of a growth initiative,” John Mackey, chairman and co-CEO, told analysts during a conference call in February. “Our purpose would be to educate people how to eat better to achieve the highest degree of their health potential,” Mackey explained and Supermarket News’ Elliot Zwiebach reports.

Products that meet the club’s “code of health” carry a Wellness Club seal of approval.

“A lot of people get overwhelmed when trying to initiate a lifestyle change,” Heidi Feinstein, a Boston nutritionist and holistic therapist tells Pierce. “They can purchase a lot of stuff that they don’t know how to use, end up wasting it and don’t succeed. It’s nice to have a guide when introducing yourself to all the abundant ways to revitalize your life.”

A blogger who calls himself Calorie Ken doesn’t want to put a damper on the idea or be seen as “Nelly Negative,” but he gets the feeling from Pierce’s story that Whole Foods is overemphasizing what people eat at the expense of how much they eat. He suggests that Whole Foods and other retailers “teach us how to eat better and help us have a good time doing it, but build the effort on a foundation of portion control and calorie awareness.”

Calorie Ken also suggests that it would be nice to have similar Wellness Clubs in lower-income places that really need them. “Perhaps they should’ve chosen to do it in Mississippi, the fattest state in America,” he writes. “Oh wait! There’s no Whole Foods in all of Mississippi!”

It’s all about achieving that elusive “balance,” of course — a topic gracefully tackled by Katherine Rosman in her Family Finances column in the Wall Street Journal this morning. Invited cross-country to San Diego to moderate a panel about the benefits of financial planning at a convention of 2,500 female bloggers, Rosman decided to combine the engagement with some interviews, meaning that she’d be away from her husband and two young children for a longer-than-usual six days.

“If you can judge by the absolute swarm of marketers who had descended upon San Diego to try to get these bloggers to sample their products, these women have real influence,’ she writes. “Yet almost every woman I met or listened to at the conference revealed a continual inner struggle between a desire to be fully engaged in family life and professional ambition.”

But “balance is almost an impossible ideal …,” she concludes, “even as we still aspire to it.”

It makes eating well, in the right proportions, seem comparatively attainable — or, at least, a good place to start. If you know what’s good for you.

GLSIssue: Global Linguist Solutions (GLS) in Falls Church, Virgina is a provider of linguistic services to the United States Government.  GLS needed a marketing firm who understands both the Middle East and The Arab-American Community because of its focus on Arabic language speakers.

Idea: Verasoni’s creative team developed culturally appropriate visual and written messaging, identified media outlets in the United States and around the world to distribute GLS’ brand.  Verasoni Worldwide carefully crafted language in English and Arabic to ensure that GLS made appropriate cultural connections which were the first and important steps to helping GLS achieve its goals.  Stories were placed on air and in print in various cities around the US including New York and Detroit.

Impact: GLS saw a significant increase in the target market interest in its services and brand. Verasoni achieved over 2 million impressions within three months.

It’s an understatement to say Google has taken over the Internet, it may be even more parochial to speak about how Google has taken over our lives. From search, maps, video (Youtube), email, cell phones, and publishing, Google has built a vast business empire faster, and perhaps far more reaching, than any business in history. Heck, GE is now partnering with Google on environmental initiatives. This is GE, the king of all things industrial, partnering with a search engine on environmental initiatives?  Who’s zooming who?  But it’s true, Google is not only a resource for all things personal relative to the Internet, but the good folks at Google are smart enough to take leadership positions in non-core business opportunities.

However much Google has become a part of our lives, it’s important to know that business on the net is much more about the Internet than Google.  And it is much more local than anyone, including the mainstream media, will lead-on.  Once we recognize that the Internet is still an infant that can be shaped in ways that can be meaningful to our lives and businesses, then and only then can we recognize the wonderful opportunities that lay ahead, locally.  Locally? Locally, like right down the street locally.  Locally like within your city, county or state locally.  But we’re talking about the vast Internet, a world controlled by the Googles, MSNs, and powerful media moguls who we see on TV.  Folks, the Internet is local and Google can’t do anything about it, unless it start opening up stores in your area – note to the people at Google, the Google store thing is my idea.

Let’s get to heart of the matter. The local market? You’re probably saying, who cares. More importantly, you’re probably thinking you can’t monetize the local market in a way that generates real cash flow, and that’s why Google is staying away. Well, there are many very successful local sites that have built themselves a terrific niche in the local market.  These hyper-local, meaning everything is local, may cover issues relevant to one town, one business vertical tied to a particular geography, or neighborhood sites have proven that they can not only generate cash, but become real brands.

I would argue that hyper-local sites are real competition for becoming online gateways to local communities. And while the publishing industry’s troubles are directly related to the rise of the Internet and media fragmentation, there is a strong case to made for looking closer at the publishing model as the Internet continues to evolve.  Think of Google as Time Magazine, and think of hyper-local sites as your local or regional magazine that focuses on your community.  Both provide information that you deem relevant, just different information.  Unlike Time or Newsweek, your regional publications are your connection to what is happening locally.  So no matter, how relevant the national magazines are, the local ones are just relevant or useful.

Why is hyper-local so relevant? And why is it a coveted market? Let’s take a closer look at social networking sites and their success. What is it about Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, or Youtube that makes them so popular? The easy answer is you and me. Yes, that’s right, those properties are about you and me, they are ubber hyper-local relevant to me. I can create my own reality, with my friends, my interests, and my world within a given social networking site…It’s all things relevant to me. My personal reality show if you will.  And so within the vast confines of facebook, I can create my own little world where I can connect with friends I haven’t seen since college, and go out to dinner (local), I can discuss a movie (seen locally), review a spa (which I go to locally), and share good news about the birth of a new child with my cousins in Argentina who will send me flowers using a local flower shop over the net. You see, the Internet is relevant, locally.  So the rise of hyper-local sites, though not orderly, is a business model that deserves attention.

In Montclair, New Jersey there’s Baristanet everything local to Montclair. Founded in 2004, the site “soon after emerged as a leader in both hyper-local blogging and the online citizen journalism movement. Baristanet receives more than 5,000 visits a day and has inspired local news sites in Pittsburgh, Brooklyn, New Haven, Watertown, MA and Red Bank, NJ.”  Baristanet effectively competes for audiences with traditional local media such The Montclair Times, the venerable weekly newspaper, to

Staying in New Jersey, we find a business vertical, there is a website that ties all things weddings to a geographic region. Founded by Erik and Beth Kent on February 14, 1997 to help wedding professionals promote their services and directly connect with future brides and grooms. According to the site, it currently “receives over 500,000 hits per month and features over 500 wedding businesses serving New Jersey and parts of New York and Pennsylvania that future brides and grooms can choose from, including helpful articles and tips about wedding planning, expert relationship and marriage advice and much, much more.” competes not only with Google but with the 800 lb. gorilla of wedding sites,

In Maplewood, New Jersey, the well-healed turn to Maplewood Online for neighborhood gossip, news…it’s the equivalent of an online piazza. The site is jam-packed with classified, a community calendar, and every else imaginable. It even serves as a portal to news sites such as The New York Times, professional sports teams, cross word puzzles, all within one, local, place.

So as the Internet continues to grow, the threat to places like Google loom larger because people will continue to find ways to make the Internet resources relevant to them.  And with the continued rise of mobile, let’s see if these successful hyper-local sites adapt or go the way of newspapers. There are already sites popping up offering hyper-local mobile coupons delivered right to your phone.

The problem is, Google doesn’t have the foot-soldiers to compete at a hyper-local level. What it can do is to start buying hyper-local sites, but then again, why not simply buy community newspapers and turn them into mega-hyper-local sites (ok, enough jargon).  One final thought, I’m not sure if I would count Google out. They understand relevancy and adaptability, arguably the two most important strategies for success online.  More to come..

Below is my interview with Joan Verdon of The Record.

PR firm places its chips on the Web
Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Abe Kasbo doesn’t worry about having a modest workplace. In 2008, he says, businesses should be a lot more worried about the impression they create in cyberspace than in their workplace.

Kasbo, 38, runs Verasoni Worldwide, a marketing strategy and public relations firm, out of a small second-floor walkup office on Main Street in Little Falls. His company has seen big growth in the four years since it was created, reaching $1.8 million in billings this year, with more than 60 clients.

His background helps him deal with many types of clients, and provides cutting-edge advice on Internet strategies.He’s worked on Wall Street, as well as been an Internet communications consultant, the marketing director at St. Joseph’s and Mountainside hospitals, and a part-time basketball coach at three North Jersey colleges.He also is financing and producing “The Arab-American Experience,” a film featuring famous Arab-Americans such as Ralph Nader and Helen Thomas.

Kasbo spoke with The Record about marketing for the new millennium, social networking, and how being his own boss lets him skip shaving on Tuesdays and Thursdays. (Interview edited and condensed for space.)

Q. You grew up in Paterson?

I was born in Aleppo, Syria. We came here in 1980, when I was 10.

Q. Did you speak any English?I spoke French and Arabic. I had to learn English in three months, because people thought I was from Iran, so I got beat up almost every day. As soon as I started hitting some jump shots and hitting some home runs, kids thought I was cool. And so I used sports as kind of a currency to get in with everyone.

Q. Had you played sports in Syria?

In Syria, they wouldn’t let me play basketball, for some reason. I was a pingpong prodigy. So when I came here, I was determined to play basketball. And I had the opportunity to play basketball and baseball and do whatever the hell I wanted, which is really a metaphor for coming to America.

Q. You started Verasoni in 2004. Right after your twins were born?

Yes. It was a great time to quit a secure, well-paying job to start a business, right after your twins were born.

Q. Do you remember who your first client was?

Sure. New Jersey Plastic Surgery really needed to brand the practice, increase its public relations and drive down its marketing budget. And we were very successful in that project. So from that one medical practice, we’ve done work for Fortune 500 companies, we’ve done work for Canadian companies, and from this modest office, we’ve got clients all over the country.

Q. Where did the name Verasoni come from?

My wife is Italian, and vero in Italian means “true,” so that is a word we use between us. And then Sofia and Nicolas are the twins, so I’ve basically incorporated my whole family in the business.

Q. From your Web site, it looks like a lot of the work you do is Web development.

A lot of the work we do is Internet-based, but it is not totally Web development. We basically are your marketing and strategy provocateurs. Because there is a lot of money wasted on various media. That’s why I wanted to start the business. Integration of marketing and public relations is huge. And if it’s done right, businesses can increase their marketing footprint and drive down their marketing cost. We believe we’re a pretty good player in that space.

Q. How do you help your clients develop a marketing strategy?

We’re always going to start with the Web, because the Web is the only dynamic medium on this planet that continues to change, and is driven by the people who are actually controlling the search. Then we figure out what other media you need to be on – for example, do you need to be on TV? But if you do the TV before you do the Web, you’ve got a behavioral problem. If someone sees you on TV, they’ll look for your Web site. So your Web world better be straight. Everything else is always going to come back to it or bounce off of it.

Q. Most of the people running your client companies probably are in the baby-boomer generation. Do you find they still want more traditional PR, like magazine articles, than Web hits?

Yes. And it’s actually my pleasure to help convert them. Because the power of the Web is amazing.Think about it: I’m sitting in my house or at work, and I think about a subject and I type it in and I get what I want. What we tell our clients is, you are no longer in control of your brand. The consumer for the most part is the player, so you have to speak directly to the consumer, or whoever you are trying to reach. What I like to say is, if the Internet is a game changer, then we are the game changer. You’ve got somebody who’s a game changer on your side.

Q. How do you do social networking for a client?

We have a major hotel as a client, The Madison Hotel, and they also own Rod’s, the restaurant. We re-launched a brand new beautiful Web site for them, and we set up a profile for them on Facebook. Then we started setting up events for them. For Valentine’s Day, we put up a package that included dinner and a hotel stay, and everybody in our group then saw the event. And there are about 450 members in our group.

Q. People who gave them their e-mail address?

No. Once you set up on Facebook, I will invite you to become a friend.

Q. So how did you get the 450 friends for Rod’s?

Ah – that’s the trick. If I tell you, I have to kill you.

Q. Can you see ahead what the next Facebook will be? Because that’s the problem with the Internet. How do you know what the next Facebook is?Internet development is at its infancy. So what I can foresee in the future is perhaps a combination of Facebook, eBay, Google and Second Life all coming together, so your entire world is coming through either on a big screen at home or on your mobile home.

Q. I’m not even sure what Second Life is. Is it a game?

It’s not a game; it is real and it is dollars. BMW, for example, has set up space. You can actually go see a virtual car dealership on Second Life. NPR just built 16,000 square feet of space on Second Life.

Q. Are any of your clients building space on Second Life?

Right now we are working on building our Verasoni space. We are trying to figure out how to best position us.But we have done some unofficial things with a local university about positioning them on Second Life.

Exec Access appears Wednesdays in The Record. E-mail:

By Abe Kasbo

Well this post has been a long time coming.  While the internet has sent the marketing communications world in one direction, it seems businesses are still looking around, wondering what to make of it and how to leverage it?  I’m not talking Coke, Sony, Pfizer, McDonald’s, AFLAC, or Fidelity.  I’m talking about businesses whose revenues may range from $5 million to let’s say a couple of billion in annual revenues, from banks, financial advisors, to small publishing houses, retail, manufacturers, and especially healthcare providers like hospitals and medical practices.  You may be thinking, “you’re joking…in this day and age?” I am very serious.

Just look around you, look online, look off line and anyone with an analytic eye (only one eye will do) can see the challenges for businesses around marketing and the web.Here’s the problem – it’s a behavior issue.  It seems that businesses who have had success with certain media tend to stay with  it regardless of the state of that media in the market place.  Staying with what works is fine, but you could be overpaying in one medium and loosing strategic opportunities in an another.  For example, we all know that newspaper advertising is down, and rates keep going up. Looking at history, we know that when radio became popular in the early 20th century, everyone called for the downfall of newspapers. Didn’t happen. TV came along, and the death of radio was loud.  Didn’t happen. And the internet is here and everyone is calling for the heads of newspapers, radio and TV. Probably – and yes I am hedging here – not going to happen. If believe that your business has been getting great results from your existing media mix, review and verify.  Look at the cost per effective impression and results.  Try to get a better gage on what your media is delivering.  Are you in a medium because that’s where most of your target audience is now?  Or are you there because you may think it makes sense because it’s worked in the past?  The old financial services statement, “past performance is not indicative of future results” applies here.  Run the numbers. 

This is not the time to put your marketing plan on cruise control, it’s too important for your competitive advantage.  We’ve got a week consumer market, a downward spiral of business to business sales and in this case, my belief is that the smartest, most strategic businesses will do OK now, and come out ahead when it’s all over.  All of this means that businesses must continuously understand the media market and it’s influence – positive or negative. Sounds fundamental, but there is so much turmoil in the media markets that is worth while taking time to understand them or engaging outside counsel with expertise…don’t hire people who are going to sell you stuff, hire a firm who will explain the current rocky media landscape and your business can best leverage it for the next 18 months.  Build your communications plan on that, and incorporate it into your marketing plan.   

Just a refresher of the Peterson Model of online audience engagement. Your site’s usability is the foremost issue, so usability (and a couple of other simple elements) is the road to a transforming your site into an experience…

Check out what by Kevin Mannion had to say about usability in his column on Thursday, July 24, 2008 in Online Publishing Insider:

1. Click Depth: Do users know your wonderful content is there in the first place? Do they know how to easily find it?

2. Loyalty: Does the overall experience generate a strong desire to return often?

3. Interactivity: What makes your users passionate enough to generate content, post comments, forward content to friends or colleagues?

How does your site measure against these standards?

Today, I am starting a new series of interviews with some of the leading business minds in the nation. Today’s interview is with Jim Barrood, Executive Director of Fairleigh Dickenson University’s Rothman Institute of Entrepreneurial Studies.

AK - Jim, you’ve interviewed some of the world’s most successful CEOs and entrepreneurs, can you identify for us 3 common elements that these folks share?

JB – Determination and passion to follow through, whether in a new venture, difficult economic periods, merger, it’s about execution. 2. Building a team of loyal and smarter people than you are who can be trusted with implementing your plan / vision. 3. Ability to lead and motivate people via strong relationships.

AK – With regard to business growth and the current state of the economy, what are you seeing right now in terms of how businesses are faring?

JB – In general the picture is grim. We are amidst a perfect storm of negative factors ranging from high energy prices, higher costs, depressed real estate, rising foreclosures, stock market turbulence, lower net worth, higher debt and thus lower consumer confidence, resulting in economic insecurity and less spending by consumers and businesses alike, resulting in a domino effect that is slowing the economy. Everyone is tightening his belts. However, it is important to note that some sectors are faring well, like those relating to the energy sector and to a lesser degree healthcare; exporting companies are also seeing increased opportunity with the devalued dollar.

AK – With the fragmentation of media and with respect to advertising, how are businesses leveraging new communications models to grow market share?

JB – Most are not investing as they should in new media. Granted companies must be willing to take a few limited risks and engage in trial and error experimentation. As the economy continues its downward spiral, I expect more small companies to dedicate the time, if not much money, to try to leverage the marketing opportunities in this sector because it’s important to stay out in front of your customers and markets during times like this. Customers will remember that when the economic climate turns and will likely choose you over the competition, if your competitor chooses to be out of the market during this time.

AK – Where does innovation fit in this equation?

JB – Companies will need to continue to invest in innovation efforts to introduce new products and services to stay ahead of the global competition as well as a way to cut costs on their back end operations. Marketing and public relations is undergoing a radical change due to the internet, and many businesses will need to figure out how to innovate in this space or risk loosing market share.

AK – Let’s talk marketing in specifics here. What can businesses do to stay relevant and perhaps increase market share in a slowing economy?

JB – Take this opportunity to better understand your customer needs and see what else you can offer them in the way of new products and services. Also, investigate if there are other avenues of reaching your market. If you can diversify your offerings to target an under served market or leverage your brand, reputation, etc. to upsell or cross sell your current customers, that may ultimately be a successful strategy and yield more revenues in the short term and contribute to significant long term growth. Also, study your marketing efforts and see what is truly working; modify your plan and invest in what is working best.

AK – What business book are you reading right now?

JB – The Execution Premium by Kaplan and Norton