10 June 2011

01 June 2011

The Friend Thing: Google Fail!

The Wall Street Journal reports that former Google CEO Eric Schmidt has admitted that Google missed "the friend thing".  Well, that's a shocker.  Really, Eric?

Not only did Google miss the rise of Facebook, it has a track record of mangling - or at best "sub-optimizing" - initiatives.  One of my favorite examples?  Dodgeball.com.  This service, co-founded by Dennis Crowley of foursquare fame, was an innovative location-based social software service for mobile devices.

Google saw the promise of it, acquired it, and managed it so well that Crowley left two years later after what he called an "incredibly frustrating" experience.  Google shut the service down in early 2009.  Crowley has since grown his self-proclaimed "sequel to the 'dodgeball' project" - foursquare.com - into a social location-based powerhouse with millions of unique users and enviable growth.

Think the Dodgeball example is an isolated one?  Ever hear of Google Latitude?  How about Google Buzz?  Even if you've heard of them, are either of them any more relevant today for you than MySpace, the one-time king of social media services?

Like many mature businesses, Google is grappling with change and the challenge of perpetuating its success.  What should it do as the sizzle of its core area of activity cools?  And, like many mature businesses, Google is struggling as it grasps for the great "what next?"

Fortunately, the firm has a very solid, very large, very profitable base business.  It's still riding high, but it's looking sluggish.  Having missed "the friend thing", will it be able to spot or take advantage of or even come up with "the next thing"?  Or, will Google end up like another tech behemoth, Microsoft, admired for its business success while mocked for its apparent lack of innovation?

29 May 2011

Back with a Bad Case of Techno-Lust

Hi everybody.  I know, I know... Been way too long since last post.  In fact, it's been so long that my intended "hey the Super Bowl was a while ago; remember the ads?" post seems moot.  Good thing, in a way, since the game (and the ads "in their natural environment") was deleted from my DVR.  I'm not saying the Twinkies did it to make room for more iCarly, but...

At least I'm back now.  I'll claim work and other priorities kept me distracted, but all excuses ring hollow.  I've just not kept up with blogging, and I miss it.  I'll be better. Really!  Promise!

Anyhow, the latest object of my techno-lust (cue a clever shiny object theme here) is the Asus Eee Pad Transformer.  It's desirable.  It's out of stock.  I'm having to wait.  X-mas to a five-year-old is easier than this act of patience!  I want I want I want!

In this, the day of the tablet, iPad still rules.  Many others are chasing Apple's "Jesus Tablet" (as it was dubbed pre-launch).  I'm not an Apple geek, though I massively respect the firm.  Asus may have a solution that at least matches the iPad for value, and likely is a more productive device in a couple ways:  a "real" keyboard and even longer battery life (if you count the battery in the keyboard dock, too).  Both attributes appeal to me massively.  

If and when I do get my hands on the object of my technology desires, I'll be sure to share the joys, delights, and even any disappointments with all of you.

19 March 2011

Just Back from SXSW: G's Thoughts on What's Next

I am back in my Upper Midwest home stomping grounds after several days at the SXSW Conference.  I loved the energy in Austin while I was there.

Yes, there were some great bands, most of which you've still not heard of.  The Types - from Russia, no less - generated jump-up-and-down energy in the audience, The Statesboro Review got folks jamming with their own tunes and a great cover of "Whole Lotta Love" by Led Zeppelin, TV Torso impressed even the music industry types at the back of the crowd, and Doomtree artists brought down the house on Thursday night.

What I've taken away from the conference, though, is a tremendous sense of optimism and positivity.  SXSW is a time and a place for people to come together and discuss how we are making the future better and brighter.  Whether it's the joy of music, the artistry of film, or the engagement enabled by interactive technologies, the folks who show up in Austin each year are literally creating the stuff we'll all be talking about for the next few years.

Twitter first hit the radar screen at SXSW in 2007, and I'm curious which aspects of this year's show will reach the tipping point in 2011.  My bet is on location based marketing, based on the buzz among attendees and the comments of Dennis Crowley, founder of both dodgeball.com and more recently, foursquare.  Even if I'm wrong on the specifics, it's a sure thing that something good is coming.

13 March 2011

Japan, Sorrow, and Compassion

Folks, there has been no shortage of tragedy of late.  The recent events in Japan seem to be the culmination of a string of unfortunate, sad events.

Having lived through a number of earthquakes - most of them during my years in California - I can tell you there is little as unsettling to the human soul as a furious Mother Nature.  The combined blows of earthquake and tsunami wrought destruction on a scale which stretches the imagination.  The NY Times provided me the most dramatic representation of the before and after of these events.

While we all go on with our lives, it is worthwhile to be thankful for what we have, to cherish those we love and our time with them, and to lend a hand to those in need.  Please consider making a donation to the American Red Cross or another worthy organization whose mission is to help others.

I am relieved my brother, who lives in Japan, is safe and sound.  I am sorry for all the many souls who were lost in this tragedy.  And, I am hopeful we all take this chance to display the compassion and support humanity can deliver in the most trying of times.

05 February 2011

Super Advertising Bowl Eve!

It's time.  It's the moment.  It's the culmination of a year's anticipation.  That's right.  It's Super Advertising Bowl Eve!

Football?  Oh, yeah, there's gonna be football.  There's been football for the last five months (regular & post-season only, folks... pre-season doesn't count).  And, here in the Land of Cheddarheads there is a lot of excitement building for the actual game to be played tomorrow.  The... The... What do they call it?  That's right! Super Bowl XLV.

For me, though, the game is mere filler between the real content of concern:  the ads.  Recall any of them from last year?  If not, try refreshing your memories with this past g-thought - "30 Days Later:  Remember the Super Bowl Ads?"

You can also build up your personal pre-game ad buzz by reviewing spots from 13 prior Super Bowls at superbowl-ads.com.  Who could forget the Budweiser frogs (1998) or e*trade's chimpanzees (2001)?

Regardless whether you're tuning in tomorrow for the game or the ads, enjoy it all...  I will.  I actually keep notes on every ad, though I only watch the game.  How else can I assess whether the spots deliver on the five critical tasks of advertising (engage the viewer, communicate the proposition, link it to the brand, in a memorable way, that is persuasive)?  I better sharpen a few extra pencils!

02 February 2011

Blizzaster 2011! The Branding of a Storm

Sitting in Chicago, watching the snow continue to fall, it's struck me that there's a hot competition underway to brand this storm.  Why?  It's a whopper, that's why!

Through midnight last night, records were being set for snowfall, including a one-day total of 13.6 inches at O'Hare (airport for anyone not familiar with Chicago... and yes, a few flights were cancelled).  The accumulation for the storm overall was approaching 2 feet as of 9:30 this morning, and it's still coming down.  That's right... It's still coming down!

Here are some of the branding options I've found:
With another 5 inches projected to fall today, truly polar temperatures, and more snow in the long-range forecast, the fun may just be getting underway... So, if you're stuck inside nearby or sitting someplace warmer and mocking us, the unfortunate souls of the Upper Midwest, share your thoughts on the branding options above or contribute a few of your own.  I'll be wondering how long my food provisions will hold out before I need to venture into the mounds of freezing white doom!

26 January 2011

The Fun Theory: Customer Experience Driving Behavior Change

Admittedly, I'm a little late on this one... But, I just came across The Fun Theory website.  The premise of it?  Make something fun and people will change behaviors.  So simple, yet how many of us have actually tried this approach with our businesses?  Make sure to watch the video of stairs versus an escalator for an example of how the theory turns into effective practice.

The site wasn't created out of purely altruistic reasons.  As it states, this is "An initiative of Volkswagen."  Even in this regard, though, kudos to the firm.  The branding on The Fun Theory site isn't heavy-handed, and clicking through the link to "See how Volkswagen use the fun theory" leads to a page highlighting ways the firm has applied the combination of fun and innovation to the challenge of being more environmentally responsible.

Volkswagen's claim that "every environmentally friendly innovation we create is built on that simple insight" may be a bit of stretch, but I'm willing to give the good folks at VW a bit of creative license.  It's delightful to see an approach that isn't derived from "do this or we're all gonna die" doomsday prognostications.

18 January 2011

Starbucks, Gum, and Customer Experience

Folks, I travel. I travel for work. I travel for fun. Sometimes I even travel out of some obligation. When I travel, I like to have gum. It's tasty, it's chewy, and it exercises my jaw when I find myself in a moment of solitude and don't feel like talking to myself.

Recently, I took an early morning flight. I mean early. Like, before the sun came up early. As a result, I had to get up even earlier. Earlier. Like, before the sun hears it's alarm, let alone hits “snooze” a couple of times while building up a pre-morning glow. Earlier. As a result, still sleepy myself, I left home without gum.

Not really an issue for a handy, ingenious, and all-around creative problem solver like me. “They sell gum at airports, right?” I said to myself while driving down a dark and desolate interstate. “Yes, they do,” I replied. It should be noted that this dialogue constitutes a “gum-would-be-handy” moment. Under normal circumstances, I wouldn't have actually been talking to myself, not out loud at least. I'd have been happily chomping a bit of tasty sweetness. Anyway, I managed, with minimal protestation, to convince myself that I would be fine and soon in possession of some delightfully delicious chewing confections.

Upon arrival at the airport, I quickly dispatched with the standard chores... parking, walking, security check. All was going swimmingly. Then I reached the concourse. Early. Earlier than early. The magazine stands were closed. The bookstores were closed. The gift shops were closed.

I did not panic. No. Starbucks was open. “They sell gum at Starbucks, right?” I whispered to myself. “Well, they sell lattes and scones, for sure,” I replied, thinking of the small pangs of hunger my early morning travel induced. “Maybe, they sell gum, too,” I offered to myself in a false sense of optimism.

Optimism is an interesting thing. It assuages fear, or at least takes the edge off. It can build hope. Under the right circumstances, it even builds expectation.

I feared Starbucks wouldn't sell gum. I hoped Starbucks would sell gum. I started to expect Starbucks to sell gum.

Starbucks sells gum.

I did a little wiggle of joy and relief. Just a little one. I ordered a latte and a scone, too, for good measure. I took my gum, my latte, and my scone on a slow saunter to my gate. It was a mildly triumphant saunter. “Mmm... yummy latte. Yummy scone.” I didn't mind the obvious premium I'd just paid for each item.

Breakfast in my belly, I reached for my prize purchase, the tin of Starbucks Sugar-Free Chewing Gum. The packaging evoked mouth-watering freshness and quality... Such an appealing shade of bluish-greenish-mintitude... Such a delightful little aluminum structure... I peeled off the plastic wrap and...

The tin fell apart. Apparently, the construction tolerances weren't quite so precise as to actually hold the two parts together. Being a handy, ingenious, and all-around creative problem solver, though, I simply fixed the tin with a couple creative bends and squeezes.

Engineering problem solved, it was time to move on to the gum itself. At first glance, again an image of freshness and quality. Round pieces comprised of two layers, one a thicker minty cool blue, the other a thinner pure icy white, each side, coin-like, imprinted with an outline of mint leaves. Surely, the product was about to deliver a moment of minty joy. And, it did. For something like a minute.

A minute? Argh. Really? That's it? Yup. I spit out the first couple pieces and tried again. “Surely, the mavens of mint who concocted this gum intended the flavor to last...” I suggested to myself. “Surely,” I replied, hoping to evoke optimism, but failing.

I popped another two pieces into my mouth, and used the timer on my watch to keep track of my newly invented Starbucks Gum Taste Decay Timing curve: 1 minute 22 seconds. Another attempt. Result: 1 minute 9 seconds.

Needless to say, I will NOT be buying any further gum from Starbucks. I may actually choose to go gumless rather than pay for the vaguely gum-esque chewing tablets available from the coffee kings of the Pacific Northwest.

What has me so disappointed in the whole Starbucks gum affair is my perception that the brand's stooped to shilling poor product rather than stick to the promise of a comprehensively great user experience. This is a brand that obsesses over how its baristas interact with customers, how to deliver consistent coffee flavor, the properties of the foam which floats at the top of a latte, the color and structure of furniture in its shops, the copy of each and every little sign on each and every little product it sells, and more.

And, all it takes is one bad product for me to be disappointed in Starbucks overall. On this one item, the brand has opted for style over substance. The look is premium and promising. It truly appeals. It implies it will follow a nice tall cup of joe with a minty mouthful of freshness. When the moment of truth comes, though, the product reminds me more of the hard, tasteless bubble gum I got when buying baseball cards as a kid than an upgrade over Orbit Sweetmint (my current chew of choice).

Bad Starbucks. I now wonder about where else the brand is cutting corners. I mean, I'm not worried that vanilla lattes will become watery anytime soon, but a vague skepticism has attached itself to any other item I see merchandised. From music to mugs, I am now much less likely to buy products complementary to the central coffee experience from brand Starbucks, which makes me an instantly less valuable consumer to the business.

It gets me thinking about the implications for my own business. What are we doing that is core to our brand promise? How well are we delivering it? If we are doing well, have we introduced complements to our central value proposition? How well are we delivering on these complementary aspects? Do they, potentially, confuse or distract from that core brand promise? Worse yet, might they disappoint in a way that undermines our ability to completely delight consumers?

I don't have the answers, but if there is a silver lining to my Starbucks gum experience, it is this: I have a greater appreciation of the impact of even small goofs on consumer perception and will be able to proactively assess my own team's actions. Maybe it was good I got the bad gum after all.

14 January 2011

Nits, Picks, and Language

In a most unfortunate turn of events for the Twinkies (small, twin-like creatures who inhabit my house), their return to school after the winter holiday break placed them in the midst of an outbreak of head lice. Yes, indeed. And I can hear your collective "Ick!", even feel your shudders of disgust.

Being away at the time of the outbreak, I only returned home a few days later to help in the cycle of laundry, vacuuming, and picking of nits out of hair. Several things struck me about the process of dealing with this particular personal pest.

First of all, the solution is a comprehensive and diligent war involving chemical and conventional weapons: pesticide laden shampoo, laundry detergent, disinfectants, vacuums, combs, and fingers.

To defeat the initial onslaught of these insect invaders is relatively simple; the shampoo kills off the first wave. The ticking time bomb of hidden nits is the real threat. These require hours of attention to detail and diligence to remove. Day after day, the removal and mitigation of future occurrences goes on.

And, it was in the midst of one long session of nit removal that it struck me... Lice, for thousands of years, were a constant companion for humans. Our language is rife with vocabulary and phrases derived directly from the campaign to control these critters: nit pick, nitty gritty, fine-toothed comb, and so on.

The realization left me exceedingly thankful for the help of modern chemistry and appliances. It also got me to wondering... A hundred years from now, what terms will be taken for granted by our descendants as a result of our current attentions.

Not that cruising the web or playing video games or goofing with iPhone apps is the same as dealing with lice, but with all the hours each day we have for these things could they be impregnating our language with new terms of future mystery? I'll think about it as I surf the web on my smartphone...