11 December 2009
10 December 2009
07 December 2009
03 December 2009
30 November 2009
27 November 2009
25 November 2009
Wow! Now that's a bundle of benefit. Or is it? Clearly, both bits of functionality are valuable, useful, and greatly desired by users. And yet, upon reading news of these introductions, all I could think was, "Really? Is that it?"
I've commented on the Kindle previously, and this new set of improvements left me once again feeling that the product is just plain clunky in several regards. It's not as utilitarian as a smart phone, not as productive as a laptop, and it still doesn't beat a good old-fashioned book in the hand for sensory experience. My phone and my laptop already allow me to view PDF documents, and what's more, they let me do it in bright, vibrant color. I can snip bits of copy or images and incorporate the content into other files, etc.
The Kindle is ideal for long trips, when schlepping a stack of books along is inconvenient and unwieldy. In these cases, I could see the PDF function providing access to reading material that isn't available for the Kindle, but really, it still seems an inferior experience overall.
Now, when is that Apple tablet device coming to market?
19 November 2009
During the 45 minutes or so that it took me to remove the goo from her pajamas, I had time to reflect on a conversation with my friend David from several years back. I'd made the mistake of mentioning I wanted our company's website to be "stickier", and David took me to task. In a moment of righteous indignation, he proceeded to point out the multitude of flaws inherent in this term.
Boiling down David's argument is easy. "Sticky" means "stuck". "Engaging", on the other hand, means "delighted to be here". I loved being put in my place on this point, and I frequently ask myself the resulting question when contemplating changes to the user experience of a website or product: "Are we engaging our users or just making it harder to get away?"
Which brings me back to Silly Putty... Roll it in a ball, and it bounces. Press it on newsprint, and it pulls off a nice duplication of the image. It's tactile, flexible, stretchy, and resilient. In short, it's delightfully engaging!
So, what's the lesson of the putty? Don't trap your users, engage them. And maybe also keep in mind that even the most delightful of features can, in the wrong circumstance, become a gooey mess. In those moments, just be prepared to clean things up lickety-split!
13 November 2009
Let's face it, Google is both formidable and ambitious. This first effort with the Chrome OS is likely to problematic, disappointing in some ways, and limited in initial impact. What I'm looking to assess is how much did Google get right from the git-go. This initial launch is just the first round of what could turn out to be an epic 15-round battle between two true heavyweights.
11 November 2009
The puppy is more of a squirrel-like creature with sharp pointy teeth. It bites. It bites everything. It is not discerning about what it bites as long as it can bite. It bites my son's feet and he flies to the top of a table. It’s sound judgment on his part to keep his feet up and out of the way. My daughter shows greater enterprise in her play with the puppy but not as sound judgment as her brother. She has scratches and bites all over her arms to prove her enterprising nature.
Of course, I laughed as I read the description, but then I thought of something. This story is a pretty good analogy for taking risks in business.
Though risk aversion often appears the safer route in the near term, avoiding painful "scratches and bites," is being overly risk averse conducive to long-term success? I think not. Without a willingness to absorb nicks and cuts in pursuit of greater success, how fruitful can any relationship-building with consumers be? How compelling is the new product that doesn't do something new?
I think the trick is to get to a process that results in, perhaps, "scratches and bites" only rather than deep flesh wounds. Fail fast and fail small is a good solution, and one I recommend in this regard. Got your own thoughts? Chime in!
09 November 2009
Today marks the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, what Germans call “Die Wende” – “The Change” for those not familiar with the language. There are few moments in our lives which rise above the norm, connecting us to something grander in humanity. The instant the Berlin Wall ceased to be a barrier was such an moment.
You know the background, right? Built to keep the masses of the German Democratic Republic from fleeing into the West, the Wall was portrayed to East Germans as a protective barrier against the evils of capitalist aggressors. Uh-huh. Sure. Did anyone truly believe that line? No. They didn’t.
The Wall was a “pragmatic” solution to stem the flow of humanity from an oppressive environment to one of greater opportunity. It imprisoned a people and embodied all that is wrong in a government and society ruled by mistrust. The East German regime mostly took value from its citizenry, rather than providing value to it. That said, a whitewashed historical perspective of the fall of the Wall as “good prevailing over evil” is too simple, too easy to fully portray the nature of this profound moment.
I had the good fortune to build a relationship with the city and the people of Berlin over several years. Having first arrived there in late 1984, I kept returning to this fascinating island of special status embedded in the midst of the German Democratic Republic. Berlin became my second home. It is the only place other than Northern California where I feel completely connected to my surroundings, a colorful thread in the broad, vibrant tapestry of life weaving its way through time.
During the years leading up to November, 1989 I had studied in West Berlin, worked on a construction site in East Berlin, and cultivated enduring friendships on both sides of the Wall. For most of us who grew up in the West, there’s this feeling that folks “on the other side” were oppressed, solemn, and sad. My experiences confounded such stereotypes.
East Germans were, yes, keenly aware of the elements of their government and the threat of its security forces. They were cautious about new acquaintances and openly skeptical of folks who acted too warmly, too quickly. Given the Orwellian aspects of the state apparatus, such skepticism was both warranted and understandable. With time to build trust and a relationship, though, the friendships I established in the East have proven among the strongest and most profound of my life.
And thus, we have set the scene for the events of late 1989. During the autumn of that year, pressure continually mounted within East Germany. As Hungary and Czechoslovakia took cautious steps towards greater openness with West, more and more East Germans manifested their dissatisfaction with their own government… by finding ways to “escape” to the West and by taking to the streets in unprecedented numbers. As the protests mounted in frequency and scale, many worried about violence erupting in an angry government backlash.
The cycle of protest, worry, and discussion, protest, worry, and discussion built on itself. The tension was palpable in West Berlin and positively oozing through the streets of East Berlin. And then, POOF! Tension gone. Exuberance, relief, joy, disbelief, and hope exploded in its place. The Wall - the impenetrable, deadly Wall - transformed into a convoluted concrete gateway, the anachronistic vestige of a rapidly warming Cold War.
To be in the midst of an outpouring of welcome, hope, and love shared by millions simultaneously was awe-inspiring. Life, with its daily nuisances and distractions, stood patiently to one side while History danced in the light for a bit. Complete strangers were welcomed as family at each border crossing. The distinctions between Easterners and Westerners were, at least temporarily, subjugated by elation and celebration.
Twenty years on, the sheen has dulled some, the hope dimmed considerably, but for those of us swept up in the current of that incredible moment of change there is a lingering desire to work towards a better future. We believe, I believe, in the potential of humanity to do good. The darkness of East Germany’s history made the brightness of reconnecting East and West the more bedazzling.
The optimism of that moment changed me and motivates me to this day. Some may call it naïve, but hope drives much that I do… and my hope sprang forth twenty years ago, in a place called Berlin.
04 November 2009
For me, Slow Art also encompasses an observation of context and the reactions elicited from Joe and Jane Public while they view or interact with a piece. Here is the first installment of my thoughts from Slow Art Milwaukee v1.0.
Perhaps not surprisingly, in the Warhol exhibit people congregated, lingered, and engaged most in the gallery displaying Andy’s homage to DaVinci’s “The Last Supper.” Among the largest of all Warhol’s works, there is a figurative familiarity conveyed through his reworking of DaVinci’s famous fresco.
Mounted on opposite walls, juxtaposed purposely, are a screen print of the familiar last supper scene, albeit doubled and vibrant in black monochrome rendering on a bright yellow canvas, and a Warhol line-drawn rendering, black tracings on a white canvas, overlain with logos from Dove and GE plus a 59¢ price violator. The effect is remarkable, in its devotional aspects to DaVinci’s masterpiece and the modern contextual commentary on the role of religion and corporate iconography.
This was, it turned out, Warhol’s final project, and it is a fitting culmination to the career of someone who so frequently reflected simple, everyday images back at society, challenging us by – perhaps appropriately – elevating the mundane to “art” (Campbell’s Soup can) and reducing the famous to merely “image” (Marilyn Monroe). These last couple works reveal Warhol’s faith and dialog with his faith, and maybe, just maybe, reveal a bit of the inspiration behind his earlier, simpler work.
Please, feel free to comment and by all means, take Slow Art to heart. Savor the creative endeavors of humanity; you’ll be delighted by the experience!
16 October 2009
Until now, apps were either free or paid. The new policy allows, say, a publisher to provide a free version of its content, with integrated options to access premium, pay-to-access content or utility. This model has performed well online for a variety of services... LinkedIn comes to mind as a good example.
The idea of in-app commerce for the iPhone, though, was until now only kosher to the Apple powers on high if the app charged up-front. Under the new rules, though, content providers can give away the app and sell stuff later from within it. This free-now-pay-later model could, and will, be applied by newspapers looking for new revenue streams. It might also be an avenue for monetization and consumption of other content, too.
One new idea? How about a digital video service? Blog commentary, reviews, entertainment news & gossip, short clips, and even some short or older feature length films could be available free, with click thru to rental or purchase of recent releases or premium content. The same could be done for music.
To add some spice to the ideation, what about using crowd-sourcing and user feedback to determine prices in an open commodity exchange valuing the particular content? This idea could provide impetus to try stuff early, when cheap. Heck, the best of the bunch might even enjoy rapid word of mouth awareness builds as folks clue in friends to great and still inexpensive films and tunes.
Which brings us to the subject of the Kindle. Anybody out there, even the most die-hard Kindlefreak, imagine that it can enable the kind of interactive experience a scaled up, iPhone-on-steroids Apple tablet could? Didn't think so. The two devices will remain distinct, in price and in functionality. Apple's new thing will probably out-do the Kindle at its own game - books, magazines, newspapers - but users will pay three times the price to get the experience. For folks who simply want to read, Kindles might be hunky-dory fine. But, for more fun, more sizzle, more pizzazz, Apple will likely entice a good number of potential Kindle customers to trade up.
Time will tell how this plays out. Microsoft is working on new tablet products, too. And, of course, the publishers of the world are all hoping someone creates a viable hardware foundation for consumption of their content... Preferably before the newspapers of the world are all bankrupt!
14 October 2009
There's no mistaking that Apple's iPhone is still a highly coveted device, but the hordes of Crackberry fans have given their device of choice remarkable staying power. And, if the new ad campaign from RIM succeeds, maybe just maybe consumers may actually think the firm's devices are cool.
21 September 2009
18 September 2009
In the case of City Market (my source for chocolate croissants), I found a nice handmade sign displaying options for new cup sleeves with a request that folks vote. Where was the sign? Appropriately, placed in the junk-up-your-coffee station above the flatware, so nearly every coffee-drinking denizen would have the chance to weigh in. What a great, low-tech, high engagement way to keep customers involved in the evolution of the brand!
At Berkeley's - where I highly recommend the polenta mosaic for dinner followed by warm donuts for dessert - the proprietors have started building a community via SMS text messaging. Nothing new, per se, but appreciated nonetheless. Not that I'm not already loyal to the place, but the texts do keep the restaurant top of mind for the inevitable "hmmm, do I really want to cook?" evenings.
Got any favorite examples of Local/Social activation you'd like to share? Let us know... And if your examples include chocolate croissants or warm donuts, I'm happy to coordinate on-site research!
15 September 2009
14 September 2009
10 September 2009
07 September 2009
I don't own Guitar Hero. Although I'm disinclined to say I never will, it's gonna be a while before I do buy a version of the game or its rival, Rock Band... Though the prospect of The Beatles Rock Band launch is mighty enticing.
Why my resistance? Let me play back a dialog with my now 18-year-old back in the halcyon days of his 17-year-old youth:
"Why don't we have Guitar Hero?"
"Why would we want that?"
"Because it's so cool... I mean you get to play all these great songs."
"But, I'm already a real guitar hero. I play guitar."
"Maybe you could try playing the guitar I gave you instead of a fake guitar with buttons?" (said with utmost care and love)
Honestly, I'd rather plow my way through a difficult chord progression on the six-stringed axe of rock than push the buttons on a mini fauxtar any day. But -- and here's the dirty little secret -- I do enjoy playing Guitar Hero. It is fun. And... it allows me to rock on with friends, many friends, in a way that actual guitars just don't allow.
Playing guitar has been, and will continue to be, a statement of sorts. It says, "Hey, I am this cool. I put in the effort to guarantee it." Pulling out a guitar, for all it's party-time fun, is an exercise in socially separating the wheat from the chaff. There are those who can play and those can not. Some perform, others only watch.
Guitar Hero and Rock Star magically demolish the distinction between players and spectators. The games are great levelers of talent. Any guitar player will tell you, the particular buttons pushed at any point in a video game rendition of a tune are simply representations of actually playing the song.
Insidiously and enticingly, the particular renditions must be mastered on their own merits. I play guitar, and I am bad at Guitar Hero. I am not alone. And yet, on the occasions I've played the game, it's been an absolute blast to stink it up alongside non-musical friends with mad skills in the game. Wahoo! Everybody plays. Everybody laughs. Everybody rocks.
Maybe the real reason I resist buying a copy is the threat to my cool-dad image once my eldest crushes me in a duel of fake guitars. Perhaps a secret acquisition and weeks of practice could solve this dilemma...
03 September 2009
01 September 2009
This is the story of my granny, a hawk, and the fine art of settling a debate.
Who is this Granny character? She’s a chatty, charming octogenarian. She grew up on a farm (referred to as “The Ranch” in our family history), was a professional woman, and is now savoring the later years of her life from a lovely little country house in northern Sonoma County, California.
Granny’s experienced change of massive proportions during her lifetime: the discovery of the polio vaccine, the growth of television as a mass medium, cellular communications, and the rise of the internet. She takes each shift in stride, essentially making change itself a comfortable aspect of her life.
When she started using a fax machine in her home office, it was with an appreciation of the utility and convenience the device provided. My grandfather, on the other hand, initially resisted using original documents in the fax. He thought it borrowed technology from the Star Trek transporter, whisking the actual document off to distant locales via technology too advanced for the lay person to comprehend. Granny set him straight.
So we get to the heart of this story. Not too long ago, a hawk took up residence near Granny’s, patrolling the pasture for tasty rodent treats. Nobody could dispute its presence due to the piercing calls it made, though a debate raged over which kind of hawk this might be: red-tailed, red-shouldered, or something more esoteric? Granny knew, but others – all younger than she – insisted she was wrong, questioned her eyesight, and so forth. Such conversation has long been a staple in country kitchens, so folks settled in to haggle their way to an answer.
Never one to concede easily, Granny left the swirl of debate in the kitchen and quietly stepped into the adjacent home office. Seated in front of her handy iMac, she did a quick search on “red shouldered hawk call”, clicked through to the first search result, and played the sound file. Talking stopped in the kitchen as people wondered where the hawk was that it sounded so close… There was no question about it being the hawk in question.
Granny emerged from the office, grinning and content. Debate settled. Red shouldered hawk. Score one for the old lady and her technology.
I like the idea of embracing change, and I think of my granny when I find myself resisting it. I love that she figured out a foolproof way to support her claim, by switching the “defining sense” of identification from sight to hearing and using the internet to drive home her argument. I just hope I’m up to her standard when it comes to incorporating the utility and value new technology provides!
31 August 2009
Seriously, though, this is a marriage of two mega-franchises, and it definitely fills a gap for Disney. My question: Do they modify the current theme parks or build a new one that's young-guy-centric and so chock full of adrenaline that parents check their teens in, but never enter themselves?
24 August 2009
Although details are lacking, I'd lay some pretty good odds this puppy is gonna be ideally suited for video watching, easy to use, and loaded with flash memory for instant-on action. Think Amazon Kindle for video or iPod touch on steroids... With better usability and a killer aesthetic.
I'm luke warm on the Kindle, and I've actually never been other than a business admirer of Apple, but the thought of a big, touch-screen, tablet-esque computer/media player has me a little giggly with anticipation.
Of course, I could be way, way off here, but it's fun to contemplate, no?
17 August 2009
While chomping on the last pieces of pizza, my dear friend asked me whether she was wasting money by backing up her digital photos on to DVDs, "I mean, c'mon, they'll be obsolete eventually." I reassured her by replying, "It's ok. Look, I've still got two working VCRs in my house." She laughed because she also has two VCRs in operation to this day.
Which gets me to a bigger question: I wonder how long technology transitions truly take. It seems we measure by varying means. First, there's the hullabaloo in the press about the next big thing. Some time later, sales actually flip from the old to the new. Finally, and perhaps not so well tracked, people actually stop using the old. But this final step takes a good long while in many categories.
Looking forward into digital film delivery, it seems we're in for a massive switch in how movies are distributed to consumers over the next several years. Clear consensus exists on this point, although the timing question is being hotly debated. I wonder, however, how long DVDs will still be a handy option for the majority of consumers. Seems like it'll take a while, especially given my pizza time conversation tonight. What do you think?
14 August 2009
The World Famous Hamburger Ranch and Pasta Farm is, quite literally, at the top of the hill in Cloverdale, California. It's at the northern end of the northernmost town of Sonoma County in California's wine country.
I remember the place from way back when, before it served best-in-the-county barbeque and drool-evoking burgers of delight. This little gem of a local eatery is also a pretty good guide on how to leverage word of mouth. How do they do it? Here's how...
Step one: Start with fabulous user experience. In this case, truly tasty vittels and a staff of friendly, engaging folk. The food doesn't disappoint, and the people in the place don't, either. They are chatty, witty, and here's what you wouldn't expect... They're intriguing. Stories of childhoods in far away lands spring up. Conversation about pulled pork sandwiches can lead to the secret of good matzo ball soup. So, fabulous user experience.
Step two: Add postcards. Yes, postcards. Mention you enjoyed the food or the experience and a server will hand you a postcard. It's not for you to send to someone else. It's for you to send to the restaurant. From home. Wherever that is. Truly.
Step three: Sit back, and let the talking take effect.
How do these three little steps conspire to positive effect? Well, it's never bad to delight customers, and believe me the Hamburger Ranch excels in this regard. A great user experience is a terrific catalyst of positive word of mouth.
The postcards are turbo boosters. They are walk-away-but-remember-us reminders to customers of just how fun that place at the top of the hill is. And, spurring the immediate reminiscences causes further conversation among folks later, like when bags are unpacked at the end of a trip. "Hey, guess what I found in our luggage? That postcard from the Hamburger Ranch."
Hold it right here for a second, because there may not be another step in the process. Everything could end here, but for the Hamburger Ranchers, it's still good. Think of the luggage unpacking moment as a further brand impression, reinforcing the great customer experience with a fun little memory of it. Memories spur intentions for future purchase occasions. That next trip to Sonoma County for wine tasting might just mean "we better get back to the Ranch on this trip."
But wait, there's more! The postcards are cute, too. They generate talk value with others. They make for great stories. Have you ever been handed a postcard and asked to send it back from home? Aside from subscriptions to magazines, it's a rare occurence. In this case, it feels like sending a gift to a friend. The postcards turn into mini art projects. And what's more, they lead to positive recommendations to friends. The Ranch becomes a destination even for people who are first time visitors to the area.
Further, when you're at the Ranch, chowing down on choice BBQ, you can check out the walls of the place. They are covered with postcards from all corners of the globe, reinforcing the otherwise preposterous notion that yes, sweety, this place is world famous.
It's a simple recipe, yet it yields success. In a small town where restaurants have struggled to survive, the World Famous Hamburger Ranch and Pasta Farm has thrived by building on a great customer experience with a simple, effective plan to grow brand equity and loyalty over time.
11 August 2009
Pricing is a crucial and often ignored aspect of optimizing returns on marketing efforts. Let us not forget, though, that it's money we take to the bank... Not brand equity. Not cool online interactivity. Not awards for slick ads. At the end of the day, it's all about aggregating myriad consumer decisions that this or that particular product or service provides value at or above the price being asked.
You'll note, I'm not talking margin on top of cost here. To me, product cost is a variable to be managed to hit the price consumers will pay for what's on offer. Cost-plus pricing is risky pricing. It may deliver nice looking margin percentages, but can lead to asking prices that severely undermine effectiveness in-market.
So, when exactly was the last serious consideration of price for your product or service? Is it too high? Too low? Is it competitive with other similar services on offer? Is it a delight for consumers of your product because you're delivering killer value? Is it leaving enough room for resellers to make a profit and still keep the end-price to consumers compelling?
There are many, many variables to pricing, and managing pricing well involves as much diplomacy as it does financial savvy. Often, pricing discussions arouse emotional responses or knee-jerk reactions from executives, retailers, and consumers themselves. It's crucial, however, to raise the topic with appropriate frequency. Why, you ask? Imagine waking up one morning to discover your competitor has undermined your price, or to learn that retailers are removing your products from shelves because they can't make enough margin to be profitable and still meet the needs of their customers.
Managed well, however, pricing can be a serious strategic weapon, delighting customers and consumers while delivering profits for your business. It's a tough task, because leaving money on the table can starve a business just as overpricing can expose it to competitive market share incursions. Take the time, though. It's worth it!
09 August 2009
- Somewhat surprisingly, the corporate sponsorships display a relatively light touch. I mean, yes, there is prominent signage on the stages, but I've not been confronted by action teams sampling things around every corner. It appears a comfortable balance has been struck. I can recall a number of sponsors off the top of my head: Budweiser, Sony PlayStation, Citi, and vitaminwater. Am I persuaded to use any of them more? No. But I recall them.
- The one sample I did receive was for a peach-flavored iced tea beverage... Do I recall it's name? No. Did I like it? No. It was way, way too sweet. Think sugar cubes infused with a slight peachy tea flavor and somehow liquified. Blech!
- The Bud sponsorship does limit beer options, and I drink beer. Normally, I won't touch an Anheuser-Busch product. C'mon, folks, I live in Millerwaukee! In any case, I did try the lime-flavored Bud Light, and guess what... It tastes like bubbly lime-ade. No bad Bud waterbeer concerns there. Will I buy the stuff regularly? No, but I'd be willing to recommend it to others. Mission partially accomplished, sponsor wonks.
- The music at the show has been stand-up, take-notice good. I've seen a number of strong acts, and Perry Farrell positively delighted me with a groovy move-your-body-to-this-beat set on a small stage in the heated heart of yesterday afternoon. Nobody has held up to the standard set by Lykke Li, though. Wow. A 23-year-old Swedish dynamo with a tight backing band, she lit up the crowd just as the setting Chicago sun lit her show in a golden glow. Get her music. You'll want to dance. You'll want more of it. And you'll want to see her live. Not content to sing, little Miss Li gyrated across the stage to percuss on drum and cymbal, crafted the best use of kazoo in a pop song this decade, and cajoled the crowd. It worked. Well.
- The food has been good. It is reasonably priced. It is yummy. I will eat more of it.
- Ah, and before I forget, if you hate the smell of freshly smoked marijuana, don't go to Lollapalooza. You can't get away from it, whether at the shows or taking a break in the shade of a tree. It's like the fragrance of choice for the event is hemp incense. Not the worst thing, but if mom's still doing your laundry you'll have some explaining to do.
I'm off now. Day three of the 'palooza beckons... Rock on, friends, rock on.
07 August 2009
I like the idea of flux, of times when things are mid-transmogrification, of the moments of opportunity when long-held assumptions crash on the rocks of imagination. It seems to me the idea of abundance spurring "innovative waste" and what's happening with cheap real estate in Detroit are intertwined ideas, and I'm anxious to see what comes of the artistic efforts taking shape in the Motor City.
In addition, I started wondering about different businesses, how "waste" could be fruitful in thinking of them. What benefit might arise from brainstorming along this vein of thought for a stagnated and mature industry? What will happen with all the excess manufacturing capacity in the car industry, for example? What could be done with newsprint and ink now that readership is down for newspapers? Where might all this lead?
Any relevance for your business? Any thoughts on the topic? Please share!
Oh, and back to WIRED's Mr. Anderson... I've started reading his new book FREE and will be commenting on it in future posts. Keep an eye out for them.
04 August 2009
03 August 2009
25 July 2009
My trip? Germany, mostly, with a little France for fun. Was it good? Yes. Once again, I can testify to the rejuvenating quality of getting away from the day-to-day rhythm of life. I put myself on a different pace while away, still busy, but to a different beat. The beat was good. I took time to hike, bike, drive, and think. There was time for silly, time for serious, and much in between. I reconnected with old buddies and got feedback from dear friends. It focused me, and I highly recommend anybody who hasn't taken a vacation recently do so very, very soon!
Part of the focus I got while away manifested itself upon my return. There were things in my "normal" life that were prioritized incorrectly. I am pretty good at assessing importance and urgency, but I'd dedicated too much of my time over the past several weeks to some not so important endeavours. So, though the g-thought and writing in general make the list of "important", my attention over the past week has been on course-corrections.
Course-correcting accomplished, here I am writing again. And, though, this little story is about me, I hope it's relevant for you, too. Whether in personal or business settings, taking a bit of time to challenge assumptions, consider choices, and reprioritize is valuable. All too often, it seems we leave this effort unattended. So, how do your priorities look? Maybe it's time for a vacation, huh?
09 July 2009
Here's where I got to after reading his post: The earth offers each of us one heck of an experience, but it differs profoundly from the retailers, service providers, or other experience suppliers we deal with every day. Where's the contact us link? The 800 number? The customer service agent for earth?
It's us! It's us, or nobody. And, therein lies the rub. This biggest, baddest, all-enveloping customer experience relies to a great degree on us - the users - to infer what's right and wrong with the whole offering. We have to make choices, collectively, about what to do about it, too. As if this challenge isn't significant enough, we probably won't be around to see the outcome of the initiatives we undertake, either.
So the question is, what are we going to do about it? Unlike a grocery store, we can't simply decide "this place is too hot to be comfortable, so I'll shop across the street." Where are we gonna go? Venus? I don't think so.
No, we have to solve this customer experience dilemma without a ready substitute at hand. It's a realtime monopoly, and yet there is the opportunity to influence the path forward. The opportunity is limited for most of us as individuals, but collectively we can exert remarkable influence. This is our co-op. We own the joint.
The choice, ultimately, will play out in a repeating cycle of the coalescence and dissolution of groups of various views, how they haggle with one another, and the consensus reached on a path forward "as of now." Step by step, course-correcting and modifying the path as new insights are gleaned, we will move into the future.
Without espousing a particular viewpoint here (I did that in a comment on The Debatable earlier), I am asking you to have a viewpoint, to express it, and to take what you consider the appropriate action. It may be an activist viewpoint, it may be a concessionary viewpoint, it may be one altogether different. Please have one, share it, act on it. As customer experiences go, this one is a biggy. Let's all be the engaged customers we so value hearing from in our businesses. Let's make a difference.
06 July 2009
In fact, the more likely scenario is that we have little to no idea of all the uses of our product or service. I worked on a shave gel business for a while, and it turns out some folks swore it was the best upholstery cleaner ever, while others got oil spots off their driveway with it. Really.
Many marketers are trained to deliver the "one thing" that's going to matter to users and differentiate from competitors. Reality is, it's the one thing that matters to most users most of the time, except for those folks on the fringe who apply their own creative juices in moments of need to problems we never considered and... Whammo! Shave gel removes oil spots on the driveway. Who'da thunk?
For those attuned to the messages and able to avoid the interference of their own thoughts, these whammo moments are insights coming through the door. Oil spots on the driveway. Wonder how many folks have them? Wonder what other oily stuff this product might clean? Wonder if there's a market for a cleaner of oily stuff that our manufacturing team can produce?
Arm & Hammer Baking Soda makes listening, learning, and applying new uses a key part of its brand viability. Church & Dwight, owners of the Arm & Hammer brand, list seven different consumer product categories on their website, but treat baking soda as a category unto itself. Why? Maybe it's all the various uses presented that make categorization near impossible. This one product is pitched for things as diverse as neutralizing car battery acid, freshening breath, and - of course - keeping fridges odor free. Oh, and don't forget that you can bake with it, too!
So, have you heard any interesting, but off-the-beaten-path commentary from consumers about your product? Maybe it's worth a little further consideration or follow-up. You probably don't have the next Arm & Hammer, but you might find a decent insight... Which is when the fun begins!
03 July 2009
02 July 2009
Navigon, a German supplier of Personal Navigation Devices and other handy gadgets, appears to be first over the line in offering navigational software for the iPhone. It's not cheap, at 75 Euros a pop, but for the gadget greedy it might be just the new toy to wow friends.
The on-going back and forth on convergence of funtionality versus dedicated devices continues to roll along!
30 June 2009
And yet... When does the stack-up of small purchases start to become a noticeable class of expense for consumers? Sure, it's easy to rent a movie for $1 a day or sign up for the $0.99 monthly subscription at a moment's notice. Today, these transactions "work" for consumers largely by being pain free at the time and largely unobtrusive on a credit card statement.
It seems to me that as more companies adopt this model of revenue capture, consumers will evolve, becoming more sensitive. Think of it this way, a piece of candy now and again isn't so bad for one's teeth or waistline, right? But, handfuls of sweets on a daily basis manifest themselves quickly. In the same way, too many microtransactions swells the waistline of any credit card account.
Don't believe me? Keep tabs on your small purchases for a week and tally the total. Or maybe an iTunes addiction already killed your credit limit. Chime in here to share your thoughts, reactions, or stories.
22 June 2009
Take today, Father's Day. Today was a day with the Twinkies, my twins. We started off with a nice brunch (mom helped them with the production, but presentation was custom kid... complete with hand-written "DAD" on my napkin). Then it was off to a minor-league baseball game, followed by dinner and hanging at my brother-in-law's.
Where's the self-empowerment in all that? For starters, here: I didn't stress one iota about rushing through brunch to make the first pitch of the game. Heck, the Twinkies are young, and the blueberry lemon pancakes were yummalicious. Why rush through a savory experience like that? And, with young kids, why panic over punctuality just to swelter in hot, humid conditions. The six innings we did see were great, but even better was teaching the kids how to crack roasted peanuts without losing the nuts and running the bases afterwards with them. In fact, the base-running seemed the most memorable moment for them, and hence, for me.
So, the lesson for marketers? Think of your brand or product as the holiday. Then remember that your users are the ones who truly determine the experience they're gonna have with it. You may want them to notice one thing or another. You may have communicated the relevance of that one special thing that took so long to develop and is oh so differentiating. But your perceptions and desires really do matter little to the end user.
Think of how many people in Detroit had to completely rejigger their perspective when they figured out that cup-holders make a big difference to car buyers. Cup. Holders. Not horsepower. Not fuel efficiency. Not sleek curves. At least not for all buyers. Turns out something that keeps a beverage container upright can be the deciding factor for a lot of folks.
Listen to your customers. Learn from them. They define what customer experience you actually deliver today and will be the judges of any changes. Oh, and the next time you think you might be late meeting your mother-in-law on Father's Day, don't sweat it! The day is for dads, after all.
19 June 2009
Apple, the company that came so close to failing utterly years ago but now dominates a couple "small" categories like portable music players and must-have phone-like multi-tasking devices, is launching the baddest iPhone yet... Say hello to iPhone 3GS. What you haven't heard about this launch? Oh, you must be the one person on the planet who was in Antarctica communing with penguins and had a dead battery in your radio.
There are several aspects of this technobattle I find intriguing. The Pre is clearly trying to "product plus" the functionality of the iPhone while Apple is building on its massive momentum and much higher market share in the category. Can the Pre capture a lot of share? Can it make Palm relevant again? Will these two players, with their ultra-sleek I-want-one-now products, end up putting a big hurt on RIM, the maker of Blackberry? Time will tell. What do you think?
17 June 2009
16 June 2009
13 June 2009
So, I'd like to ask your help: Please share your thoughts on other inspirational kids stories here!
Seriously, just pop in a comment. I may ask for more details, but I think it'd be fun to keep tabs on unconventional sources of inspiration and insight. We've had enough of the Who Moved My Cheese? stuff, thank you very much. Let's get on to things we actually like and refer to when it's time to recharge our batteries!
I may pull out a Dr. Seuss book or two in the near future to get us started... And I hope to hear from some of you, too!
12 June 2009
After going through the process of applying, I got the following message: "Within a week of your application date, we'll review your application and follow-up with you via email." Well, it's been two months and still no word. Maybe "within a week" means "at some point in the next several months" in Googlespeak, but for most humans this type of poor follow-through is simply frustrating. In the user forum for bloggers, I found a number of threads on the topic of approvals taking months, so it ain't just me.
Where am I going with this? Google is suffering symptoms of its massive scale. The firm is not necessarily keeping up on commitments for individuals at the smallest scale of its business. And let's be honest, with a site that gets nearly 140 million unique users a month it would be tough to expect Google to have a perfect record in this regard.
My prior statement notwithstanding, Google could surely expend the small effort to better manage expectations. By not doing so, it's acting like institutions of a very different nature but also of tremendous scale: banks.
Yes, I just compared Google to banks. Large banks and Google are analagous in a number of ways. Data privacy and security is one area of comparison. I subscribe to the theory that individuals and large organizations should all get the same absolute standard of service, and I'm not alone in this belief. Data integrity must be maintained for individuals just the same as for big companies. Brian Clifton posted about this aspect of the analogy last year, and I recommend checking out the comments he got, too.
Here's a second area of similarity: the challenge of maintaining an optimal customer experience for the individual once the enterprise reaches truly massive scale. Banks have dealt with this challenge for many, many years. Not surprisingly, cost/benefit analysis leads to the decision to charge individual customers fees for transactions of all sorts.
It costs a lot to deal with and process the actions of individuals. Unless these single customers band together in sufficient numbers to act in concert there is unlikely to be a huge impact to the bank, especially when its competitors follow suit. The result? Nowhere "safe" to turn for many individuals, as the alternatives - other banks - also charge. The cost to consumers goes up for the entire category.
In Google's case, they may not be charging money to the individual, but the cost in time is relevant. How hard would it be to simply change the copy on the AdSense page to indicate it could take quite a while to hear back? And, as Google continues to expand its business footprint and user base, will it be able to avoid further erosion of its service to the individual?
Great effort goes into maintaining the Googleness of working for the company as it expands. Let's hope that the same focus is applied to users of its various services... Don't get me wrong, Google isn't doing evil, but it seems there's a little fraying at the fringes of this mighty enterprise. And unattended fraying now could lead to later unraveling.
09 June 2009
Today I Will Fly! is the story of two friends. One sees the world as a glass half full, the other sees it half empty. One is persistent, the other is a pessimist. And, in this story, one demonstrates the power of asking for help to the other. You can guess at the further details or just pick up a copy. I promise you, it is a quick read!
Asking for help. Three words that make a world of difference. The folks at Creative Good realized this point years ago as they set up The Councils. These peer-learning and leadership groups are based in large part on the belief that asking for help is crucial to success.
I fervently believe in asking for help, too, so it’s no surprise I’m a member of the Councils. Unfortunately, it is noteworthy that an organization is founded on such a premise.
Leaders who admit weakness, who act with humility, who actively ask for help are not usually elevated to hero status. And yet, it’s these characteristics which can build strong, supportive relationships, which leverage the power of the team over the inclinations of the individual, and which so often speed us to success.
I started thinking about all this as I read Today I Will Fly! out loud to the Twinkies. I wanted them to get it. And then it hit me, I want all of us to get it. Today I Will Fly! instantly became one of my favorite business books. It is the most to-the-point portrayal of the benefit of asking for help I’ve read. Try it out yourself, and for extra fun try it with some kids, too!
07 June 2009
There were over 55,000 people in attendance, clearly the majority supporting Honduras. The crowd was singing, chanting, and cheering the whole time. Good natured jibes went back and forth between US and Honduran supporters, but all in the spirit of friendly competition.
Behind me were Honduran friends, one who drove from Virginia for the match. The other made the trek from New York to Chicago. Were they upset at the prospect of losing to the US team? No! My new Honduran Virginian pal even took pains before the game to explain how he hoped this three children - all US citizens - would one day play for the US team. He loved "the big mixing pot" that is the United States.
Of course I'm happy with the US victory, but even without it I love the experience of international soccer when the games matter. The rising and falling drama of the match sets a pace for the passions of the fans. We hold our breaths one moment, scream the next, and leave feeling a part of the "happening".
Now, if only I could bottle the sensation up into a nice little app for Facebook...
04 June 2009
I recently posted about "What You Do and What You Deliver". As a marketer, one of the primary areas of activity is Opportunity Identification. Both Business Analysis and Market Research are necessary to successfully identify opportunities of significance, and they differ distinctly to my way of thinking. The one is introspective and the other extrospective to the business. Let’s tackle them individually.
Business Analysis, as I define it, is the review of transactional or behavioral data for insight. This is truly number crunching. If it’s an online business, it’s the deep dive into analytics to understand the conversion funnel, fall-out, and so on. For retail (online or traditional), it’s identification of cross-merchandising opportunities based on what folks buy at the same time. For the CPG marketer, it’s the insight around lift in sales associated with pricing or promotional changes.
In each case, Business Analysis identifies opportunities in the numbers. What percentage improvement in conversion accrued when we changed the button for “Buy Now” to orange? How much did the average basket size increase when we displayed these items more prominently? How many more units did we sell when we reduced the price by 20% during the promotional period? Data data data.
Market Research, on the other hand, includes analysis and a healthy dose of qualitative assessment. This is the realm of opinion, discussion, debate, and creative deduction. Market Research is a tidy way of saying, “all the other ways to learn and derive insight.” Observation of behaviors, surveys, talking with folks, concept testing, expert reviews, benchmarking… the list of methods is huge. The underlying premise is simple: open up to what people want and need.
Successful Market Research combines rampant curiosity, active listening, informed speculation, directed inquiry, and heavy duty contemplation. How do we frustrate people today? How could we delight them in the future? What will it take to be successful over the long haul? Where is our competition going and what are the implications for us?
If Business Analysis is the tidy portion of opportunity identification, Market Research is its messy, unruly partner. The two should complement and sometimes confound one another. At times, the reinforcing nature of analysis and research builds to a massive “Aha!” moment, with all paths of inquiry leading to a clear conclusion. More often, several opportunities can be identified, and the prioritization of them must be derived from conflicting bits of information and personal inclinations on the team.
In any case, both Business Analysis and Market Research deserve constant attention. They are the couriers of insight, and it’s insight that enables marketers to add value to an organization. The opportunities we define and prioritize lend direction and purpose to our efforts. Marketers accused of wasteful behaviors, blowing time and money without a clear purpose or end in mind, often lack defined opportunity.
To define the opportunity is to articulate the vision, the path forward. On-going success demands a steady stream of these opportunities, so make sure you’re dedicating the appropriate attention to the task.
01 June 2009
Here are some comments on Mashable.com ,and it's also insightful using Twitter Search on the topic.
This is the kind of customer experience challenge that will start turning folks away if it's more than brief and sporadic. No matter how "integral" Facebook seems right now, it ain't like breathing. We're not that adicted to it.
31 May 2009
26 May 2009
First of all, it was announced publicly that my son will be trying out for a position with a soccer team in Germany. This particular team, Fortuna Köln, has an experiment underway. For the price of €39.95/year, anyone can become a member of the club with voting rights. And all important decisions related to the club are voted on – from starting line-ups for a match to the design of the uniforms for the team. Can this use of the wisdom of the crowd manage a soccer team for success? Over 13,000 paying members surely hope so.
Well, that gets me to the second interesting thing from my day, a talk by technology product guru, Marty Cagan of the Silicon Valley Product Group. Part of his mantra is “lead your customers” as opposed to being “led by your customers”. Although I quibble with some of his perspectives, on this topic we are aligned: breakthrough innovation nearly never comes from letting your customers specify solutions.
There are proponents of crowdsourcing who squawk at the mere mention of skepticism about it as a model for decision-making. To be sure, there is merit in using consensus-based choice tools for refinement of an existing product or to reduce risk in choosing a path forward. For these tasks, the input of many will take off the sharp edges espoused by the few.
The many, however, can’t refine what they’ve never imagined. And it’s through imagination that innovation is delivered. Ask, “What if?” and go from there. Crowds don’t do this. Standing up against the crowd is what’s required.
For many businesses, even the ones that started from the spark of innovation, getting to a stream of on-going mold-breaking, transformational innovations is a huge challenge. Customer-centricity can help, but not in the sense that “customers will tell us what to do.” Indeed, to think in this manner is to abuse the idea of insight leading to inspiration.
Listen to and observe customers, consumers, users. Figure out what problems they have, what desires they express; these are the key insights. Use the insights as touchstones in the process of inspiration, ideation, and evaluation of options. Make sure not to lose the insights; they ensure that the innovations will be valued.
So, how are Fortuna’s fortunes these days? Well, the wisdom of its crowd has guided the team to 10th place in a 19-team league, hardly the height of success. And, it begs several questions: How long will voting members stand for their own mediocrity? Will folks choose over time to drop out and go back to a less-expensive, less-empowering option? Do fans truly want on-going middle of the pack performance, or would they prefer the risks required to reach lofty heights occasionally but mixed in with moments of bitter disappointment? Whether in soccer or business, I prefer to take those risks.