No Famous Marketers section would be complete without mentioning Steve Case. A traditional marketer who cut his teeth at Pizza Hut and P&G, Case was born in that perfect swirl of time pointed out in Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers.  A late Boomer, born in 1958, Case is 3 years younger than Bill Gates and Steve Jobs.  As his career reached a point where he had authority, Case plunged forward as his contemporaries did and disrupted an entire industry.

Steve Case testifying before a Senate Health Committee in 2008

There can be arguments forever about who invented the Internet, but few can argue about the identity of the person who brought widespread Internet access to the American consumer.  Case’s innovations at the nascent Quantum Computer Services are legendary.

Riding herd over a network of dedicated hobbyists using Commodore computers in the mid 1980s, Case’s pushed online chats, streaming music (albeit 3 voice music more rudimentary than greeting cards sold today) and the concept of consumers paying extra for premium content. Quantum, known to devotees as Q-Link, quickly blossomed into Apple and PC specific platforms.  (Disclosure:  I was an early contractor at Quantum and later received a job offer to manage a segment of the Apple platform).

Tying the brands together into a single entity, Case created America Online, a behemoth that was serving 25 million subscribers by the new century’s celebration.  The company’s ubiquitous trial CDs become late night comedian fodder and filled many trash bins. Having conquered online access, Case took on Wall Street and created a massive entertainment and information company when AOL merged with Time Warner.

The vision was simplicity:  the content from Time Warner’s vast collection of movies, music, news and television would flow across the growing Internet to AOL subscribers.  Through financial engineering, Case’s AOL managed to own more of the much larger Time Warner. Unfortunately for Case and the new company’s shareholders, AOL was one of the poster children of the Internet bubble, and the balance sheets soon took a write-off approaching $100 billion.  Case was ousted from his role, and in 2009, AOL was finally poised to break free and spin off as its own organization once again.

But Case had a third act up his sleeve — one that was revolutionary.  Using his own funds as seed money,  Casey founded an incubator that created offerings in health, finance and invested in prominent social media companies.    From an initial investment of $100 million in personal funds, Case began rolling up small companies into something larger, much like the $160 plus billion dollar deal he once made for Time Warner. The result, as he turned 50 years old in late 2009?   Seeing AOL leave the Time Warner fold with a capitalization expected to be several billion and the announcement in November of 2009 that American Express would buy Revolution Money, the company’s finance offering, for $300 million

Felix Hernandez at Yankee Stadium on May 5, 20...
Felix Hernandez in 2008.   Image via Wikipedia

Hire oddball talent, observed Tom Peters in his heyday as Guru du Jour.  He was telling business leaders to look beyond pedigree, beyond the right schools or consultancies and devel0p staff that had the skills and drive to succeed.

Credit the Seattle Mariners for doing just that with Felix Hernandez, their baby-faced Venezuelan pitcher who first started playing for them while a teenager.  Baseball history is littered with the remnants of Cooperstown busts created too early for teen phenoms, but the Mariners stuck by their man. And Felix Hernandez was consistently on the brink of greatness. Each season, as he crossed into his early 20s, the young man they call “King Felix” pitched between 190 and 200 innings of major league baseball.   Each year, he struck out between 165 and 176 batters.   But he never had a winning season.  All the signs pointed to one, but for four years, Hernandez consistently lost more games than he won.

Credit the Mariners then, not for seeing what everyone else saw in those flashes of brilliance, but for sticking by their guy.   They didn’t overpay for what was delivered, but did boost his salary more than $100,000 in 2008, a sign that they liked what they saw. Then the breakthrough. Felix Hernandez led or was near the top rank in every major pitching category he qualified for during 2009.  He was selected as an All-Star.  He won 19 games, losing only 5, and stepped up his pitching from “lots of potential” to “brilliant”.  Handled the ball every 5 days from May 8 to the end of the season, a span of 26 games, Hernandez consistently threw 100 pitches and deep into the game, allowing the bullpen to rest.  The team’s pitching workhorse did all this for a team that won slightly more games than they lost.

ESPN has a fun tool called the Cy Young Predictor.    The model uses a formula crafted by two highly respected statisticians and predicts the winner of each league’s Cy Young Award, given to that season’s best pitcher.   The model awards Hernandez the most points in either league, and the closest competitor in his league trails by more than 7%. Assuming the model and pundits are correct, Felix Hernandez will receive a Cy Young Award this month at the age 0f 23.

That outcome wasn’t always expected, even during this year.  Hernandez reeled off four straight victories and then lost three straight games.   His career won and loss record stood at 43-39, respectable and average.  Then Hernandez  went the rest of year winning 15 games and losing only 2. In any occupation, from baseball pitching to marketing to practicing law or medicine to painting, we all have opportunities to show our potential.  The smart leader that recognizes and nurtures potential among quirky talent, even a teen phenom who hadn’t yet developed, can be rewarded many times over for patience and guidance. One year doesn’t make a career in any of those occupations, but credit the Seattle Mariners for realizing the talent they had on board needed time to develop.

Most people working in the online marketing world have known the truth about Google‘s infamous PageRank scoring for several years:  it didn’t work, it wasn’t terribly accurate and attempting to classify the billions of pages on the web into 10 clusters was just plain silly.

PageRank was named after Larry Page, one of the two Google co-founders.  The company included the score on its web toolbar so that someone surfing from one site to another could see that they had moved from a PageRank (PR) 4 location to a PR 3 location. That meant nothing to anyone, of course, and PageRank grew more meaningless over time.  It grew so meaningless that Google removed the metric from its Webmaster Tools section this week. Googler Susan Moskwa posted about PageRank in an official Google forum Wednesday:

“We’ve been telling people for a long time that they shouldn’t focus on PageRank so much; many site owners seem to think it’s the most important metric for them to track, which is simply not true. We removed it because we felt it was silly to tell people not to think about it, but then to show them the data, implying that they should look at it.”

What Susan didn’t unfortunately comment on was that Google’s toolbar that many non-marketing users have access to still includes PageRank.   Those numbers haven’t matched up with “real” PageRank in years, and the marketing community has differentiated between the two for years by referring to the latter as “toolbar PR”.

PageRank is not a meaningful metric, and you should immediately stop using it in any context.  If your marketing agency refers to PageRank as a metric, you should fire them just for being dunderheads who are out of touch with the marketplace.

This underscores a big issue.   Just because you know a piece of data doesn’t mean that you have the context, training or skills to interpret that data.  My doctor sent me an electronic medical record on CD with all my tests from my last physical.  Not having gone to medical school (sorry, Mom), I have no idea what the numbers mean, but I’m sure that some web site somewhere will convince me I can read the chart.  For my sanity, I think I’ll let the medical folks worry about that data while I explain to them that they can stop worrying about PageRank. Now if only Amazon would admit that Alexa’s data is easily manipulated garbage, we would could really start cleaning up.