MI Roundup: Sandberg, U-M Mobility Center, Detroit Trends
Here’s a look at some of the news from around southeast Michigan’s innovation community that you may have missed:
—Facebook COO and bestselling author Sheryl Sandberg was in town last week to talk marketing strategies at a meeting of the Adcraft Club in Troy, MI. The informal theme of the presentation was Detroit’s importance in international marketing and advertising. Sandberg said the number one question asked on Facebook concerns the meaning of life, but the number two question is, “What should I buy?” That presents a huge opportunity to Detroit and the auto industry, she said, because there’s an unprecedented ability to personalize advertising and reach people through their smartphones.
Something else has changed that is key to Detroit advertisers, she said: We’re putting our true identities online. In the Internet’s infancy in the 1990s, the Web was a big, anonymous platform. Now, we’re voluntarily sharing an unbelievable amount of personal data, all there to be mined by the savvy marketer. The result is that consumers want things on demand: “We believe we should get what we want when we want it, and we want it personalized.”
Facebook’s goal, she said, is to bring personalized marketing to everyone. “The partnership between Facebook and the automotive industry is interesting, because each has very different cultures,” she pointed out. “At Facebook, we think in 3 to 6-month cycles. One of our mottoes is move fast and break things.” Of course, the automotive industry would be litigated out of existence if it adopted that motto, but Sandberg said one thing the car companies can learn from is Facebook’s “ability to make the world smaller,” with 1 billion people each day logging onto the platform worldwide. “Car sales are a great bell-weather for how the economy is doing,” she added. “We see how this industry has transformed the United States and continues to be a source of innovation and marketing brilliance.”
—Elsewhere in the auto industry, the University of Michigan’s Mobility Transformation Center announced this week that Ford has joined the center as one of its industry partners. (Bosch, General Motors, Econolite, Toyota, and Xerox are the others.) The project’s partners met this week for the center’s groundbreaking ceremony in Ann Arbor. Located on 32 acres of the university’s North Campus Research Complex, the off-road test site is being built to lay the foundation for a commercially viable system of automated and connected vehicles that can communicate with one another wirelessly. Industry partners have committed to providing $1 million each to support the center and its programs over three years.
—Good news: Business Leaders for Michigan released a statewide survey this week that reported that more than 87 percent of Michigan voters believe that revitalizing Detroit is important to the state’s overall economy. The survey further broke down the numbers: 78 percent of Democrats and 51 percent of Republicans said revitalizing Detroit was “very important,” with voters in the counties immediately bordering the city expressing the highest numbers of support. (As has long been the case, voters in West Michigan were the least supportive of revitalizing Detroit.) A whopping 70 percent of voters ages 18 to 29 said Detroit was very important to the state’s economy, which adds credence to the idea that younger generations aren’t as burdened with negative feelings about Detroit as their parents and grandparents. The survey also showed that 66 percent of voters support a 20-year, $350-million state matching-fund proposal as part of an overall deal to protect the pension benefits of city workers and to preserve the Detroit Institute of Arts’ collection.
—Bad news: The personal finance social network WalletHub released a report this week that looked at the best and worst cities to start a career. According to the report’s metrics, Detroit (the city, not the metropolitan area) was ranked the sixth worst place to start a career, beating only Akron, OH; San Bernardino, Stockton, and Modesto, CA; and Port St. Lucie, FL. The report looked at quality of life issues like the cost of rent, “mating opportunities,” and arts establishments in addition to professional stats like average annual salary, number of entry-level jobs, and diversity in the workplace. Given Detroit’s unemployment rate and municipal woes, the report’s findings aren’t terribly surprising—it’s a good reminder that we still have work to do.