31 December 2010

Tops Listing Cavalcade: New Year's Eve Edition

On this, the eve of a new year, I bring you a list of lists. Here are several "Tops Lists" for your enjoyment, consideration, and conversation:

10. The top cassette tapes of 2010. So you thought cassettes were dead? Not so fast... This list brings you 11 experiences you should hear, with digital samples to whet your musical appetite.

9. The world's top superyachts of 2010. Who can't look at these monstrosities and wonder at the ego behind each?

8. This is a two-fer... The highest earning U.S. athletes of 2010 and the top international earners, as well. Even if not a sports fan, this list will bring back memories of scandals and excitement. From Tiger to Beckham and beyond... Each and every one still earning the big bucks!

7. The best new songs you probably haven't heard, according to Esquire. Maybe you (like me) already have music by the Budos Band. If not, check these songs out and getta groove on!

6. Top wacky tax stories of 2010. Yep. Tax stories. Bringing together soccer, yachts... and pole dancing in one list??? Believe it.

5. The biggest surfing stories of the year, all here in one handy place. If for no other reason, click through to this list and watch the video of Cloudbreak in Fiji. Awesome waves even non-surfers will respect.

4. The top overall sports stories of 2010. How could I not include a "mainstream" list that includes - count'em - two soccer entries and my beloved SF Giants winning the World Series (neener neener, Cubs fans!)?

3. Top economic stories of the past year. Beware, this isn't fluffy stuff. Any list including an entry called "On Sovereign Debt Problems" isn't messing around. The good folks at the Brookings Institution take their work seriously, and the list is an interesting read.

2. The most awesome new (musical) artists of 2010. Ok, so I've loaded this list with music lists. Yeah? What of it. Stop wondering, find a song you like, get up and dance!

1. Events and trends you may have missed. This list comprises a special report by Foreign Policy. I used to subscribe to the print version of FP and continue to appreciate its perspective and analysis. From airport body scanners to sectarian clashes in India, these stories might be headlines in 2011.

Hope you enjoyed this installment of the TLC. Be on the lookout for another list of lists in January. Happy New Year's Eve!

30 December 2010

thanks again soccer.com!

Just checked my facebook account and got the following status update from the folks at soccer.com: "Reading this on the go? Head over to MOBILE.SOCCER.COM and check out our site, specially formatted for your hand-held device."

As I recently documented, the mobile site had been the source of some consternation for me. Lo and behold, though, my HTC phone running a Windows-based system now works on the mobile.soccer.com site! Yippee skippee!

Still not happy the site wasn't ready for "my phone" initially, but better late than never.

23 December 2010

The Tops Listing Cavalcade

I just did it. I read my first "Top 50" list looking back at 2010. I picked one posted on Monkey See and was delighted by the read... No oil spill, no war, no tragedies at all. As a starting point goes, I'm happy to have picked one called "50 Wonderful Things from 2010".

Given the time of year, this is merely the kick-off of what I'm now calling the TLC or "Tops Listing Cavalcade". I should trademark the term, as it's the first time I recall getting a "no results found" message from Google in response to a search.

What is the TLC? It's the swelling, stupefying, sometimes scintillating assortment of lists of top songs, shows, stories, social movements, and so forth which springs forth in the run up to x-mas and won't peter out until a few weeks into the new year. Lists of the tops of everything you could imagine. It happens every year. I just decided to brand it. Please use the term frequently, as I aspire to making either the Top Words or the Top Viral Products list next year.

I know it's the early phases of the TLC, because some participants are just building their lists. Case in point? The Huffington Post's Cutest Pets of 2010 contest was still seeking submissions this month, although the HuffPo is taking on the folks at cutestpetcontest.com. Perhaps we need to build a list of the Best Cute Pet Lists of 2010... Hmmm...

What are your favorite lists to review each year? Share'em here. Share'em with family. Share'em with strangers, if you're comfortable with that kind of thing. I'll put a List of Top Lists together, so you can share that list, too! All part of the the Tops Listing Cavalcade... Though maybe I should restage the brand to improve its appeal. Perhaps "Mega Cool Tops Listing Cavalcade of Joy and Power" is better... It just might get me on to the Top 10 Most Ludicrous Things Named in 2011 list!

19 December 2010

Soccer.com & Redemptive Customer Support

My relationship with soccer.com is complex.

On the one hand, I'm a fan of Eurosport - the retailer one finds at soccer.com. The firm's catalog contains a healthy dose of retailtainment in print form, enough to be a constant on my nightstand or - dare I say it? - the magazine rack near a certain porcelain bathroom fixture. It's my wishbook for all things soccer: shoes, uniforms, videos, and so forth... The sale section gets special focus.

I am a long-time member of the Goal Club, the brand's frequent buyer group, and periodically I'll splurge my accrued points on the best sale items I can find. I've purchased apparel, uniforms for teams, shoes for myself, shoes for others, highlight videos, and more from Eurosport. I'm loyal, almost to a fault.

Which brings me to "the other hand"... Soccer.com is a clunky website. Periodically, it causes me such fits that I consider leaving it. Like a grumpy girlfriend, it refuses to talk to me, not allowing me to log in. Or, when I try to put that special something in my cart, it tells me I've selected an "invalid item" - though it may have actually placed the item appropriately and simply decided to have a bit of fun by telling me it didn't.

Recently, I had two bouts of frustration which brought me closer to a painful break-up than ever before. The first resulted from a lovely email announcement: "We're Mobile! Find us at MOBILE.SOCCER.COM". O Joy! I picked up the message on my smartphone, only to find I couldn't click through to the mobile site. The only link in the message actually went to the standard URL. Grrrr...

Not to be denied, I punched in the http://mobile.soccer.com/ address and hopped excitedly as the new site loaded. Loading done, I could see the new site but I couldn't use it. Once again, the only link that seemed to work took me back to the base URL. Double Grrrr... I tried again from my newer, touchscreen featured other smartphone... Denied.

It seems my Windows-based system wasn't good enough for mobile.soccer.com. A friend with a Droid confirmed it. The mobile site worked for that phone. But, how many potential customers out there were stymied by the botched implementation?

Which brings us to my latest challenge: my seeming inability to sign in as a Goal Club member over the past week or so. Over and over and over, what had always worked failed. I'd input my username and password, only to be told I needed to input my password. Huh? I clicked "Forget your username/password", got a reset on the password, and tried again. By now, you've figured it out - I had gone crazy, trying the same thing repeatedly, expecting a different outcome.

Incredulity took hold... "How could this be?" "This has never happened before!" "There's got to be a mistake!" I sent a note to Customer Service and stewed. Customer Service sent me a very nice note back to inform me that they'd checked, and nothing was amiss with my account. Really? Really?!?!

"Can't you see I can't get in?" I thought as loudly as possible. Nobody heard, so I tried a different approach. I contemplated my own assumptions, and lo and behold, one BIG one jumped out at me. I'd assumed that soccer.com would react to all browsers the same way, which of course I should have realized wasn't too bright on my part given the previous challenges with the mobile site. What if I were to head to the site using a browser other than my standard, Google Chrome?

I fired up Internet Explorer. I typed the soccer.com URL. I held my breath. I clicked "Sign In". I entered my username and password. I waited. By now, I was noticing how long my breath had been held; my mind wandered to thoughts of "Shouldn't I be able to hold my breath longer? I should work out more..." and then it happened: I was in (again)! All it took was for me to switch browsers. Whew! Soccer.com was still there for me... but wait a minute!

Why should I have to troubleshoot and switch browsers just to get to stuff I might want to buy??? I mean Chrome doesn't have the greatest market share among browsers, but it's up around 10% these days. Imagine a normal retailer telling every 10th potential customer, "No thanks, you can't come in... Don't like the car you drive, so you're not welcome." It makes no sense.

At a minimum, I wish I'd been told of the incompatibility. Who knows, in the case of the mobile site I may have concluded that it was time for an iPhone or a Droid... Instead, I felt spurned. I wasn't happy. I was gonna do something about it, too, except...


Except that the Customer Support people at Eurosport are fantastic. Whether because their bosses create so many problems for them to solve, great training, or inherent good Samaritanism, it doesn't actually matter. They rock. During my trials and tribulations, they kept up a constant friendly dialog with me.

They offered to send me gift card for my troubles. They apologized for the fact that I was having trouble. They reminded me, ever so politely, that I could always call when I had an issue; a real human being would be happy to confirm my membership and place an order. They thanked me for my feedback. They thanked me for my loyalty over the years. They simply did everything right.

Know what? It worked. Remember the girlfriend I mentioned before? We made up. She's got her faults. She's actually got quite a few of them. But deep down, her heart is pure. She wants to do the right thing. She knows she's not the best at what she does, but she's trying hard to do it well.

Eurosport, I'll be back to soccer.com. Please keep sending me your catalog. And, at this busy time of year for all e-tailers, hug your Customer Support team. Hug'em from me, too!

27 November 2010

I'm baaaack...

Hi Folks! Yes, it's been a while, and here's the scoop. As some or all of you may know, I work for a company that dealt with significant challenges during the spring and summer of 2010: bp. I'll be honest, blogging wasn't at the top of my priority list.

Our work at bp isn't done - not by a long shot - but the nature of it is changing, evolving. I think it's time I get my blog on (again).

If you're looking for any inside scoop on the happenings over the summer, don't look here. I don't think this is the proper forum for a blow-by-blow. If, however, you're curious about my perspective on working at the firm, why I remain so engaged with the company, the emotions associated with events of the past months, what it's meant to me personally, well then this is a dandy spot for that dialog.

And, rest assured, I will still find plenty of time for shiny objects, life's challenges (e.g. my war with small furry critters), and the craft of marketing. It's nice to be back, and I hope to delight!

13 April 2010

Tweet! Twitter Ads!

It's happened. Twitter has decided to introduce advertising to its service. At one point, leadership of the firm called an ad-based revenue model "boring", but prudence seems to have won out over monotony.

What are your expectations of ads in Twitter? Expect it to be disruptive? Distracting? Detrimental? Personally, I await the evolution and further monetization efforts.

Twitter, like other services before it (hello, Pandora...), must try to make money to stave off a "cool but unprofitable" demise. The irony? Monetization efforts like advertising erode the desirability of the service for some users. It feels like Twitter is just entering the awkward adolescent stage of its business development: still cool, but getting pimples. We'll see how it looks when it's all grown up.

03 April 2010

iPad is Here... Has the World Been Saved?

"It's here! It's here!" chant the legions of Apple fans. The much awaited "Jesus Tablet" has arrived in stores. Despite gloomy economic times, folks are still lining up in front of Apple stores in the hope of being the first among their friends to fork over wads of cash for the shiny new toy.

WIRED perpetuated the hype last week with its article on "How the Tablet Will Change the World", and NPR today interviewed giddy iPad buyers in Apple's New York store. My favorite quote from the NPR story? "I'm going to use my iPad to play games!" As if we've been waiting since the discovery of fire for the breakthrough that would let us play games... Yay!

Don't get me wrong, I'm stoked about the new device from Jobs & Co., but I'm not yet ready to put it in the category of world-changing, epiphany-granting religious icon. I have already classified it as a Kindle-killer and money maker.

Apple is hot and not promising to have enough inventory to satisfy demand (thereby keeping prices high). AT&T is cashing in at $30/month for the iPad data plan. And people will buy, buy, buy. A great business initiative? Yup. Messiah as device? TBD.

15 March 2010

Happy Birthday .com!

That's right, .com, you are 25 years old! Wahoo! 80 million sites use you, and 100,000 more are registered each day... Who'd have guessed at your popularity way back in the 1980s? Enjoy your day and then get back to work!

09 March 2010

30 Days Later: Remember the Super Bowl Ads?

Here we are, 30 days removed from the Super Bowl... You remember the game, right? Thrilling see-saw battle that resulted in the Saints finally winning a championship. It was epic.

Remember the ads? At something like $3 million for a :30 spot, one would hope so. Off the top of my head, I could only describe three of them in any detail. There were two other brands I could identify as having aired ads, but beyond that it was all a blur. One would hope for the millions invested, the ads would have had a bit more staying power, right?

Which ads stuck out? VW's "Slug Dub", the Dodge Charger "Man's Last Stand" spot, and the NFL.com promo spot with Arcade Fire as a soundtrack. The other two I recalled more generally were from e-Trade and Hyundai. The last two came with distinct emotional reactions: e-Trade = annoying and Hyundai = appreciative.

I'm tired of the e-Trade baby, who by all rights should be celebrating his graduation from kindergarten by now, but is actually still sucking a bottle and pooping his pants. C'mon e-Trade... You want us to believe you're still cutting edge and good for our investments, but your spokeskid hasn't developed one bit in years. Tsk tsk!

As for Hyundai, well, I just recall feeling good about the value + quality message their ads delivered. Not sure of the specific executional elements, but I still feel good about them.

Having confirmed that I couldn't recall most of the ads I saw, I pulled out my notes on the full slate of spots run. Yes, I'm that big of a marketing geek; I took notes on Super Bowl ads. Guess what, I liked a lot of them at the time! Funny how the response of the moment faded, or perhaps not. In any case, by checking the notes, I got a few pleasurable "oh yeah!" moments.

How could I have forgotten Kia's Sorento ad and its Vegas road-tripping toy posse?! Or Emerald Nuts and PopSecret's "Human Dolphins" lunacy? Or Audi's "Green Police" spot? They all make me smile even now, just looking back on them... Whereas GoDaddy, Taco Bell, and the aforementioned e-Trade spots simply make me grumpy.

I'll riff soon on the five things I believe ads should do... Until then, take a look back at the crop of this year's Super Bowl ads and consider which you think made most effective use of its media spend: http://www.cbssports.com/video/player/superbowlcommercials

18 February 2010

Mind the Gap... Between Announcement and Delivery

Just three weeks ago we had a big news day: President Obama delivered the State of the Union address and Apple announced that yes, indeed, the Jesus Tablet was on its way. So, have our lives changed any as a result?

Given the hype leading up to the iPad announcement, one would've expected magical bluebirds to descend to earth, singing songs of techno-joy, saving publishers from certain doom, and more. President Obama's speech was indeed moving... But how much "movement" has followed it?

The fact is, not much has happened for us regular folk since these two momentous occasions. Sigh. And so it is with marketing and politics. There is frequently a yawning gap between the crescendo of attention that is an initial announcement and the eventual delivery on commitments, in the form of product launch or program implementation.

This gap must be minded! It's the job of PR pros, pundits, and fans to keep the flame of excitement alive while the wheels of production or legislation turn. If all goes well, the launch moment is a reprise crest of exuberance. Too often, though, what is announced with a scream arrives with a whimper.

Time will tell how successful Mr. Jobs or the President are at following through on their commitments. In this case, the product launch - despite comparisons to a certain religious icon - is the easier to deliver, though personally I hope both succeed. I'd love to read news of good government action on a shiny new iPad.

16 February 2010

Movies, Videos, Change, and Competition

Want to see complex competitive dynamics in action? Start tracking the home video space... Filmed content is something nearly all of us consume in copious amounts, and the space is rife with change. It's consternating for some players, delightful for others, and a doomsday for a few.

Let's think of the options today vs. just a generation previous. For most consumers in the past, "filmed content" was a simple choice: go to the movies or stay home and watch t.v. Technology has changed this simplicity. Today's options subdivide the space via type of content, access device, fidelity (sound & picture quality), etc. New competitors are rising, previously successful firms are crumbling, and the future outlook is murky in many ways.

Don't believe me? Consider this... Television shows are distributed today via free t.v., syndication as repeats, online as ad-supported content via Hulu, for rent at iTunes, on DVD, and in snippet form on YouTube. Movie options are nearly as myriad, and the advent of mobile devices more capable of video playback in higher fidelity (think iPad here) promise even more splintering of options in the future.

Blockbuster is one firm that's failed to cope with the changes well. Redbox has done quite nicely. Netflix is openly embracing the changes, pursuing enhanced ability to deliver digital content with fervor. The movie studios, television networks, and cable providers are all scrambling to discern how they can best extract value from their content in a market which is evolving with pandemic virus voracity.

Contemplate the factors influencing pricing in this arena: Desirability of the underlying content is still primary. Avatar is a terrific example of a great movie doing exceedingly well at the box office. But, once it's out of theatres, what next? "Windows" on content delivery, pacing release by channel, used to be relatively easy for the studios. The process is becoming blurrier as options for consumers proliferate.

Today, Apple is playing with pricing for rental of t.v. content, Netflix is being compared to HBO, and YouTube is trying to figure out ways to monetize its business by renting movies. Huh? iTunes as threat to cable operators, Netflix as competitor to premium movie channels, YouTube as alternative Blockbuster? Yup.

This market is one which rewards agility, creativity, experimentation, insight, and a willingness to view change as opportunity. Firms which cling to past models for success (hello, Blockbuster?!) will be pummeled for their stubbornness. Oh, and today's darlings (redbox, Netflix)? Even they can't rest on their laurels. How it all plays out is anybody's guess, but two things are for sure: 1. What works today ain't what's gonna work tomorrow, and... 2. The evolution is gonna be a fun show to watch.

11 February 2010

Facebook, Friends, and Staying Connected

Facebook recently implemented some changes, many of which seem cosmetic, a few of which change the utility of the service. Personally, I like the new drop-down message inbox peek, but dislike losing the ability to hop directly from one application to another.

Now, when I want to hop from a mad game of Scrabble to check on my mafia, I am forced to re-route through my FB home page... hmm... Why would the Facebook masters implement this solution? Perhaps to pad the number of clicks or homepage visits in their metrics? Seems like a detour to me, and adds to the hassle and time commitment the service requires.

And, make no mistake, folks are starting to change their view on Facebook, even as the service itself evolves. What was once an intimate, insiders-only service is now mainstream and muddled. Are all 284 of my "friends" really that well-connected? No.

I used to appreciate the small-group feel of Facebook. And, as my network has expanded, I've been happy to reconnect with folks from my past, but in the process this online community more nearly represents my offline social connections, with levels of importance, connection, and sharing varying widely. I've got friends - online and offline - with whom I rarely interact. There are others who are on the "pretty frequently" cycle. And then there are the select few, with whom connecting is a daily or even hourly activity.

Guess what? This tight-knit group, the ones with whom I'm so connected... They are the same group that was first over the wall with me on Facebook years ago, the same early Twitter adopters whom I follow & follow me, the same folks on speed dial for my phone. Turns out, good friends are good friends, regardless of the tools used to maintain the relationship.

As for Facebook? Well, I'll keep using it, for now, but I can foresee the moment when I just decide it's not necessary to keep up with good friends. At which point, it'll be come a less frequent, less relevant part of my online day. Facebook could become Plaxo-esque, a repository of contact info and occasional interaction. For some, it's already lost relevance. How about for you?

10 February 2010

Toyota, Quality, and the Limits of PR

Today’s USA Today included an article on Toyota’s PR blitz to address the firm’s recent string of quality embarrassments. The article likens Toyota’s efforts to “whistling in the wind”, with the clear implication that the on-going revelations about product quality concerns are overwhelming efforts at outreach. Though this is true, at the moment, it is still incumbent on Toyota to continue the efforts.

Why should Toyota keep up the drumbeat of messages? First of all, some of the communications will get through, even in “windy conditions.” Additionally, once the firm finally reaches the end of the current quality concern path, the public relations pump will have been primed. Any future good news will build on the prior efforts. Finally, despite the apparent futility of the effort in light of additional quality issues coming to light, apologizing and committing to improve are simply the right things for Toyota to do.

Toyota’s current circumstances underscore how significantly PR efforts are tied to the merits of the focus product or service. The best PR implementation will be hampered by issues with the product. By the same token, a great product – one that truly delights consumers – provides a turbo boost to PR. Toyota is hoping to get back to “great product” status as soon as possible. In the meantime, the firm will keep whistling in the wind.

26 January 2010

1st Hands On Review of Apple iSlate!

Check out Walt Mosspuppet's review of the magical new product from Apple! Apparently, it'll even get a unicorn to deliver a pizza to your door... it's that good! :)

22 January 2010

Frog Designs Apple Tablet - 27 Years Too Soon

Give credit to Frog Design for keeping good files. In a move clearly "designed" to draft on the publicity surrounding Apple's up-coming product launch - that of the much-rumored tablet - the Frog folk have released images of the prototype work they did on a tablet for Apple... In 1983!

By the way, the move worked. WIRED picked up the story.

19 January 2010

Poorly Kept Secret = PR and Momentum for Apple

In case you've been stuck in an ice cave in Antarctica since last summer, you've heard the "rumor" by now that Apple will soon introduce a tablet device. You first saw the device mentioned in a g-thought last August. Since then, despite Apple's reputation for secrecy, details have been sneaking out.

Today, news outlets are atwitter (yes, pun intended) with the fact that Apple will host a press event for its "latest creation" on 27.January here in San Francisco (I'm here on a brief business trip). WIRED will actually have a team on-site at the event to live blog and photo document the event.

What I appreciate about all this buzz is the great leverage of marketing resources on display. Apple will advertise the new product; there's little doubt that it will get behind any significant product launch. But let's look at the pre-launch campaign for a moment... Rumors arise last summer, the idea that Steve Jobs wants a "Kindle Killer" sneaks its way into the press during the fall, and more recently the Wall Street Journal reports that HarperCollins Publishers is negotiating an e-book deal with Apple.

How successful has all this PR, rumor, and innuendo been? Google returns 15,400,000 results for a search on "Apple tablet". Compare that to 8.7 million for "droid phone", a product currently supported by an extensive ad campaign.

The communications are leverage Apple's brand and connection with its consumer base. The early leaks provide both an opportunity to gauge reaction and build anticipation. If the idea flops, well, at least they avoided a poor launch and its accompanying expense. If the idea is picked up, shared, and dissected, it's a much better bet for a launch. Heck, some of the commentary might even help refine the final offering.

And, for a brand like Apple, with a thriving fan base, the early momentum generated through PR, sharing among the fans, etc. is most definitely a competitive advantage, which in this case, should cause concern at Amazon. It's one thing to face a Kindle Killer, it's another altogether to face such a product with the mass and momentum of the Apple brand behind it.

11 January 2010

Rules for Innovation, Brands Style

My friend and former colleague, Robert Brands, recently wrote a book on innovation. In his first column for Business Week, he discusses Innovation Made Incarnate. Enjoy!

05 January 2010

Kindle Killer Nears & Google Reaches a Nexus

Back in October, I posted a g-thought postulating Apple's rumored tablet device would be a Kindle Killer. The rumors have turned to expectation, with launch announcement expected later this month. VentureBeat recently put a nice perspective piece together on the iSlate (as folks expect the new Apple product to be dubbed). I continue to wonder what Amazon might try to do to rejuvenate the Kindle with new competitive pressure promised for this year.

By the way, while at VentureBeat, take a peek at the live blog on today's introduction of Google's Nexus One mobile phone. Or you can just go to Google's own online introduction of it: http://www.google.com/phone. At first blush, it's an exciting device. What do you think?

04 January 2010

iGet Googly About 2010

Well, the new year is upon us. Tomorrow, Google is slated to announce their new phone, one which is not tied to a specific carrier. Not to be outdone, Apple is expected to confirm launch of the iSlate tablet later this month. Oh, and sandwiched in between is the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Maybe the only folks not excited by these events are at Amazon, since it's likely the Kindle that's gonna lose steam this year.