11 December 2009

More Commentary on Facebook Privacy Changes

From the Electronic Frontier Foundation, highlighting that several "improvements" to Facebook privacy will lead to more information on users being exposed to more people.

It is clear Facebook is, indeed, still a Silicon Valley start-up and hungry for improved revenue. Unfortunately, Facebook's key asset - its users - may suffer as a result of the competition with Twitter for relevance in the investor community.

10 December 2009

Facebook, Google, Real-time Search, and You

On the heels of Google's announcement of real-time search capabilities, Facebook is implementing "new, simplified privacy settings" to provide users "more control over the information you share."

Of course, in the spirit of "more control over the information you share", the Facebook team recommends you make "Posts I Create: Status Updates, Links, Photos, Videos, and Notes" available to "Everyone". Nice, huh?

Following Facebook's recommendation means not just exposing that late-night sarcastic comment, the shared stupid joke, or the statement of personal feelings with your friends and network. It means sharing it with anybody who has access to a computer and making it searchable on Google. What a long way Facebook has come from the closed, students-only service it once was.

07 December 2009

Google Real-time and Goggles: Whee!

Back in May I wrote about Twitter's then-new search functionality, calling it "enticing, exhilarating, and exasperating." I thought it was pretty slick, though still primitive, and destined to be a handy staple for marketers interested in managing their customer relationships.

Now Google brings real-time search to the masses, including Twitter, Facebook status updates, and news as it happens... or at least as it's published. Time will tell how valuable this firehose of information turns out to be, but be sure that new insights and uses for the information will arise.

While we're on the topic of Google announcements, Google Goggles also seems pretty darn intriguing. Think of the social media applications. Want to rate a hotel, brand, or anything else? Point your phone at it, click a menu option, and rate it on the spot. Want to do a search for ratings? Do the same.

This Goggle technology and other similar solutions will provide new means to search for or receive promotional offers. Think of Catalina-style coupon offers delivered via mobile devices. Someone pulls up Pampers on their phone and gets an offer for $1 off Huggies, on the spot.

03 December 2009

Comcast NBC Deal Just the Start of Change?

The announcement of the long-anticipated Comcast deal to acquire NBC Universal could signal the start of significant shifts in ownership and structure in the entertainment industry. Although the focus of commentary is on television entertainment, there could be intrigue for related categories such as DVD rental and internet video services.

Comcast, as leading cable provider, benefits from greater use of video on demand access to movies. Now, with the firm in control of a large content portfolio, will it move to restrict access to its content in other channels? How will the newly acquired content be distributed on the internet?

NBC Universal owns a third of Hulu, the increasingly popular - and for now, free - online service which allows viewers to access television content via the web. Comcast is a major stakeholder in the TV Everywhere initiative, which takes a different approach to television content online. Essentially, the TV Everywhere model only allows paying cable or satellite customers access to the content.

In a conference call with investors about the NBC deal, Comcast indicated that TV Everywhere is complementary to Hulu, with cable content to be available on TV Everywhere and broadcast content on Hulu. It sounds nice and logical, but it may not fly with the other partners in Hulu: News Corp. and Disney. Hulu is projecting a $33 million loss in 2009, so some change in business model is to be expected.

This evolution is in its early stages, so expect more news as we roll into 2010.

30 November 2009

The Risk of Not Taking Risks

In reading an open letter to Hollywood by GeekDad today, I started to ponder the why of creative remakes, reincarnations, and resurrections. GeekDad takes movie makers to task for ruining his childhood memories by producing terrible films based on cartoons or video games. Why would otherwise intelligent people actually make a third Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie or even consider another He-Man movie?

The answer, of course, is the relatively low risk associated with playing out another thread on a spool that's already available. The existing fan-base from an original incarnation provides easier pickings for a marketer, it is thought, since there will be less need to persuade folks of the underlying value of a franchise. As a result, we get G.I. Joe not as a rugged leader in a team of skilled soldiers, but rather (to quote GeekDad): "Tough Action Guys in Power Suits Against Bad Guys with Nanotechnology". Not a good fit, even with the 1980s incarnation of Joe.

When the formula of existing fan base plus new creative works, it can be thrilling. Let's put "The Dark Knight" into this bucket. More frequently, though, the vision falls short of expectations. Sequels run a much greater risk of this shortfall. Let's put "Batman & Robin" into this other bucket.

The same trap applies to music, a market rife with remakes. Although I might prefer Pseudo Echo's remake of "Funkytown" to the original, that makes me the exception. More often, the telltale sign of an artist lack of enduring creativity is the issuance of remakes, riding on the momentum of an earlier hit to extend his or her career by that much longer.

This strategy can work in a category like movies, where a bait and switch proposition is applied to what is a one-time use product. Saw it, hated it, but then again, how many of us actually go back to the cinema for a second viewing - even for films we like? We consumers don't tend to apply brand loyalty discretion to the studios marketing the films. No, we focus on the title, with maybe some credence given to the director or actors.

This strategy most certainly does not work for a business that relies on on-going positive customer experience. To stretch the point, imagine Crest having originally put out toothpaste that tasted terrible or stained teeth? Bada-bing! End of that brand. Persuading some folks to the first purchase is possible, even with a bad proposition. The power of word of mouth and zero repeat purchase "significantly limits growth prospects", so to speak.

So why would studio execs give the green light to such projects? Because sometimes the known bad movie will still cover costs, whereas the unknown risk could flop. If someone is rewarded for failure avoidance versus pursuit of success, the decisions make sense.

All this brings several questions to mind: How are you rewarded? How are you driving your business? And, while we're at it, what if someone actually tried to make a film studio an enduring mark of quality in consumers' eyes? What might that vision look like?

27 November 2009

Blu-ray, Hot Prices, and Demand for Movie Rentals

This Thanksgiving weekend, film studios and major retailers are hoping that unprecedented pricing will increase household penetration of Blu-ray players and jump start consumer demand for purchases of movies in the Blu-ray format.

With Blu-ray players available for as little as $99.99, there is little doubt that the hardware will sell. Amazon, Best Buy, Walmart, and other retailers are all using the hot prices as a lure to customers. Consumers will benefit from the aggressive competition, paying $100 this year for a Blu-ray player which cost $300 only a year ago.

The hot pricing is not limited to the Blu-ray players, though. Films are being hawked at loss-leader prices, too. Recent hit films like "The Dark Knight" can be found on DVD for $3.99, with a new Blu-ray only $9.99. Older titles can be found for as little at $6.99 in the Blu-ray format.

How will these prices impact demand for movie rentals? In the near term, there will be a negative impact, though the scale of it is still to be determined. It all depends on how many people buy films and how many they buy. Consumers who take advantage of available discounts to buy DVDs for the same price as a rental at Blockbuster will curtail rentals for a period of time. They will watch their newly acquired films before returning to rental activity.

With the holidays a peak period for DVD rentals, this substitution of purchases for rentals should worry Blockbuster leadership. Unlike redbox or Netflix, which can still postulate a value advantage versus the hot DVD prices, Blockbuster now faces this new challenge in its efforts to bring customers back to its remaining stores.

The outlook for movie rentals in 2010 should be brighter as a result of the aggressive Blu-ray player pricing this holiday season. Yes, consumers will stock up on titles, increasing purchases for the moment. Yet, with the return of "normal" pricing after the holidays, many of these same consumers will once again face the realities of a macro-economic environment which rewards cash-flow conscious decisions on discretionary expenses.

With studio executives saying things like, "Consumers expecting $7.99 Blu-ray titles over the long term is not part of any business model we've been privy to," a return higher prices on Blu-ray movies is a certainty. The higher purchase prices will leave those millions of newly acquired Blu-ray players begging for films to play at a price that is comfortable to the proud owners of said devices. The solution? Rentals.

Blockbuster will continue to face the challenges from competing rental offerings, but overall the movie rental market in 2010 looks like a strong growth segment. Studio execs will continue to struggle with weak sell-through performance unless they learn the lesson from this holiday season: "normal" sell-through product pricing exceeds what the market will bear. Hot promotions will move more product, but also train consumers to value the product at the discounted prices. In their effort to boost purchases near-term, the studios themselves may be spurring even more rental behavior in 2010.

25 November 2009

Kindle Software Update: Pardon My Lack of Excitement

I just received an email from the kind folks at amazon.com. They inform me that the latest software upgrade for my Kindle will allow me to view PDF documents without losing the original's formatting and that I can... drumroll, please... I can manually rotate between portrait and landscape views.

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

Sticky or Engaging: What Silly Putty Teaches Us

Recently, my daughter fell asleep with Silly Putty in her hand. Of course, it didn't stay in her hand, and she awoke in the morning with a shriek. During her slumbers, the putty had more or less melted, adhering her pajamas to the sheet and effectively trapping her. Not to worry; we got her out of the predicament. Fortunately, it hadn't gotten into her hair, but she was pretty distraught over the sticky mess that was her pajama top.

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

And in this Corner... Google Chrome!

It's time for the the Rumble in the Operating System Jungle to begin. With the impending first launch of the Chrome OS from Google, Microsoft and its Windows may face the stiffest competition they've had in a long, long time.

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

New Puppy and the Price of Taking Risks

In the midst of trading emails with my friend, Bruce, he provided the following comments on how his kids are getting on with their new puppy:
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

A Wall, A Change, and Hope

hunks of hope Where were you twenty years ago? I was in a place called Berlin.

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

Slow Art Milwaukee v1.0: Warhol's Last Supper

I recently hosted a Slow Art event in Milwaukee, at the Milwaukee Art Museum. Think of Slow Art as the museum visitor’s version of chewing your food at least 25 times to get all the flavor out of each and every savory bite. With Slow Art, the idea isn’t to see everything. Rather, it’s to see a few things in depth, to spend the time with a selection of artistic creations.

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

Apple Tablet: Kindle Killer?

Back in August, I mentioned the rumor of a new Apple tablet. The rumor keeps gaining steam, to the point that it's a pretty sure bet the product will be in-market in 2010. The latest plot twist? A subtle and likely profound change in Apple's App Store policy to enable free iPhone apps to sell added content from within the app.

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

Blackberry Props

OK, so y'all know I'm a fan of Palm and the Pre... but props where due to the folks at RIM, makers of the Blackberry. Why? Because, even after a big pre-launch build-up, the Pre is still just a fringe player in mobile phones while the Blackberry is making significant strides into the consumer market.

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.

18 September 2009

Local... Social... Activate!

One thing I really appreciate is the "big" trends applied in local, even intimate ways. Recently, I've been noticing my favorite local haunts - a small coffee house, a nice little restaurant - taking steps towards greater engagement with their customers.

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

Big Food, Big Insurance, and Big Opportunity?

Thanks to a friend for bringing up the NY Times article on Big Food vs. Big Insurance. It's an interesting article and raises some intriguing points. As I read it, all I kept thinking was, "What's the opportunity for the food businesses?" This is an early signal of potentially BIG changes... in consumer preferences, in retail distribution solutions, in brand positioning, and so forth. Got thoughts? Talk about them with others, share them here, but keep the thinking going. There are bound to be insights that will lead to opportunity!

10 September 2009

Beatles, Rock Band, and Desire...

Per my recent post on Guitar Hero, it should be noted that my lust for the new Beatles Rock Band game grew that much more after reading a WIRED review of it. First song I learned on the guitar: Day Tripper. Anybody thinking of getting me a random occasion gift should take note!

07 September 2009

Guitars, Guitar Heroes, and Who Gets to Rock

"The new version of Guitar Hero is coming! The new version of Guitar Hero is coming!" goes the chant from fans of the video game. Make no mistake, it's an engaging, exciting, vicarious pleasure for just about anybody. And, it ain't no substitute for actually playing guitar.

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."
"Yeah, but..."
"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

Lancina Guest Blogging for the "Living Room"

Hi folks! Happy to inform you I'll be guest blogging in the "Living Room" for JSH&A on topics related to public relations, getting the word out about brands and products, etc. I'll put up reminders here about posts there (two or three each week). The gig starts next week, so please check it out!

01 September 2009

Granny, a Hawk, and the Web

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

Disney Buying Marvel

This just in... Disney will buy Marvel for $4 billion. Wow. Aside from the business aspect of this, think of the new character pairings. Donald Duck can advise the Hulk on appropriate anger management. Goofy could be Spider Man's new sidekick, taking the whole Spider Man comic in a radical new, bumbling comedy direction. The possibilities are endless!

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

Apple Tablet Coming? Jobs on the Job!

Steve Jobs is back and back at it. Latest rumblings from Appletown: a tablet-type computational device is in the works.

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?

Lobster Boat Racing... In a Pontiac Sunbird???

Couldn't resist this one, especially since it's from the Wall Street Journal: lobster boat racing in Maine. Talk about creativity for the sheer fun of it!

17 August 2009

When Does "Old" Turn Into "Unused"?

After a fabulous day at the beach, I stopped by an old friend's for dinner. It was a gourmet affair of pizza and beer. Basic, tasty stuff. I didn't expect an "I wonder" moment, but then again how often can I predict those?

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

Word of Mouth Marketing, One Postcard at a Time

Burgers raised on a ranch?Ever hear of the Hamburger Ranch? No?! You might at some point, but I doubt it will be from an ad or promotion. No, you'll hear about it from someone who's been there.

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: What a moment of truth!

Referring back to What You Do and What You Deliver, when was the last time you took a good hard look at pricing for your product or service?

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

Lollapalooza Observations: the User Experience

First time Lollapallooza attendee, long-time music fan. Here are some random observations on the experience:
  • 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

Abundance, Waste, and Innovation

While catching up on a bit of reading, plowing through some WIRED stuff, I came across an interesting article by Chris Anderson on abundance, waste, and the sense of scarcity. What I took from the artcle is that great abundance leads to innovative waste. Later the same day I was on a flight and read a different piece in the United Hemispheres magazine on art, houses, and strange happenings in Detroit. Homes are cheap in Detroit, and folks are snapping up the cheapest and doing strange, provocative things with them.

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

Palm Pre vs. iPhone: $99 Pre Price Heats Things Up

Pre pricing hits $99 as Palm competes aggressively with the iPhone... Things are heating up. We won't know the "winner" in this competition for a while, but does anybody remember Blackberries? I'm thinking Palm and Apple will be the winners here, but RIM (maker of the formerly oh-so-popular Crackberry) may lose significant market share.

03 August 2009

It's Official: Google taking on Winple

With the news today that Google's chief is relinquishing his seat on the Apple board, it's officially time to acknowledge Google aspires to all (or nearly all) that is Windows plus Apple. The big getting bigger...

25 July 2009

Recharge and Refocus

Hi. I'm back. Sorry for the delay in postings. I managed to be pretty good at putting stuff up while actually on vacation (3 weeks, Europe), but haven't posted since my return to the U.S. Read on, and maybe you'll understand why.

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

Earth: The Customer Experience

So, folks, along the lines of empowered customer experience, I was inspired today by a blog post from The Debatable called "Folks, it's only one planet... let's take care of it." Full disclosure: the blog is written by a friend.

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

Whammo Moments of Insight: The Baking Soda Model

I like the moments of opportunity when long-held assumptions crash on the rocks of imagination. I believe that, try as we might, we're not in control of what folks do with what we create.

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

My Secret War: Installment 2

A brief update to Installment 1. The squirrels have, for now, abandoned hope of storming the shed, which is good. Instead, they've adopted insurgent tactics, which is bad. Unsuspecting apple trees have been attacked, losing limbs in the process. Small plants have been ruthlessly uprooted and nibbled. They even managed to topple the bird bath. Those ravaging rodents! Who knows what additional mayhem they are undertaking while I'm away...

02 July 2009

iPhone as Personal Navigation Device

iPhone users rejoice! Well, at least those of you who often get lost. Finally, with the launch of the iPhone 3GS, Apple is allowing folks to take advantage of the iPhone's large screen, built-in GPS, and internal sensors to create navigational software.

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

You, Facebook, and the World Wide Web

Here it comes! Facebook will open up content to the masses. Your news, your comments, your content... Out there on the web for all to see or search. Potentially. The NY Times recently commented on the topic, and there will be ways to limit what's exposed, but the honus is on the user to manage permissions. So, check your privacy settings or someone could be checking you out.

Microtransactions: A Little Becoming Too Much?

Microtransactions. Tiny payments for goods and services in bite-size amounts, a trend of significance and not so new. They are a key ingredient in the secret sauce of success for iTunes, a very real driver of the redbox business model, and the Amazon Kindle's ray of hope for newspapers is generated by them.

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

Holidays and User Experience: Who's in Control?

Gotta tell you folks, I'm a believer in self-empowered holiday user experiences. And, I think there is a lesson in this idea for marketers.

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

Shiny Object War: Palm Pre vs. iPhone 3GS

Oh yeah!!! It is on... For those of us with longer technomemories, this is a moment to remember.

Palm is the company that has habitually introduced remarkably handy new products and then handed off the mantle of "leader" to others. Remember the original Palm Pilot? I do. I loved the thing and even mastered the Graffiti method of inputting notes. I also must admit my fond feelings for the Palm Treo smartphone. And now? Now, Palm brings us the Pre with promises of delight to users. I have been giddy just thinking about it (having seen a pre-Pre at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas earlier this year).

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

1,000 Years to Read Nine Words?

I love this! Jonathon Keats has written a 9-word story, printed on the cover of Opium Magazine, that he claims can only be read very slowly... because the words won't be revealed faster than once each century. Now that's going for a long-term customer relationship!

16 June 2009

Google and Twitter Search

Twitter has indeed come of age. It appears Google will soon add microblogging search to its portfolio of services. This capability could be launched in partnership with Twitter or independently. Either way, it'll deliver the contextual relevance we all expect from Google and will differ significantly from the chronologically ordered results Twitter's own search tool provides. I happen to like the voyeuristic aspect of Twitter's stream of consciousness search results. That said, I'm excited to add Google's vaunted capabilities to moniter the Tweets of the world.

13 June 2009

More Inspiration from Books for Kids?

I got a comment on my post "Ask for Help and Fly!" pointing out a similar bit of inspiration from Harold and the Purple Crayon. Turns out Harold's tale is a good one for seeing possibilities and being open to change (thanks, Laura, for the comment!).

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

D'oh! Did Google Goof?

With the launch of this little blog project, I thought to myself, "Maybe I can monetize this thing just a wee bit." I applied for an AdSense account using the "Monetize" tab in the Blogger site where I manage the settings, layout, and posting for the blog. Easy, right?

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

Ask for Help and Fly!

For anybody who doesn’t know, I have kids. Two of them happen to be five years old. I refer to them as the Twinkies. It is through the Twinkies that I discovered the delightful Mo Willems. He is an author of curious genius, creating characters both relatable and remarkable. I particularly like Knuffle Bunny (a bunny), Gerald (an elephant), and Piggie (a pig). Gerald and Piggie are best friends. Gerald and Piggie inspired this post.

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

Soccer and the Good Customer Experience

So I'm fresh back from the US Men's National Soccer match at Soldier Field in Chicago. Today was a World Cup qualifying match versus Honduras. Talk about a great customer experience!

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

Opportunity Identification

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.

OK... Facebook Operating at Normal Speed Again

But still no explanation of what happened? Sun spots? Maintenance? Gremlins? It'd be nice if there were acknowlegement of "hey, we know something's not quite right."

01 June 2009

How is Facebook Like Molasses? Both Run Slowly

It seems Facebook is once again experiencing issues. Pages are loading slowly or not at all. Sometimes the service hangs up at login. What's the scoop? It doesn't seem Facebook is sharing any news, if it knows anything.

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

What You Do and What You Deliver!

Many years ago, I tried to distill my role as a marketer down in some way that was simple to understand yet robust enough to be truly descriptive. I came up with the following chart:

The chart worked. It worked for me. It worked for others. How does it work for you? Chime in!

Really, I got it down to five “buckets”: opportunity identification, strategy, facilitators of action, actions that deliver results, and the results that matter. I’ll try to take on each bucket as a topic in the future. And I hope you’ll add your voices to the discussion.

For example, what results matter to you as a marketer? I came to the conclusion that three results reign supreme in the pantheon of key performance indicators: revenue, profit, and market share. To be sure, there are other measures which add value, but I believe they measure precursors to sales (or revenue), profits, or market share. They indicate likelihood of delivering the results that matter and are hence relegated to the role of demi-measures, inferior to the Big Three.

I’ll stop here for today and we’ll dive into details of the buckets over the course of other posts. Hope I’ve got your brain engaged and ruminating. After all, how often do you actually indulge in thinking about the process of doing what you do? Take a little time to do so now. It’s worth it. For you. For anyone you coach. And, as a result, for your company.

The Update: Not a Pro... Yet

For those who picked up on the fact, my oldest son did have a multiday trial with Fortuna Cologne, a soccer club in Germany. Unfortunately, he picked up a minor injury during the workouts, so it looks like he'll have to try again later. Not the end of his soccer adventures by any means!

26 May 2009

Crowdsourcing to Success?

A couple interesting items today…

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.