Archive for May, 2007|Monthly archive page

A Clean Slate is a Beautiful Thing

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I typically don’t write about my professional life, but today is different.  After 23 years as an IT professional for a Circuit City Stores, my position was eliminated.  For the first time in 23 years, I am going to be actively seeking employment.  With today’s revelation, came a dark rainbow of negative emotions: frustration, anger, uncertainty, fear, sadness.   Over the course of the day, I reflected on those feelings, the pros and cons of my former job and the implications of the event.

Where I’ve Been

If you have explored my blog, you may know that my “day job” has been management of IT development.  Not very sexy stuff and frankly, not a very creative outlet for the stuff I am passionate about.  Nevertheless, after 23 years, you can get really comfortable with a 3 mile commute, a good salary, and lots of longtime friends, so I have never seriously looked elsewhere. 

About 2 years ago, I was asked to join an internal innovation team.  This cross-functional team, made up of all sorts of people with other day jobs, was given time and resources to design and test as many new ideas as they could come up with.   Recognized as someone who was never content with the status quo and who frequently pointed out opportunities to improve the customer experience, I was later invited to join a special team who worked with company execs and Gary Hamel’s consulting firm, Strategos, to develop an new strategic framework for the company. 

What I Learned

It was the most invigorating 10 months of my career.  I learned how to synthesize consumer insights, emerging trends, orthodoxies and competencies into a differentiating strategic architecture.  I researched and developed 7 year forecasts for consumer technology, social trends, retail store design, and the American retail workforce..  The team delivered several solid proposals, all of which had differentiating customer experience models, and eventually selected one to move forward with.

It was during these last few years of Innovation and Strategy work that I really discovered my passion and point of view around delivering great customer experiences.  It’s also when I became acutely aware of the shift of power from supplier to customer, and the need for companies to start using social media tools and other emerging channels like virtual worlds to engage their customers and employees in conversations.   These are the things I had become passionate about.  IT Management was my job and one was getting in the way of the other. 

 Who I’ve Met Along the Way

The same social media tools that can enable this amazing conversation with customers and employees has also allowed me to make connections and share insights with like-minded people all over the world.  A few months back, David Armano wrote a “emotion” piece entitled “Shared Experiences”.  In it, he asked if the digital relationships that we are forming through social media can ever be as close those we create through actual interaction.  I think they can.  I watch the banter between digital friends on Twitter.  I learn what people like, what they eat, what makes them laugh, their musical tastes, their kids names; and I share the same about myself.   Those of us who have adopted these vehicles of personal publication tend to share our thoughts much more freely than those who haven’t.

When I Twittered about getting laid off this morning, I was both surprised and delighted by the replies and offers to help from my digital friends.  You know who you are and I really appreciate you reaching out.  Though most of us have never met, I really do consider you my friends.

Clean Slate

Now before this post careens completely out of control (is it too late?), I think I need to get to the point.  I was dealing with all sorts of negative feelings this morning, but why?  Was it because I wasn’t going to be managing financial applications development projects any more?  Or perhaps I was going to miss that next meeting where we go over, in excruciating detail, why one team needs to adjust a testing schedule? 

No. 

These are the uninspiring elements of my former day job that were a necessity because I had not taken the time to look for other opportunities where I could do work that I really cared about.  Now I’m sitting here with a clean slate and it’s a beautiful thing.  I have been given the opportunity to find something new to do; something that I want to do.  The negative feelings from this morning are being offset with optimism, excitement, hope, happiness.

Having to find a new job is a challenge.  Contemplating a career change after so long is daunting, especially when you don’t really have a resume that reflects what you want to do.  My newfound positivity might erode in the coming weeks if the opportunities don’t pan out.  But for now I feel really good.  I love new challenges, I know what I am passionate about, and I know that I have a network of new, like-minded friends, who’s opinions I respect, ready and willing to help.

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Ridemakerz: This is also cool!!!

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<via IG’s TrendCentral>

With funding from Build-A-Bear, this new store is hoping to do for toy cars what the aforementioned chain did for stuffed animals. Hoping to offer a bonding experience for fathers and sons, the store will enable customers to create custom toy cars by selecting the type of car, body style, paint and sound effects, and locomotion style. Additional accessories ranging from decals to tire treads will also be available. The first Ridemakerz store opens on Friday in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, with a second store opening planned for July in the Mall of America.

I predict this will be hot!  Check out the website and see what I mean.

… Or perhaps Apple Doesn’t Get It (I’m So Confused)

I’ve met lots of interesting people over the last year and Matt Haverkamp is one of them.  Matt pens an excellent blog called The Digital Perm.  Yesterday, he posted a story about Apple banning MySpace access in their stores.  According to a post on originally on 901am.com, Apple made the following statement confirming the move:

“Nearly 2 million people visit Apple stores every week. We want to provide everyone a chance to test-drive a Mac, so we are no longer offering access to MySpace in our stores,” a statement from Apple said.

An Apple store employee told CNET that “MySpace is a big issue for the Apple stores because people come in, Photobooth themselves (using Macs’ built-in webcams), then stick their picture up on their MySpace account and loiter at machines for hours.”

I recently wrote about how brand engagement in Apple stores citing the way the encourage youth to spend time there playing with stuff like Photobooth.  Now they want to kill that?? 

This is bizarre behavior from Apple. One of the biggest reasons for their remarkable success is that they openly encourage you to come in and spend time with their products. Becoming a “destination” is the holy grail for retailers and this move feels contrary to that goal. I guess you can have too much of a bad thing if people come in and occupy all the Macs for hours. Makes it pretty hard to show the product to new customers. Still, as a CE retail veteran, that’s a problem that I would love to have.

Surface Computing – This is Cool!!

surface.jpgMicrosoft announces “Surface“.  Click the link.  Better seen than described.

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 <Via Scobleizer>

Apple Gets It…. But Sony Does Not

sony1b.jpgIts been a while since I wrote critically of Sony, but a piece  by Randall Stross in this weekend’s NY Times reminded me of a similar exercise that I did a few months back with Samsung and Nokia.  In his article, Stross compares experiences at both Apple and Sony’s Style stores and points out some of the reasons why Apple is so wildly successful and Sony is not.  Here are Stross’s key points with my commentary:

People vs Product:  Everyone knows the Apple story.  Over half of the store’s staff is dedicated to post-sale service;  Free, one-on-one consultation, with “Geniuses”.  This recognizes that your engagement with a brand is only starting at point of sale.  The real engagement is made or lost as you use the product.  Apple makes sure that you are going to get the most out of it.  As a side note, they also get the concept of Marketing as Storytelling as demonstrated by “The Geniuses”.  Sony, on the other hand, is all about the thing itself.  They have a much broader product line of electronics, which could give them an advantage over Apple if they focused on the value those things can bring to your life, but instead, the engagement exercise is all focused on the pre-sale marketing of the stuff. 

Function vs Fashion:  According to Dennis Syracuse, senior vice president for Sony Retail, the Sony Style stores are intended to be a “fashion boutique for women and children” that incidentally happens to carry electronics instead of clothing.  Wow, that seems a bit shallow.  How successful are you going to be targeting women who only want that red notebook because it coordinates so well with their outfit?

Engaged vs Disengaged:  Stross describes the experience of walking past a number of Sony employees who were “so engaged in a private, and apparently amusing, discussion that <his> imploring presence failed to draw anyone’s attention.”  He speculates that they have become so used to inactivity in the store that had “become accustomed to busying themselves with their own entertainments.”  At a nearby Apple store, the employees were always alert and attentive, despite being very busy.  I’ve been in a lot of Apple stores and this just seems to be part of the culture.  For Apple, some of this has to be due to the enthusiasm of the owners to the products themselves.  Engagement can be a circular thing.  Engaged customers tend to make employees more engaged and visa-versa.  Regardless of the source, the engagement is real and is a huge differentiator.

Stross closes the article suggesting that perhaps a key differentiator IS having some amazing piece of hardware (running Windows) which will bring in the people.  Once they are in the store, they might see the other products in a different light.  This is where I think Stross misses the point.  Sure Apple has great products that people are passionate about, but it’s not because of their technical specifications, its the experience delivered by the product, the store and the employee.

What do you think?  If you are a retailer, do you get it?

Democratizing the Future

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Those lucky enough to attend last week’s IIT Institute of Design’s Strategy Conference got a chance to see some great presentations from some major innovation thought leaders.  I was not one of them, but I have been going throught the materials from the conference which are publicly available.  As a proponent of Open Innovation, I particularly enjoyed reading the presentation given by Josephine Green of Philips Design which introduced the concept of social innovation

Realizing that innovation driven solely by technology often failed to meet customer needs, many organizations turned to a consumer (marketing) oriented approach where consumer research and observation is handled by “experts”.  Green believes that this approach is starting to reaching end of life.

Her main point is that we need to go beyond designing around individual consumer needs and start innovating around social needs.  Her reasoning:  We have reached a saturation point for technology and consumer goods.  Continuing to consume the way we currently do is not healthy.

“There is too much ‘stuff’ and a growing realization that filling the future with more and more consumer-driven technology and marketable goods does not necessarily guarantee higher growth, a better quality of life or even life itself, given the state of the planet.”

So what exactly is Social Innovation?  According to Green, it goes beyond looking at individual consumer needs to look at the relationship between people and the products/services they use.  It involves engaging experts, customers and creative communities to envision, build and deliver products and services which better reflect the needs and values of the future consumer.  Green believes that this shift from a Consumer/Market-led approach to a People/Social-led approach is being driven by three factors:

  1. Diversity:  our world is becoming increasingly small, with many different cultures, beliefs, opinions and behaviors all living together.  Along with increased clashes, this closeness has led to an understanding of our differences.
  2. Creativity: Social Media tools have put the consumer in a position of power and they are increasingly becoming “the supplier of content, taste, emotions and goods.”  They no longer want choice, they want a participatory role in designing the things they consume.
  3. Wellbeing:  There is a growing awareness that our ever increasing pace of life and consumption is having a correspondingly negative impact on the environment, the poor, and our own quality of life.  Health and wellness, connectedness, personal growth & control are replacing material things as the way to measure wellbeing.

What will be the implications of this shift for today’s companies?  First and foremost, you must begin establishing a dialogue with your customers.  You will need to facilitate conversations between customers and your designers.  Second, you need to develop a Sense & Respond competency and be able to support fast prototyping.  Third, you must get really comfortable with relinquishing control of some of the development process to your customers.  They are already in control of your destiny in case you hadn’t noticed. 

Kids, the Internet, and the End of Privacy

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“As younger people reveal their private lives on the Internet, the older generation looks on with alarm and misapprehension not seen since the early days of rock and roll. The future belongs to the uninhibited,” reads the first paragraph of the article Say Everything by Emily Nussbaum for New York Magazine. The article was published in February, 2007, but I just found it this weekend and it blew me away.

Nussbaum profiles several Gen Y’ers; early adopters of social media, many of whom have been using the tools to record every detail of their adolescent years. It’s a fascinating look at the new generation gap where young people willingly and openly share the details of their lives in a way that is unimaginable, even shocking for older adults.

As a 21st century parent, I had been feeling good about how well I have kept up with the next generation. The things that defined the generation gap of the sixties (specifically music and cultural attitudes) are not big differentiators between me and my 13-year-old. What I have noticed over the last few years as she has adopted various social tools and creative outlets on the internet, I have noted her willingness to create and connect with people outside of her local sphere. This is way beyond anything I would have imagined at 13 because the capability simply did not exist. For this generation, it’s seems perfectly natural. Describing a 26-year-old named Kitty, Nussbaum writes:

She left her teens several years before the revolution began in earnest: the forest of arms waving cell-phone cameras at concerts, the MySpace pages blinking pink neon revelations, Xanga and Sconex and YouTube and Lastnightsparty.com and Flickr and Facebook and del.icio.us and Wikipedia and especially, the ordinary, endless stream of daily documentation that is built into the life of anyone growing up today. You can see the evidence everywhere, from the rural 15-year-old who records videos for thousands of subscribers to the NYU students texting come-ons from beneath the bar. Even 9-year-olds have their own site, Club Penguin, to play games and plan parties. The change has rippled through pretty much every act of growing up. Go through your first big breakup and you may need to change your status on Facebook from “In a relationship” to “Single.” Everyone will see it on your “feed,” including your ex, and that’s part of the point.

Parents of this generation have lots of opinions on this new level of transparency. Most worry about risks of sharing private information on the net. There are also the concerns that today’s youth can’t develop real friendships through the computer, that they have no attention span, and that they are only interested in getting attention. Nussbaum counters this argument with a theory put forth by NYU professor Clay Shirky:

“Whenever young people are allowed to indulge in something old people are not allowed to, it makes us bitter. What did we have? The mall and the parking lot of the 7-Eleven? It sucked to grow up when we did! And we’re mad about it now.” People are always eager to believe that their behavior is a matter of morality, not chronology, Shirky argues. “You didn’t behave like that because nobody gave you the option.”

It could be jealousy, or it might be that it’s just not natural for those over 30 since they did not grown up with in a hyper-connected, always-on, reality-based entertainment world.

I don’t share most of the concerns of my parent-peers. I find the honesty of this generation is refreshing; I believe great friendships can and will continue to be made without physical interaction; and what looks like zero attention span might just be an conditioned ability to multi-task which exceeds that of the previous generation.

More young people are putting more personal information out in public than any older person ever would. One 2006 government study showed that 61 percent of 13-to-17-year-olds have a profile online, half with photos and these numbers are rising rapidly. So what’s different between us and them? They have a completely different definition of privacy. They think that the overly cautious nature of “their elders” is strange. Nussbaum suggests that there is a reason for this shift:

Younger people, one could point out, are the only ones for whom it seems to have sunk in that the idea of a truly private life is already an illusion. Every street in New York has a surveillance camera. Each time you swipe your debit card at Duane Reade or use your MetroCard, that transaction is tracked. Your employer owns your e-mails. The NSA owns your phone calls. Your life is being lived in public whether you choose to acknowledge it or not.

A different perception of privacy isn’t the only difference evident here. Professor Shirky suggests that there may be real neurological changes at work here:

They think of themselves as having an audience. They create content and once others begin to consume it, they feel motivated to continue providing and improving it.

They have archived their adolescence. I can barely remember mine. Today’s youth will not have that problem. They take the time to capture the details of their life and make them available for the world to see.

Their skin is thicker than ours. Nussbaum writes, “We live in a time in which humiliation and fame are not such easily distinguished quantities. And this generation seems to have a high tolerance for what used to be personal information splashed in the public square.”

There are a couple of powerful concepts being discussed these days in some of my favorite blogs. Developing your personal brand is one. Conversation Marketing is another. The thinking is that these are important concepts for marketers and businesses to understand and leverage as the consumer has fundamentally changed. Business leaders are having difficulties understanding the importance of embracing social media. The don’t see the point of much of it because they are from that other generation. Instead of trying to figure out the value of the tools, they should focus on understanding the Gen Y consumer. Understand how they are fundamentally different from you in the way they communicate & collaborate, how they create and maintain relationships, and what it is that they value. Reading this excellent article would be a good place to start.

2nd Annual Retail Customer Dissatisfaction Study

I was pleased to see that Wharton’s Jay H. Baker Retail Initiative along with Canadian consulting firm, the Verde Group, had conducted the second of what is now an annual study of retail customer dissatisfaction.  If you are a regular reader, you know I have written about this before.  The big takeaway from this year’s study is that the most impactful area of dissatisfaction comes from interactions with the sales associate.

The study found that disinterested, ill-prepared and unwelcoming salespeople lead to more lost business and bad word-of-mouth than any other management challenge in retailing.

Of the 1000 shoppers surveyed about their most recent shopping experience, 58% indicated that they had either been unable to find an associate to help them or were outright ignored by the sales associate.   The survey identified a number of other sources of dissatisfaction including inadequate parking and out of stock product, but shoppers were much more likely to forgive these problems than they would bad sales help. 

As identified in last year’s Consumer Dissatisfaction Study , customers are much more likely to share a bad experience than a good one.  Half of all shoppers have chosen not to visit a particular store because of someone else’s bad experiences.  According to Wharton marketing professor Stephen J. Hoch, director of the Baker Initiative:

“The importance of consumer dissatisfaction, rather than satisfaction, is the fact that a negative experience leads people to want to go and talk it.  They are less apt to talk about it when things go well.”

The study also revealed differences in attitudes based on age with the coveted 18-29-year-old demographic reporting the highest number of bad experiences.  The key reasons:  Lack of authenticity, lack of knowledge and inability to find things due to a disorganized store. 

The study also gathered information regarding the types of characteristics that would be found in an ideal sales associate.  The top two were “engager” (willing to stop whatever they are doing to help) and “educator” (someone who can explain products, make recommendations, etc).

Both last year’s and this year’s studies should be required reading for anyone in retail today.  After you read what shoppers are saying, give some serious thought to how your sales associates are interacting with your customers. 

<via  http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article.cfm?articleid=1735>

Who is Your Employee Having a Conversation With?

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Greg Verdino posted a really thought provoking piece On Friday.  Seems that someone created a Delta Airlines Twitter account and the conventional wisdom said that it wasn’t Delta Airlines.  From a scan of recent tweets, it seems that they may be coming from someone inside Delta acting in an unofficial capacity, but the net result is really interesting:

revamped the award ticket system for you SkyMiles me”mbers recently: http://www.delta.com/awardt… – you can shop around, calendar-style

sending out flight notices/reminders to those who’ve signed up for my messenger service: http://tinyurl.com/29xt5f

Happy Mother’s Day! Did you know you can donate miles to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation? http://tinyurl.com/yudbdo

Verdino comments that having “an active Twitterer acting as a mouthpiece for the brand (and responding in real time to direct comments and questions from other Twitter users) is truly revolutionary.”  “Sanctioned or not, the Delta Twitter-er literally is the voice of the brand for anyone following his/her tweets”.  Verdino goes on to discuss the implications of individuals claiming brand ownership and question of whether or not companies should be locking their trademarks.

Using a social tool like Twitter to engage with customers in real time IS revolutionary, but how many companies even understand the potential here?  If it weren’t for the attention that popular marketing blogs (Jaffe, Waldman, AdPulp) have given this story, would Delta even know about it (do they now?).  

So many companies are totally oblivious to how the world is changing around them. They see social tools as distractions and time wasters.  My company, a major US retailer, just blocked access to Twitter from inside our corporate network.  

Why???

At a time when we need to be finding new ways to engage with our customers and employees to design better experiences for both, management is focused internally on productivity and security.  It came as no surprise that company leaders were unaware of the over 350 MySpace pages created by current and former employees.  Every one of them references the company name & logo.  Many of them are private groups for individual stores. The public ones are great resources for gaining insights into cultural and engagement issues.  In an organization of 45,000 people, most of which are 18-25-years old, there is an amazing amount of conversation going on.  Rich consumer insights, potential employee morale problems, operational issues, poor management, you name it.  It’s all there in the conversations that are happening in the “unofficial” channels of your organization.

So here’s the point: Whether your executives like it (get it) or not, your employees are having conversations with each other and with your customers, and are doing it under your company’s brand.  Is that a good thing?  Perhaps, if it is identified and supported.  Your Gen Y employees certainly have a better understanding of the communication tools and channels that their peers, and increasingly, your customers favor.  Sure, there may be messages that aren’t strictly in line with company communication guidelines, but the voices are human.  Internally, they build a sense of family which is much more genuine than what comes out of your periodic employee engagement campaigns.  Externally, they can establish a dialog with your customers in ways that your highly structured, talking point-ladened corporatespeak simply cannot.  Overturn your Orthodoxies.  Let these voices show you the way.

Customer Experience at Panera Bread

PaneraLogo.pngFor the last year, I have been a regular Panera Bread customer.  With my wife and I having increasingly busy schedules we, like many Americans usually don’t have time to cook dinner.  Panera has a nice selection of soups and salads that work well for a quick evening meal.  Panera rotates their soup selection daily, but provides a link on their website showing the soups of the day.  That should make it easy, but only if the local restaurant consistently executes.  As you may have guessed where I’m going with this, my local restaurant is only consistent at being inconsistent. 

Tonight, my wife checked the Panera menu, saw they had a soup she likes and asked me to pick it up for her.  I’m a nice guy and even though I’ll be up all night working on a presentation, I hopped in the car and went up to the local Panera.  Walking in, I spied the soup menu.  Conspicuously absent was the very soup that I wanted; a soup listed on their national website menu as being featured today.  This is not the first time this has happened.  In fact, my experience has been that the available soups in my local store frequently don’t match the website.  Of course, there was only one cashier working at 6:00pm and there were 4 people in front of me.  Being an optimistic person, I waited in line to confirm what I already knew. 

NO SOUP FOR YOU!

When I asked the cashier, an innocent enough young man with the personality of a stump, if they had the soup, his answer was simply “No”.  That’s it.  So I got back in the car and drove 5 miles to the next closest Panera.  Fortunately, they had the soup I wanted, but did not have all of Tuesday’s advertised soups.

Seems petty to make such a big stink about a $4 cup of soup, but imagine for a minute if McDonald’s was consistently inconsistent in having french fries or Coke available.  What if Hertz was consistently inconsistent in having midsize cars?  What if whatever company  was consistently inconsistent in delivering an advertised product or service?

It wouldn’t take too many occurrences of missed expectations before you would stop being a regular customer.  The next time I need a quick bite to eat, Panera will not be on the top of my list.

Consistent retail execution is difficult, especially across 1100 locations (including franchises), but it’s really important.  I don’t know if the failure to execute consistently in my local Panera is representative of the overall chain, but that really doesn’t matter to me as a customer.  What is clear to me is that Panera is not managing this little problem at my store and as I recently wrote, ensuring that the little things are done right (like having the soups listed on your website) is critical to driving loyalty.

Web Democracy

hddvd-bluray2.jpgIn case you haven’t been paying attention, the Web 2.0 revolution is well underway. Hyper-connected consumers now have the power to influence the way companies do business, apply significant pressure on political issues, and even challenge censorship and legal precident.

No one understands that more than Digg’s founder, Kevin Rose. Last week, the encryption used for HD DVD and Blu Ray (AACS,) was cracked and the processing key was leaked all over the internet. Lawyers were slow to respond, but eventually issued cease and desist notices. When Digg received their notice, the began pulling stories that mentioned the key. As soon as users noticed that their stories were being pulled, they began resubmitting them. Eventually, the first four pages on their site were almost entirely about the processing key.

So if you are Kevin Rose, a guy responsible for an influential and popular tool thats all about “user-powered content”, what do you do? What Mr. Rose decided to do was to be true to what his consumers wanted. He stopped fighting them and made the following blog post: http://blog.digg.com/?p=74

Digg This: 09-f9-11-02-9d-74-e3-5b-d8-41-56-c5-63-56-88-c0
by Kevin Rose at 9pm, May 1st, 2007 in Digg Website

Today was an insane day. And as the founder of Digg, I just wanted to post my thoughts…

In building and shaping the site I’ve always tried to stay as hands on as possible. We’ve always given site moderation (digging/burying) power to the community. Occasionally we step in to remove stories that violate our terms of use (eg. linking to pornography, illegal downloads, racial hate sites, etc.). So today was a difficult day for us. We had to decide whether to remove stories containing a single code based on a cease and desist declaration. We had to make a call, and in our desire to avoid a scenario where Digg would be interrupted or shut down, we decided to comply and remove the stories with the code.

But now, after seeing hundreds of stories and reading thousands of comments, you’ve made it clear. You’d rather see Digg go down fighting than bow down to a bigger company. We hear you, and effective immediately we won’t delete stories or comments containing the code and will deal with whatever the consequences might be.

If we lose, then what the hell, at least we died trying.

At the end of the day, the average person reading Digg is not going to have the software or the expertise to make use of the cracked code.  On the other hand, they clearly have the power to affect outcomes in ways unimaginable just a few years ago.

Power to the people!

<via ThreeMinds>

Jott-Egor-Twitter Mashup

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This one is for my Twitter Friends. I’ve found a way to do hands-free Tweets. A few weeks ago, Drew McLellan blogged about Jott.com, a service that translates messages left using your cellphone into e-mails to people in your contact list.  At the time, I was getting all infatuated with Twitter and thought it would be cool to be able to Jott a message to my Twitter account. The missing link (unless you can program this stuff yourself) is a tool call egorcast which is specifically designed to allow you to Jott a message to Twitter, as well as Jaiku (if you live in that part of the world) and your WordPress blog.

This allows you to Twitter from anywhere that has cellphone access but browser access is either not available or not advisable (like driving into work). Set up your Jott and Twitter accounts first (if you don’t have them already). Then go to egorcast and connect it all together.

Have fun!

The iPhone Challenge

No sooner had I hit the publish key on my Brand Engagement – Apple Store post, did I see this challenge from Seth Godin:

Steve Ballmer says, “There’s no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance.” Predicting the future of the iPhone is perfect bait for marketing pundits everywhere. How about a pool and we’ll see who’s as smart as they pretend to be? So, I invite you to make a prediction, trackback it here and a year from now, we’ll take a look.

I agree with Seth; the iPhone will be big this year and even bigger next year.  Here’s why:

  1. People, especially young teens, are totally engaged with the Apple brand.
  2. The cell phone and the iPod are probably the most important possessions a young teenager has.
  3. It will be the ultimate aspirational gadget for young teens.  Having the coolest iPod and phone are status symbols for them; they get you attention.  If someone else has a RAZR, you will drive your parents crazy begging for one, even if you have a perfectly good phone (voice of experience talking)

What do you think?

Brand Engagement – Apple Store

Do you have young teenagers? If so, do they like to go to the mall and hang out at the Apple Store and take goofy pictures of themselves using “Photo Booth”? If so, you are not alone. Young teens share a couple of common traits:

  1. They have time to kill, but not a lot of money
  2. They are hyper-connected and highly social
  3. They like to play with stuff
  4. They love the Apple Store

If you ask them why, they will tell you “It’s Fun!” or “Because the have cool stuff to do there”. Flip that around and ask them why they don’t love to hang out at the the big CE retailers and you probably hear them say “there’s nothing for us to do there.”

How does Apple feel about all the kids always in their store playing with the cool stuff, but not buying anything. They absolutely encourage it. Sure, the kids can be obnoxious and disruptive, but they are also engaging with the brand in a way that most other purchasing segments never will. Apple is smart enough to realize that these kids have a significant say in family technology purchases today, and in a few years, when they become purchasers, Apple will be top of mind for them.

How strong is this brand engagement? I often use my soon-to-be-13-year-old daughter as a barometer. Statistically invalid, but directionally OK. She called me into the family room yesterday because she wanted to show me the cool menu that she had built for a DVD she was making for her friends. It was “cool” and I told her so (egos need lots of strokes at this age), but then the first scene of content began, she really had my atention. It was entitled “The Apple Store”. It’s a simple slideshow set to music. The images are a collection of manipulated Photo Booth pictures taken of her and her friends in the store and e-mailed home over the last year. (Interesting thought as I am writing…. it would have never crossed my mind even five years ago that kids would be creating and publishing their own movies, but I’ll save that for another post).

So this post could be about several things that I like to rant about. The migration of content from Mass to Personal. The consumer technology that makes this easy. The close, hyper-connected relationships that today’s youth have with each other. But the big takeaway for me is that Apple, either by accident or by design, has tapped into the next generation of digital lifestyle consumers and they are totally engaged with the brand. Can you imagine kids making movies about their experiences at Circuit City or Best Buy?

But Apple has figured it out. Whether its the purchasing customer or just the pack of kids passing through on their daily romp through the mall, Apple knows that brand engagement is created not through finding, selecting and purchasing a bundle of products and services. That’s an orthodoxy that they have clearly overturned. They understand it’s created through customer experience, but not just during the in-store transaction. They design the experience around the customer’s (or future customer’s) life.

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