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.