Friday, December 26, 2008

PR and 'New Media' - What's in Your PR Wallet?

There was an interesting topic thread about PR over at TechCrunch that I wanted to point you to before the holiday break -- it currently spans across two posts from Michael Arrington.

The first is "Death to the Embargo" about TechCrunch's decision to no longer respect the idea of a PR embargo -- or to respect it selectively as they decide.

The second is "Meet Lois Whitmat the Poster-child for Everything Wrong with PR", a post that sprung from some communications between the aforementioned PR person and a new media org (tech blog that covers phones) and the upcoming CES show.

The titles pretty much sum up the focus of the post, so I won't bother quoting anything specific in the post. Both posts are particularly notable for the discussion that takes place in the comments portion of the post, so don't stop at the end of the article.

What these two posts really touch on are some of the symptomatic manifestations of the challenge for old-school marketing and PR to keep up with the real impact of change that is being shaped by new media (the same broad issue that Seth Godin captures so well in Meatball Sundae: Is Your Marketing out of Sync?).

With the embargo post, it's a case of companies, PR groups and media wrestling with what the traditional idea of "embargo" means when publishing is instantaneous and republishing is widespread. In old-school PR, there were gentleman's agreements, old-boy networks, and key media outlets. As the gatekeeper infrastructure collapses, there's a corresponding struggle to understand who are the gatekeepers that you want to respect and how do you should work with them.

To me, one root cause of these problems is a disconnect between what should be 'push' and what should be 'pull'. Traditional PR has tried to push 'news' to media, but the world is changing. Now push=spam and we want to control which social networks that we participate in. What you're seeing in these two posts are people who are struggling with the rule changes -- and the lack of rules -- and what that means. For people that don't understand the 'why' behind the marketing tools and how the why shapes the 'when' and 'how', they're going to struggle. Anyway, it's good food for thought.

Friday, December 12, 2008

A Brief History of the Current Financial Crisis

Recently, so many topic threads running through my thoughts and conversations seem to lead back to the current financial crisis. While I'm not an economic expert and this doesn't directly fall under the umbrella of marketing, I wanted to share a few links to some of the things that I've been reading, looking at, and listening to in recent weeks. While you may find a couple of these articles or posts that have some political-spin roots associated with them, my purpose in including the link isn't so much a political one as a looking at good simplified explanations of some of the issues.

The first couple of links come from the NPR radio program This American Life. If you haven't heard this one before, you are in for a treat. Each week they pick a theme and explore it through a number of interesting interviews, stories, audio essays, and radio diaries. Earlier this year, they put together a show that attempted to explain the sub-prime mortgage crisis -- but in a typical' This American Life' approach, take you inside the industry to meet and understand the people, understand what their jobs were, and to try and understand who, if anyone, was knowingly responsible for the crisis. If you want a simple, easy-to-understand explanation of the sub-prime crisis -- with interviews from people ranging from those that worked directly with home-buyers to those on Wall street, this program is a must-listen. Here's the link to the page where you can listen to it or download the podcast:
355: The Giant Pool of Money
The next episode in the financial crisis story from This American Life was put together around the time of the Wall Street bailout. Same guys, this time providing an update and an explanation of a lot of financial terms that you'll hear in the discussions about all of this. Another excellent show:
365: Another Frightening Show About the Economy
They also have a blog that tracks the ongoing, day-to-day issues associated with the financial crisis, Also worth a look.

Another interesting article comes from the Conde Naste magazine Portfolio. This article was written by the Michael Lewis, author of the book Liar's Poker, a book about his experiences working on Wall Street back in the 1980s. The Portfolio article, The End of Wall Street's Boom, tracks through some background on the sub-prime, credit default swaps, and C.D.O.s or Collateralized Debt Obligations. This one is packed with food for thought.

Finally, moving into the political end of the spectrum, I'd point you to two posts from The Daily Kos, both from the author Devilstower.
Three Times is Enemy Action from Sep 21, 2008
This post provides a backgrounder on deregulation of the financial industry going back to the S&L Crisis of the 1980s, the Keating Five, etc.

Down the Republican Rabbit Hole from Nov 16, 2008
This is a fun piece targeting some attempts to point blame for the financial crisis on Democrats and to the 1977 Community Reinvestment Act. Like many of the other pieces that I've referenced, this one does a nice job of distilling the architecture of these financial instruments of destruction into a super-simple, plain English explanation that almost works like an elevator pitch.
I know that there's a lot to read and to listen to here, but I've found all these worth forwarding. They also touch on some other aspects of our role in business that I hope to pick up in a future post.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Understanding Choice - What Controls the Decision-making Process

This last week, KQED featured an excellent radio program on factors that shape the decision-making process. This one hour feature was a Radiolab feature episode put together by WNYC Radio in New York City. If you haven't heard any of these Radiolab episodes, I urge you to look through their archives -- there are so many great ones. Basically, the shows usually do a deep dive into some complex concept, then with a combination of sound effects and excellent story-telling, explain ideas that live at the edge of science, ethics, and modern life.

This choice episode that I'm referencing here breaks down notions of whether choice is rational or emotional, some factors that may affect your decisions, and how there are some ways that your decisions can be influenced and manipulated. It's excellent food for the marketing mind.

I can't find a way to embed the audio stream, but here's a link to the Choice episode page. You can listen to the program or download the episode there. Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Amusing Food Marketing

I just noticed this label on the top of the tub of pecans that we were using in the Thanksgiving cooking:
Junior Mammoth Halves
Now this may be some sort of actual food industry measure, but it sure looks like the work of some over-enthusiastic copywriter who wants to make me laugh.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Another Management Strategy Post

This is a great post that I came across on TechCrunch this morning. The post is titled The First-Time CEO's Recession Survival Guide by Glenn Kelman. Glenn is the CEO of Redfin, an online real estate start-up. One of my favorite suggestions is his second point, "Act Like an Owner." Here's part of the way that he explains the idea:
You’ve probably spent most of your life hating your boss, pleasing others (so you can blame them later) and spending other people’s money. These are hard habits to break. When I was still settling into being a CEO, I wasted a lot of time driving initiatives designed to please others, acting as if someone wouldn’t let me do what I wanted to do with Redfin.
Which brings me to my question on this -- as a marketer and a creative pro, are you "pre-adjusting" or pre-filtering your ideas?

Monday, November 10, 2008

Marketing By Deception - Why I Avoid Using Some Products

More and more, I'm finding it increasingly unbelievable when I come across companies that use deceptive web marketing practices in an effort to pull-in audience or drive their demand generation programs.

For clarification, here's an example of what I mean. If you go to -- when you log-in, change a record, or perform virtually any activity -- once you click the "okay" button to submit the transaction, the next page you are taken to is an advertisement -- a pre-populated submission form that you might think is just a review of your data (if you're in a hurry). The default choice (the big button) submits your information to the advertiser. You have to actively select the "No Thanks" button each time. What's more, if you're updating your account, you may have to go through this screen several times.

Beyond the shear frustration of the interruption, the real problem with this type of advertising is the profile of who winds up in the lead pool. Do you really want a list of people who were deceived into signing up? What kind of loyalty can you build when your first interaction is deceptive? This is also the reason why I'm usually opposed to purchasing one of those "lead lists" -- one of those "I never thought of that" moments that frequently come up when the sales guy decides to try on a marketing hat.

On the reverse side of this topic is the discussion that I frequently have surrounding Google Adwords and Search Engine Marketing programs. One common thread I hear is "we keep getting all of these leads, but they're not any good." With several Adwords programs that I've run, the volume of inquiries that sales received rose dramatically, but because the products were picking up a small segment of a consumer market, many of the inquiries had high customer service requirements with low potential unit volume (one or two units). But it's important to remember that with Adwords, these people looked for the product, clicked on the ad, went to the site and read enough to bridge the gap and contact the company. Contrast that with someone who was tricked into signing up. These prospects may not have been an ideal fit for the product that sales was offering, but they had already bridged one major gap -- they were actually interested in the product.

Deception Marketing - Making it Go Away
For me, the aggravation of having to navigate deceptive or interruption marketing programs isn't just the shuck-and-dodge that you have to do to avoid getting lumped in -- particularly since you didn't want the product in the first place -- it's that there isn't a very good way to penalize the companies that do this type of marketing. If you don't like it, you just don't show up in their pool of prospects.

Imagine something that cataloged and scored this type of marketing. Maybe it might look like Scoville units, the system that they use to measure how spicy peppers are. Instead of being more spicy, marketing programs could be measured by degrees or units of Spam. After all, interruption marketing is basically Spam. And while spammers could probably care less, if you were a reputable organization, would you really want to have a high Spam score?

Unfortunately, I don't know of anything like this system. So, until then, my only choice is to call these programs out when I find them and they stand out in some way.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Is Barack Obama going to take the US Government Web 2.0?

Knowing what we know about President-Elect Obama's campaign methodology, what do you think the chances are that we're getting ready to see the Government go Web 2.0? Here are a couple of things that caught my eye that I think are worth thinking about. -- I just saw this yesterday and went to the site this morning. Getting ready to start a new venture? Create a web site. But isn't just brochure-ware. There are places to submit your email address, to provide suggestions, and to get engaged. Consider some of the Web 2.0 elements that they could add:
  • Dell uses's "Ideas" engine to enable their users to suggest ideas, vote on them, and shape the direction of products on services. Imagine the Ideas engine applied to government.
  • has ridden user-authored reviews to help drive their business far beyond many of their competitors. Imagine applying user-authored reviews to government.
  • Social networking and community used to be things that were assembled through physical activity on main street. During the era of radio, people gathered around radios and that shaped their relationship with the government. Imagine the social networking model applied to government.
Another aspect that's probably worth noting is related to transparency. While the Bush administration came into office with a cloak of secrecy over everything that they did, government wasn't always that way. Whether you call it "Sunlight" or something else, it's an aspect of government operations that have been AWOL for nearly eight years now. Now suppose that you're going to "Open-Source" the government? In order to do that, you have to expose the mechanisms so that everyone involved can participate.

One fundamental aspect of all of these elements is that they require community participation, customer participation, and real involvement. Ultimately -- as demonstrated during the election process -- Obama's ability to engage his customer base and get them to participate may wind up being the secret sauce in leveraging Web 2.0 technology to make transformational changes to the government.

I think that the possibilities look very interesting. What do you think?

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

President Barack Obama - Proving the Power of Web 2.0, The Long Tail, and Next Generation Marketing

While it's been obvious for some time, with the announcement of the election results, we now have another testament to the power of next-generation, long tail marketing.

Here's an examples of what I mean - Fund raising...

When you break down the high-volume, small contributor element of the Obama campaign fund raising, you're really talking about a Long Tail model. But the thing to highlight is not just that many individuals used the web to contribute small amounts - that same approach has been available and used since Howard Dean, but that Obama made those contibutions important. Valued. Engaged. Essentially, by providing this broad-based audience with a product that they could use, that they could believe in, Obama connected with his customers and was able to get them to become more involved than the sideline political spectator.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Tech, The Tightening Economy, and a Different Way to Look at Start-ups

For publications that track Tech and Tech start-ups -- a lot of recent news themes have been about layoffs and how this economy is impacting start-ups. Part of that's happening as people try to come to terms with how this economic climate is going to affect the business of Silicon Valley. Recently, there was a story floating around about a meeting where Sequoia Capital -- a notable VC firm with early investments that include Google and Apple -- and the CEOs from their start-ups. During the meeting, they gave them a presentation that presented a dismal economic forecast (I've embedded this Slideshare presentation which is alleged to be the Sequoia preso).

And in an amusing comment on this presentation, Tony Perkins published this commentary -- What Sequoia Really Meant, Commentary: A Timely Reminder for All Start-ups. This contains a satirical letter about what Sequoia would really like to say to their CEOs. Tucked inside the humor are some underlying truths like these:
Market size and timing are everything! We will not pay to teach people why they should like your product. VCs waste billions on start-ups developing products before there is even a market for them.
Our investment mantra is to ignite raging infernos with a single match. If you don't get the analogy -- it means that we are cheap, cheap, cheap! There are only two jobs in any start-up: "making the product" and "selling the product." If you have someone on your team doing neither of those jobs, fire them!
And the one quote from this that I wanted to highlight:
All we know is that the days when we can sell a highly unprofitable company like YouTube to Google for a $1.6 billion-plus are over. (At least for now.)...
Let us tell you one more time: If you aren't cash-flow positive before you spend all the money we have given you, don't come back looking for more!
With of the news surrounding financial announcements, tech, and start-ups, it seems like there are some people out there who are looking for another major shift in the start-up world similar to the Dot Com Collapse from the 00-01 period of time. If you didn't know better, you'd think that Silicon Valley is sitting on another generation of Web Vans teetering on collapse. But one thing that you need to keep in mind is that, for all of the Web 2.0 software companies you hear about -- from the successful ones to the ones that are going to bring social networking to the office supply chain -- there are also companies that are developing things like ICs for next generation wireless or optical networks, systems for integrating software inside the data center, and a host of other companies that are focused on real-world business problems. For these start-ups, success or failure isn't about what's fashionable this week, it's about securing a customer that can carry them to the end of the year -- or gaining traction with a key customer that validates their business.

These are the types of start-ups that you might not hear about unless you are in that market. They're probably not publishing videos on YouTube simply hoping to get noticed. They don't measure their success in the number of uniques. And for many here in the valley, these are the kinds start-ups that we work at. There's no gourmet chef, no big parties -- and you're probably not going to get rich. I think that this may be one of the most missunderstood aspects of life in the startup world -- it usually isn't some sort of get-rich-quick scheme. Typically, it's too much work for okay money, but the people that you work with are smart, talented, and generally some of the best that you'll ever work with. It's also an opportunity to rewrite how things are done and to see the world in unique new ways -- where you don't have to hear "this is how we've always done it". And for some of us, that's what makes it special.

When you boil it all down, I continue to remain hopeful and optimistic about the economic climate here in Silicon Valley. The Valley that I know isn't really built on the economics of yet-another-spin-of-the-latest-hyped-technology, it's built on the adoption of solutions that transform businesses, communities and life. It's evolution in the fast lane. And, while it may be that the once giant Yahoo is becoming this "era's" Boreland or that "social networking" may be this era's "pen computing", there are some companies right out there, probably just down the street, that are putting the foundations in place to change the way you live.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Silicon Valley Weather Report - Tight With Increasing Frustration

A quick note about this post: Initially, I started this post simply to comment on a TechCrunch post about economic tightening here in the Bay Area. But while I was working my way through commenting on it, a bunch of other items and interesting indicators started popping up about the economic climate here. It's left me wanting to write more about the economy here, so -- duh dhuh duh -- yet another theme was born.


I'm still down here in the weeds, trying to hack my way through project after project and get to a space where I've freed up time to post -- not enough resources and too many projects. While I work my way through this stuff, here are a couple of items that I found interesting in recent weeks.

In this Techcrunch post, An Ignoble But Much Needed End To Web 2.0, Marked By A Party In Cyprus, Michael Arrington writes about the changing economic times and their impact on business here in Silicon Valley. This post piles onto a post, Silicon Valley Could Use A Downturn Right About Now, that he did about a year earlier about the strong climate for start-ups and how, once piles of start-up money start dropping around here, vast hoards of cash-sniffing sycophants descend on the place like flies. It's the downside of living in "a bubble." On this theme from his post, I completely agree. It's this part of his post that I have issue with:
The first to go will be the bulging marketing and communications departments at all those startups - the very people who make Silicon Valley such a nasty place to be in the boom times. But as the number of startups dwindle, it won’t be so hard for them to get attention from press and users, so those marketing and PR flaks won’t be missed all that much (of course, the people without jobs won’t be happy).
We Found the Source of all Waste, Fraud and Abuse...
Perhaps you have seen this concept before -- the idea that marketing is a source of great evil, the corporate tapeworm, a parasite on the back of the engineering shark (why would anyone want a computer that comes in different colors?).

I'm not going to get caught up in some argument surrounding corporate stereotypes and what the role of marketing is within an organization. It doesn't surprise me that TechCrunch gatherings started drawing PR people -- it's a new media outlet and Michael Arrington is their editor in chief (I'd guess that a party that includes the top editors from the New York Times is similar) -- but to see the "the problem with this internet bubble is all of the PR and marketing people" meme is disappointing.

But, as I said, forget about all of that stuff. My issue with this whole thing is really more of an issue with an internal inconsistency in the "Web 2.0" concept. A core part of what these "Web 2.0" organizations should be doing doesn't involve traditional PR and outbound marketing. If you want a good framework for some of those core concepts with what a "Web 2.0" company should be, check out Seth Godin's Meatball Sundae. Web 2.0 is supposed to be all about user-engagement, user-involvement -- user's and their content bringing the value to the platform that you're producing. It's the idea that you don't sell that, and if you do, you don't have to. As Godin notes, good Web 2.0 is about being integral to the customer's needs and earning customer loyalty and their permission to work them, not interrupting them.

To me, that's where the real disconnect sits -- the essence of the current Internet "bubble". For about the past year or two it seems like there's been this idea that there's some incredible "transform-the-world" aspect to some of the aspects of social networking. Every time that I've been on Facebook, I can't find anything on there that makes me feel like I need to use it. Don't get me wrong, I'm sure that it's useful for a select audience, but that audience doesn't currently include me. Contrast that with LinkedIn. Although I haven't been hired for a job using LinkedIn, the tool is interesting enough that I've been using it for over a year. That being said, I've also seen a number of listings for Marcom positions at LinkedIn -- but whatever it is that they are doing, it wasn't some traditional outbound marketing program like an ad or a well-placed article that connected me to the tool and these types of programs don't keep me using it.

Who are you going to cut? Ghostbusters!
It's difficult for people and organizations to make the changes that are implied by some of those web 2.0 concepts -- to abandon many traditional marketing techniques and practices. But it's not just marketing people that struggle with that -- it's also the people across the organization that aren't involved in marketing. In many organizations, management and accounting also wrestle with those traditional perceptions. Downturn? Need to tighten? Let's cut marketing -- those guy's spend money and there's always lots of waste there.

One of the more interesting things that I've seen recently is this TechCrunch post, an email from Jason Calacanis, the CEO at Mahalo about how to handle layoffs. Mahalo is one of a number of start-ups that have recently announced lay-offs as the economy tightens (I'm planning on a roll-up of recent news about the changing start-up economy in a subsequent post), but this email is an excellent explanation of the strategy that Mahalo used to analyze their business. Oh, and check out this quote:
The first step was getting out our P&L and looking at each line item in detail. For our business, we have a large editorial group, a modest technology team, almost no marketing costs except for our Mahalo Daily video show, and extremely tight overhead. We haven’t built our sales group yet, so that line item doesn’t exist.
So much for throwing sales and marketing overboard like so much dead weight -- you can't cut spending on something that you don't spend money on. So here's the question -- is the great albatross of marketing a real issue or is it just a myth, a convenient meme to help support some notion that the reason that failed is because of those sock-puppet TV commercials?

Monday, September 29, 2008

A Quick Blog Update

I know it's been a while since I've posted. I've been working on a couple of posts, but I haven't finalized them. I've also been actively working on a integration project, integrating with Oracle 11i.

One thing that I wanted to call your attention to -- I first saw this post by Eric Schonfeld on Techcrunch -- The State of the Blogosphere 2008 on Technorati. If you want the full report, go to Technorati. If you want a great summary of the report, including some handy graphs and the always valuable comment section, check out the Techcrunch post.

I'm also working on a post on Whole Foods Markets. I've seen a number of things in the press about them and how they are dealing with changing economic times and a decline in their customer base. I'm part of their declining customer base and, while they probably don't want to market to my demographic, I want to chime in on some of the places where our relationship went south... but that'll be left for an upcoming post -- maybe this weekend.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Looking for a New Marketing Job - Part 2

This post is part 2 of a look at how to find a new marketing job in a company that doesn't do marketing. In prepping several of drafts of this post, I starting down a path of strategy mapping, but the topic thread seemed overly broad and preachy. Instead, I've decided to take more of a tactical focus, listing a few techniques that I know some people have had success with.

Some techniques to help you get the new marketing job that you're looking for:

1. Resume Search Engine Optimization -- if there is a type of job that you're looking for, then your resume better include the keywords associated with that job in it. Keep in mind that when you're optimizing for search, you need to think in terms of how the person on the other end would search in order to show up. But more importantly, if you're looking for a specific type of job -- knowing what you know about the HR screening process -- you probably need the title of that job in your resume. How you stick it in there is an interesting challenge -- particularly if the role appears to be a tangent from your current resume. Like search engine marketing, if you take a user to a page that doesn't match their search, you're going to have a high bounce rate, and that has the potential to impact you across the category. In that way, if you think of resumes like web pages, assume that a recruiter is like a human version of the Google page rank algorithm -- tricks that elevate your rank today have the potential to crush your rank in the future -- focus on good content.

Of course, the challenge with this is that good content for search engines is not always good writing and design for people -- and many people haven't caught up to this yet. It's entirely likely that the things that will help a recruiter find your resume are also the things that will make them reject you when they look at it -- search engine optimized resumes don't necessarily match "traditional resume style". Let me know if you've come up with some good strategies for this.

2. Respond to job postings with a resume that's optimized to match the listing -- this is an important technique to keep in mind if you have any hope of getting past some "front line" recruiter and human resources filters. I've spoken with friends who recommended highly qualified candidates for internal organization openings -- only to see their resumes not make it past the first screening. Then, the same candidate sail through the process on a less matched position with a revision of their resume to match the specific listed "requirements". The point here is that requirements are a checklist used by the people who run the filter -- and they don't interpret that checklist or look for shades of capability.

3. Lie... err... Fictionalize... err... Loosely Interpret and stretch your background -- I don't recommend this. It's not something that I would do. But it goes without saying that I have run into people in the workplace who seem to have padded their background with capabilities and skills that they didn't really have. My personal experience is that this approach comes back to bite someone -- either the resume-padder or the people that they work with who are now saddled with colleague that can't do what they claim. Also, going back to another one of my previous posts, it's easy to overlook how small Silicon Valley really is. And if the work environment here is small, I would bet that your only way to escape the consequences of this type of move if you work in other locations is relocation.

Of course, moving beyond the how-I-try-to-be 'legal' disclaimer, consider "stretch your background" from a marketing point of view -- specifically, what exactly are you saying when you say "stretch your background." Forget about the making stuff up part -- what about that project team that you worked on, whose idea was it to add that feature? Was that you or the team? Or how about something like CRM -- if you worked three years at an organization that heavily used CRM, does that really make you more of an expert than the guy that set-up and configured, only to watch the sales team not use it? The reality of these hypotheticals is that we work with real world examples like these every day. We work with people who take credit for our work or don't contribute to group processes. And, in the marketplace of your career, your competition includes those people.

Typically when your marketing a product, you don't have to tell you're potential customer about all of the negatives, the features that underperform, or the nuanced aspects of how the product doesn't work. Think about what might happen if you were buying a used car and you could see a detailed view of every moment of the car's history -- would your potential customer rule the car out because of that time when the car drove to Lake Tahoe, or maybe because of that time the car went over that speed bump at 20 MPH instead of 10?

Again, my point in all of this is not to misrepresent the product that is you. When you are selling you, you need to remember that you're taking your prospective employer through a selling process. And one of the first stages of that process -- the resume / cover letter gateway -- is early-stage selling, and you need to be concientious about controlling your message.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Another Political Post - What's In Your Presentation?

I know, I know. I really try to avoid political posts, but this story struck me as so amusing that I simply had to post something about it. First, I need to start by saying that I didn't watch John McCain's speech tonight, but I thought I would run through the news blogs before I went to bed tonight when I came across this bit of news, Mystery Revealed, from Josh Marshall's Talking Points Memo (if you haven't read Josh Marshall's blog, this is one of THE best investigative journalism sites for politics -- one of his subdomains is Talking Points Muckraker, and their team truly fit the muckraker definition).

So, according to the story on TPM, during John McCain's speech tonight, there was a segment of the presentation that featured John McCain standing in front of this large building. It turns out that that building is the Walter Reed Middle School in North Hollywood, CA. The post includes pics of the building from the school's web site. So why is John McCain standing in front of this middle school -- well, we can only speculate, but the most likely reason is that the person who put together the presentation background was looking for graphics of Walter Reed (not to be confused with the medical center where so many of our veterans are staying) and they found this beautiful picture.

Think about that for a moment. You're preparing a presentation, one that you only get one opportunity to present, and that opportunity comes once every four years -- call it once in a lifetime.

How much do you know about the images that you are using? That might be worth considering when you're preparing a presentation for funding of your next start-up... or even yet another iteration of that product line that you've been working on for three years.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Blackberry vs. iPhone - My review

After nearly two years using a Blackberry as my mobile communication platform, I just purchased the iPhone 3G a couple of weeks ago. In some ways, I wouldn't say that the decision was straightforward -- and depending on how you use your phone, it may not be the right decision for you. And, while it's not specifically a marketing topic, I thought I'd offer a few observations that might help guide your thoughts if you're considering a phone or a switch.

Background - Blackberry, the most advanced business communication platform and hands-down, the best phone that I've ever used.

As noted, I first picked up a Blackberry nearly two years ago, coupled with a decision to switch from Verizon to Cingular. While with Verizon, one phone had died and I switched to the Motorola Q, hoping to get access to my work email through my phone. After using the Q for a month or so, I found it to be a poor match for my usage -- I didn't like the full keyboard (it was impossible to dial a number without looking), it seemed like the Windows mobile application crashed a lot, and when it came to checking email, the process of checking POP3 seemed to hang the system and kill the battery. I tried to work with Verizon to swap the Q for a more traditional phone, but they wouldn't work with me, so I decided to try Cingular. My first phone from Cingular was one of the first 3G phones, an LG model that would (theoretically) allow me to use the phone like a modem and connect to the highspeed network. Not only could I not make that work, the phone dropped calls all the time whenever it switched from between 3G and Edge networks. Fortunately, the guys at Cingular were very flexible and willing to work with me on swapping the phone -- and that's when I got my Blackberry 7130 -- the predecessor to the Blackberry Pearl.

Here are a few of the things that I think help make the Blackberry the best business communication and messaging platform available:
  • Profiles: The Blackberry had a whole list of setting profiles that allow you to configure how the phone behaves when specific profiles are activated. In 'Normal' mode and when the phone is not in it's holster, the phone will ring when a call comes in, but if an email comes in, it will change the LED from blinking green to blinking red. In 'Normal' mode when the phone is in the holster, a phone call will make it vibrate twice, then ring, while an email or a message will just make it vibrate. You can customize all of these settings as well as ring assignments and more.
  • The Intelligent Holster: The Blackberry adds intelligence to the holster so that the phone knows when it is in a holster or not. Basically, it uses a magnet (some plusses and minuses on that one) in order to switch the phone. When you put the phone in it's holster, it puts it the keypad to sleep and changes the profile.
  • Speed Dial: Configure single button speed dial settings for your frequently dialed numbers.
  • Online email Account Pre-screening Rules: Set up email routing rules so that you can filter Spam -- or only route certain high-priority messages.
  • A Dial pad that works like a regular cell phone: This isn't true if you have one of those full-sized keyboard models, but for the Pearl model, each key functions as two keys for QWERTY work, but the center of the keyboard is a standard phone number pad.
  • Standard Cable Interface: One USB mini port used for all charging, data sync, etc.
  • Third-party software: there are a lot of business-centric applications that you can download and install on your Blackberry - language tools, tools to view PDF and Office documents, even an application that will allow you to use Skype on your Blackberry (an awesome tool for international calling).
  • The Blackberry Server and Push technology: The Blackberry pushes email to your phone as soon as the server sees that you have a message on the server. Not only does this help you get messages faster, it seems to help with your battery life as your phone only has to get email when the server pushes something to it. If you're company hasn't invested in Blackberry Server, RIM servers query your mail server on a scheduled basis, then push email when they get some.
  • Integrated text tools in the Blackberry OS: Copy, Cut and Paste, Highlight text, dial number. Until I switched to the iPhone, I took this functionality for granted. The Blackberry allows you to hold down the shift key and highlight sections of text. You can then cut, copy, or paste that text across the platform.
As you can probably tell, I'm a big fan of the Blackberry, and if you're a current user, I'm not suggesting that you run out and get an iPhone. If your thinking about switching, it's actually a difficult decision -- here are a couple of other issues that I've wrestled with.
  • Lack of the Holster / Message LED / Profiles on the iPhone: If you're used to that Crackberry on your hip, my phone just vibrated because another message just came in experience, the iPhone is just not going to provide the same level of experience. Sure you can set it to vibrate when there is an email, and sure, you can get a holster, but the iPhone isn't going to magically know when your phone is in the holster or not (like if you're in a meeting). And if you've left your phone on the desk and stepped away, there isn't a visual clue to help you see that the iPhone has messages.
  • Lack of Physical Buttons: Sometimes this is cool, but I find that dialing with the touch screen is a good way to missdial -- it seems that I often trigger "call" instead of some other button that I wanted. Also, depending on the way that you hold the phone, I find that sometimes I accidentally trigger some of the edge buttons.
  • Differences between the iPhone button layout and the Blackberry layout: the call / hang-up buttons on the iPhone are backwards (left-right, right-left) from the layout on the Blackberry, so several times I hung up when I intended to answer a call.
The iPhone - The Most Amazing Mobile Web / Other Application tool Available

With all of the issues that I pointed to above, you might think that I'm kicking myself for switching to the iPhone, but that's not the case. The two platforms are remarkably different, and the advantages of each can't really be matched by the other. When it comes to web functionality, the iPhone simply has no equal. Here are some of the things that make the iPhone unparalleled for web use:
  • View full web pages and zoom in and out: Compared to most mobile viewers that deconstruct the page and present pages more like a text-based browser, the iPhone displays web pages as you would view them on your computer -- when the web pages appear, you see the full page, and you can zoom in as needed. It's easy to underestimate just how useful this feature is -- particularly as this functionality is carried across the entire platform, from the mail client to third party applications.
  • A Web Browser that works like a web browser - Example, I've loaded pages on my iPhone -- that's dashboards and all -- and the interface works. In trying the same thing on my Blackberry, I needed the ' mobile edition' and that pretty much only functioned like a version of the 'Offline Edition'. If you're an administrator, this is pretty much a waste of time -- and not worth the cost of the mobile client seat license. Don't get me wrong, Salesforce doesn't seem to like the idea of you entering data through your iPhone (this kept causing my browser to crash), but I think that's only a matter of time -- unless SFDC wants to try and squeeze a few extra cents off of iPhone users.
    At the same time, this web functionality on the iPhone means that I can administer web site content using some of my web-based content manager -- and it works flawlessly.
  • Integrated WIFI: Maybe it's just me, I don't typically use the wireless networks at Starbucks and other places -- but when I go to the office or when I get home, having access to the Wireless LAN means that my email attachments download faster. It also means that if I want to use the iPhone for web browsing, it's almost as good as my laptop, it just weighs less.
  • Touchscreen Typing: Although it's taken me a little bit of time to get used to typing on the touchscreen -- my fingers just seem too big -- once I got used to it, I find it much easier to type with the iPhone than I did using the tiny buttons on the Blackberry or the Motorola Q. With the Blackberry, I always felt like I could answer, but it was just going to take time, so that if I was anywhere close to a computer and a keyboard, I would use the computer. With the iPhone, it's so easy to type that I am usually happy to use it.
  • The Applications Store: Although the Blackberry has a host of third-party applications available for it, the iPhone offers many applications that were simply not available before. Here's a few of the applications that I've downloaded and what they do:
    - Yelp! - Online restaurant reviews with Geo-location. Extremely handy for identifying restaurants on the go.
    - Jot - An online voice-encoding, note-translation service. This is a cool app!
    - Showtimes - Geo-location-based movie times
    - Shazam - an application that listens to music, then tells you what the song is
    - Pandora - Internet radio with format identified by 'music genome'
    - Games - Crossword puzzles, other puzzle games, things that make me use the iPhone for more than simply the Pavlovian response to vibrations on my hip

    The thing about these applications is not so much what they do, but more that they are simply software -- software that takes the platform in directions and uses that I probably wouldn't have gone before I had the iPhone; software that is quite different from the business-centric tools available for the Blackberry.

  • IPod functionality - I've always said that I would prefer to have my music player not sucking down the battery on my phone -- but the iPod on the iPhone actually seems to run more efficiently than many of the other applications that you'll use all the time. It may be worth having a separate traveling iPod just for the plane, but having one on the phone isn't as bad as I thought it would be.
In conclusion, I'm happy with my iPhone. As I mentioned, if you're using a Blackberry, I don't know that I would recommend that you switch -- it's really important to look at how you're using your Blackberry, and what you would expect to use the iPhone for. Here's how I would summarize:

  • Great platform for seeing your messages and immediately knowing what message came it
  • Easier phone number dialing support -- physical number pad and speed dial support -- makes it better as a phone when driving
  • Highlight, Copy and Paste support -- this still surprises me that it isn't supported on the iPhone
  • The BEST mobile internet platform - YouTube looks so good you may even find yourself using it.
  • Email client - it's Apple's mail client. You're viewing html emails, so you can view different languages, etc. It's easier to send emails and there doesn't appear to be a limit on mailboxes (like with the Blackberry), but some fuctions aren't as nice (wouldn't it be nice to be able to store and attach files?)
  • Applications support - I don't know where you will go with this, but I didn't expect to download any of the applications that I did. The possibilities are huge.
  • Touch, rotation, the ability to play video - they look cool, but you also look cool using it.
How about you? If you've used both, what do you find are the big differences? What would you like to see changed? Which one would you recommend? And if you're an iPhone user, what are some of your favorite apps?

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Silicon Valley Isn't As Big - or as small - As You Might Think

One of the things that usually surprises people when they visit Silicon Valley is just how much is going on here. Pick a spot, start driving, and in about 10 minutes, you can go from one noteworthy company to another -- Google, Yahoo, Apple, Intel, Microsoft, HP all have locations within a short hop from one another. Pick a different industry -- software, computer hardware, semiconductors, biomedical technology, solar power, emerging technologies that you might not have heard about -- and you can find them here. It really creates a strong sense of inherent diversity that ripples through every aspect of life here. Diversity is one of the things that makes this place special -- not just in industry or corporate environment, but in culture, in ethnicity, in fashion, and in values.

The funny thing about the diversity of Silicon Valley is that -- in terms of work, industry, and lifestyle -- it's easy to get so caught up in your little niche that the rest of the world just disappears. If you work in the PC components industry, it can seem downright surprising that the guy sitting next to you on the CalTrain to San Francisco has never heard of the Intel Developer's Forum.

This kind of lifestyle immersion -- particularly if you move from one industry to another -- helps create an illusion of disconnection. Remember that lazy guy that you used to work with two companies ago, the one who was always such an obstacle to getting the things done that you were trying to do? After two job changes and complete industry switches, that might seem like ancient history, but you around here, you never know when you may find yourself face to face with your history.

I was reminded of this recently when a work communication included email from the husband of a woman that I worked with 10 years ago. Or the time, a couple of years ago, when I ran into several people from a previous start-up in the deli across the street from the company that I was working with at that time. Perhaps the strangest was when the woman who used to live in the apartment downstairs joined the start-up that I was working for.

Is it just me, or does anyone else find that the intense immersion in the present always makes these past-encounter experiences feel awkward? After all, weren't you supposed to stay in touch?

Anyway, while it's easy to get caught up in the traffic or the immersion isolation and imagine a world where you can turn the corner and not look back, it's always good to remember that here in Silicon Valley, there aren't that many corners -- or at least there aren't as many corners as you might think.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Your New Challenge: Looking for a New Marketing Job in a Company that Doesn't Do Marketing?

Once upon a time you designed advertisements and campaigns that won awards, but the market for print-based advertising is going away. Or maybe you're the PR pro and your rolodex and your rules for press releases are being rewritten by the internet. What if you're one of those people who can see the shifts in the marketing tide and you want to catch the wave? Now you're facing a dilemma:
  • If you feel like your current role and its associated tasks are becoming obsolete, you don't want to look for another one of the same.
  • If you pursue a completely new role, in the eyes of a potential employer you may have little experience -- certainly less than someone who has been actively involved in that role.
  • If you want work in an environment that understands the core changes to organizational approaches to business (like those presented in Meatball Sundae), then you're selling yourself to an organization that either already gets it, or one that probably hasn't approached the idea yet -- either way, you're probably facing a tough sell positioning as a change agent.
So, what you're looking for is an organization that understands and embraces the changing tides of marketing, that has some series of needs within that position, and is looking for someone with roots in traditional marketing but with a passion for new marketing and (probably) without much of a documented history of new marketing execution to point to. Good luck.

Seriously though, it's not your fault. You're a victim of this perceptual fallacy that expertise is grown through some sort of big-bang genesis of an idea to become an expert at something, followed by a long period, deep in the trenches. But the reality is that most people pick up these new directions as more of a sidebar to their primary activity -- dipping a toe in here, dabbling with a little bit of that concept there -- only to find that the concept, the opportunity, or the requirements consumes increasing amounts of their attention.

Perhaps you worked at a small to mid-sized business and your title didn't include the words "analytics" and you didn't spend your entire workday doing analysis, but that doesn't mean that you haven't learned the fundamentals of the process or that your analytical guesses are any less insightful. It goes without saying that you probably didn't sit around thinking to yourself, "when I grow up, I want to do analytics." More likely, you had to figure it out and just start doing it because it was needed.

Another factor that adds to your foot-in-the-door problem is the filter known as corporate recruiters and HR staff. In all likelihood, they're don't have the background or experience to interpret and synthesize capabilities based on related things that you might have done. In fact, most initial resume screenings are done simply by matching the listed job description requirements with details in the resume. That means that if you are targeting a product marketing manager position, your best shot is if you have a product marketing manager title in that industry, followed by product marketing manager in a related industry. After that, your best hope is that your resume includes a title with the words product and marketing and possibly manager somewhere in the list -- product manager, product marketing specialist, marketing manager, etc.

A big contributor to this is something that Seth Godin points to in a section on "Competence" in his book, Small is the New Big and 183 other riffs, rants, and remarkable business ideas. Basically, his point is that people measure competence as an ability to repeat and reproduce a set of results. In short, the best candidate for a position is someone who has successfully done the same thing repeatedly in the past. While this may seem like some measure for predictable success, Godin points out that what it misses is something in the artistry of innovation, that people who are demonstrate competence typically don't deviate from rigidly defined, standard methodologies.

Ultimately though, the why probably doesn't mean much if to you if you can't find a solution. I'm not sure that I have a good answer to this problem, but lately I've been thinking a lot about some strategies to deal with the issue. But since this post is getting long -- with the possibility of losing focus, I'll pick up on some solution strategies in an upcoming post. In the meantime, if you feel particularly touched by this, feel free to post comments or to email using the link on the blog. I'd love to incorporate your comments into solution strategies.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Resources - More Blogs You Should Check Out

In wandering through the collection of meaningful and linked content, I've come across a couple of blogs that I wanted to point you to.

Enterprise Web 2.0 appears to be a roll-up of news and interviews relating to... well, the subject line pretty much says it all. In my first visit here, I already found four or five posts worth reading, so I would definitely say, check it out. As for me, I'm interested in seeing more case-studies and analysis on how enterprise organizations are dealing with the new media marketing challenges presented in Meatball Sundae, and this looks like a great resource.

Dim Bulb by Jonathan Salem Baskin is a collection of branding, product and marketing analysis. I got here through a John Moore post. There are some interesting posts on the Dim Bulb -- and I found it amusing that Jonathan had written an airline post around the same time as mine (for the record, I like his strategic suggestions and his post better than mine -- you should check it out). His blogroll also lead me to the Enterprise Web 2.0 blog, so I'd include a second hat-tip to him.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

On Airlines, Advertising, and the Olympics

Like many of you, I've been watching the Olympic coverage in the evenings. It's great to be able to watch new content; not just sports, but sports that you don't see all the time or may never actually see -- badminton, synchronized diving, crew, (curling in the winter). When you think about the athletes, it reminds me of being at my grandmother's house, watching the Olympics as a kid and thinking -- I want to do that when I grow up (swimming and diving at the time).

With all of the hoopla of modern sports broadcasting, the best coverage for me is the stuff that they broadcast live -- when they don't have enough time to throw in background on what "Dude-the-Swimmer" eats every day. Sometimes I imagine the kid out there, somewhere, thinking "I want to grow up and eat a 12000 calorie diet!"

Anyway, from a marketing view, one of the things that struck me during my network TV time has been a series of ads from United Airlines. My question is this -- what is the purpose of these ads? Is there anyone who isn't aware of their service? Do any of their target customers make or change their purchase decision based on this type of advertising? Now don't get me wrong, there are a lot of potential justifications to support this ad program, but as with any marketing program, when you're weighing priorities and looking at ROI, you always have to ask, "would there be better results if we spent the money on this instead?"

Consider the role of customer experience and Word of Mouth in this industry segment. I've never flown on Singapore Airlines, but I've heard that their quality of service is exceptional. I have flown on JAL, and the food, the quality of service, and the customer experience was so far superior to anything that I've experienced from any US-based carrier, that, whenever I'm planning a trip to Asia, I always try to check the airfare for JAL. And, more to the point, I frequently share that story with people when airline discussions come up. In that way, the main drivers in my selection of an international air carrier are price, quality of service, access to a destination, and mileage/loyalty program engagement.

Now consider the challenges that United Airlines faces as a company and how those challenges spill over into user experience -- what if they spent that money on something that improved their user experience and gave them a Word of Mouth promotional boost? Their advertising campaign is for their international flights, but what if they spent their budget on reducing the cost of beer and wine on domestic flights? What if they spent the money on purchasing a credit card processing system so that the flight attendants don't always have to ask for cash -- or exact change? What if they spent it on some sort of bonus program for the flight attendants in an effort to make them happier and more pleasant to deal with? What if they spent it on a handful of additional counter-workers to reduce lines?

On a positive note, I don't think that United had gone the way of the checked back surcharge -- hat's off to them just checked their web site and it looks like they've added the surcharge for checking the first bag also.

So, with those marketing dollars in play, what would you do to improve your customer experience?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

More About Why You Should Be Reading TechCrunch

If you're in marketing and you need more proof about why you should be reading TechCrunch, just take a look at this sampling of posts from this morning:

Lehman’s Online U.S. Advertising Forecast: Another $20 Billion In Growth By 2012 And Online Video Takes Off
I think that one of the interesting numbers here is the Online Video growth. If you try to balance the concepts that Seth Godin rolls up in Meatball Sundae and the idea of traditional commercials being "interrupting" spam, I think that video is still trying to find the right path into permission. This is going to be an interesting trend to follow and understand -- is this growth because traditional marketing is dipping their respective toes in the water or because there is increasing traction.

The PR Roadblock On The Road To Blissful Blogging
Here's another great post on the challenges facing traditional outbound marketing venues in the face of Web 2.0. As many traditional marketers try to find the right path in the "New Media" world, many struggle with how to use these concepts, what they mean, etc. Some may be read this post as "Yet Another Blogger Posts About How Important Blogging Is," but it really is much bigger than that. Anyway, I recommend that you dig into this one!

VC Firm Subpoenas TheFunded For Negative Review
This is a great post, but it may help you to have a little of the backstory on this one. Like many businesses where you the customer have operated without enough vision of the entire market, the market for venture capital has traditionally been shrouded with secret term sheets and a small, close-knit, exclusive community. As an entrepreneur, you had limited access to information that might help you differentiate between helpful venture partners and high-end loan sharks. TheFunded is a VC review site that was created to help in comparing and ranking VC firms. Some of the reviewed firms don't like this visibility -- welcome to Web 2.0. This is going to be an interesting story to follow -- you should be able to keep up with it on Techcrunch.

The other key take-away from this is, if there isn't review site for your specific business or industry already, consider how people would review your business -- are you doing business like reviews matter?

Not Just For Start-Ups: 10 Tips for How To Demo Your Startup

If you aren't either subscribed to TechCrunch or checking it daily, you're missing some incredible content. It's not just start-up or technology content either -- here is a great post from a couple of days ago with 10 Tips for How To Demo Your Startup.

While these are great tips of your presenting your startup, they're great tips for marketers, product demonstrations and general presentation strategy. I'll let you read the post, but here are a couple of those tips:
2. The best products take less than five minutes to demo
4. Talk about what you've done, not what you are going to do.
7. Powerpoint bullet slides are death
Also, be sure to read through the comments -- the dialog there can sometimes be more interesting than the post itself.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

A Nice Post About The Psychology of Expectations

It's been an interesting experience traveling this week. If you're in the service industry, one thing that you might be asking yourself is, "what makes these people so grumpy?" As part of some other research that I was doing, I came across this great online article on the psychology of waiting lines. It's a lengthy article, but it has some great take-aways. It's definitely worth a read.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Traveling Week - More Hotel Fun

Another week, another location -- this time I'm on the west coast for a technical conference. This week, I got put into a hotel room that could be best categorized as "less preferred." When I requested to be relocated, the desk manager proceeded to give me the service-industry version of no. Let's just say that the overall exchange did not go pleasantly. Today the hotel was nice enough to work with me and make a change. But rather than go into the details or press the issue of who or what, here's a much bigger take-away for you in Web 2.0 Lessons from the Service Industry.

Take-away point #1
It doesn't really matter whether you are right or wrong, whether you were justified or not, if your customer becomes disgruntled, they can generate bad Word of Mouth (WOM) marketing for you. They don't need a blog, but they can use that; they don't need TripAdvisor, YouTube or Amazon recommendations, but they can use that; they don't really even need spend money, all they need to do is have enough energy to express their frustration, to get some payback, and some knowledge of the tools available to them in order to create a WOM ripple. And anger, the dark side of the force, carries a lot of energy.

Compare this to what you don't get -- you don't get a chance to respond. You don't get to explain any extenuating circumstances. No excuses. Your only hope is that the ripple isn't joined by another to make a larger wave. Your only hope is that the energy in the ripple crashes against a wave of positive support going the other direction.

You know, this hotel is nice -- it's clean, for the most part, the people are friendly and they seem to be making a genuine effort to try to make their product better than average. The problem is, like the "One Question" book, there is such a high threshold to overcome in order to move to the recommend end of the spectrum. But, finding the negative energy to generate bad WOM... not so much. All it takes is one negative customer touch-point. Knowing this, what are you doing to help ensure your customers stay in the postive?

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Traveling Week - Hotel Internet Access Surcharges

To sum this post up in one short sentence: Can anyone believe that some hotels are still charging an access fee surcharge for high-speed internet?

Once upon a time, broadband internet access was a premium service. Eight years ago, when access to the internet was mostly dial-up, it was pretty cool to be able to go to a hotel and have broadband internet access. You might remember those days, back when it could be difficult getting DSL access. That was back in the days when AOL ruled the dial-up world. But things have come along way since that time. Now, not only do most hotels have high-speed internet, but most homes also have high-speed internet access as well.

Yet, for some reason, many of the premium hotels will charge there guests a surcharge for using the high-speed internet, typically $10 per day, sometimes more. What’s more, typically the access software maps to a Mac address, so if you connect a second computer, they will try to hit you with a charge for that computer as well. If you think about it that way, you aren’t really paying for their bandwidth, you’re simply paying them a usage toll.

For most of us now, the internet -- the internet operating at high-speed -- isn’t a luxury, it’s a requirement. It’s essential for doing work, it’s a requirement for getting a job, it’s may also be the enabler for many of your day-to-day activities. When I travel now, I use it for restaurant recommendations, location guidance, work, news, -- even long-distance or international calling with Skype. So, if you’re a hotel manager, maybe the question that you should be asking is, is this something that my customers might use as a criteria for which hotel to stay at -- I know I do, but it’s not just me. For many folks in the valley, it’s a make-or-break. It was the second or third most important decision factor for the people in my previous company -- right up there with price and location.

But for me, the biggest treat of all this week was dealing with the tech support team for the network access company. Their system is another one of those log-in (register your Mac address) and agree to pay the surcharge. For one reason or another, the system in the hotel didn't seem to want to work with my system (hard to say whether it was Apple, Firefox, or simply something with the hotel system). As a result, after arriving at the hotel very late at night, I got to spend the next hour trying to connect to the internet. This also required a call to the access service tech support line, and after about 20-minutes on the phone, he had me up and running.

This was one of those systems that allowed you to specify how many days you would be staying so that it could charge you for that entire time and (possibly) reduce the number of times that you go through the log-in screen. Not wanting to pay $13 for four hours of internet on the day that I checked out, I went for 1 day less. So I was a little surprised when I got up with one day to go before check-out and found that I needed to go through the log-in once again. Only this time, the customer service / tech support guy on the phone was a case study for bad customer relations.

During the 20 minutes that I spent on the phone with this guy, we determined the following things:
  • He couldn't find my previous case in their system
  • He couldn't see me on their network
  • He couldn't identify why I couldn't get access
During the 20 minutes, he asked me to do the following things:
  • Could I restart my browser?
  • Could I reboot?
  • Could I do a release / renew (although he wasn't certain how that would be accomplished on a Mac)?
  • Did I have a firewall running? Could I turn it off?
By the time we got off the phone, he had presented the following theories on the root cause of my connection problem:
  • There was a problem with my system
  • There was a problem with the cable
  • There was a problem with my firewall
  • I had been kicked off for downloading too much / bandwidth usage
Needless to say, this network service / access gateway provider sucked. They seriously sucked. They sucked so bad that I've been motivated to publish this post. And the take-away for hotel managers -- all of the wonderful service and the removing those charges from my bill are not going to make that strong negative go away. When it comes to customer experience, it's hard to overcome these strong negatives -- particularly when they are the kinds of things that are more likely to generate negative word of mouth.

So, if you're a hotel manager and you're considering one of these systems, I'd urge you to think carefully about the choices you make around this type of service. Consider, people will tolerate a lot of problems if the service is free (or even a nominal charge), but if you think you can charge a premium, you'd better be offering something that provides a premium experience. And these days, high-speed internet access is on par with indoor plumbing.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Traveling Week - SuperShuttle Web Reservations Aren't The Droids You're Looking For

SuperShuttle has an interesting approach to business on the web. They have convenient e-commerce site for reserving a rides from the airport. Their site is simple, easily accessible and simplifies the whole process of selecting the airport, the time you expect to arrive and dealing with the payment. The biggest challenge with their whole interface is that the have a very explicit, detailed cancellation and refund policy that they require you to read before you complete the transaction. You might expect that the purpose is to provide some nominal compensation to the SuperShuttle if you skip out on them after they were holding a space for you in one of their vans.

Well, as it turns out, there’s more behind the reservation/cancellation policy than you might expect. Here’s my experience. I was traveling to the east coast and arriving after midnight (one of the challenges of the west-to-east flight). Expecting that most things would be closed by the time I arrived which would make it difficult to make arrangements on the ground (other than the off-the-shelf taxi experience), I decided to booking the shuttle and reserve a space. When I've been picked up by other shuttle services (hotel, limo), the drivers will monitor the flight information for status and delays and are at the airport when the flight arrives.

However, it turns out that SuperShuttle doesn't do that. When you book the shuttle and you tell them when you are arriving, they don’t really do anything with that data (other than taking your money). They don’t start the process of putting you into a van until you check in at the SuperShuttle desk -- and your van will be available 20-50 minutes after you check in. You'd do just as well purchasing your ride at the desk when you arrive, or put in business terms, delaying your purchase decision until you could make your best choice in terms of cost versus time.

In my case, I had to wait 40 minutes after checking in with the SuperShuttle desk before my ride was ready to go -- loaded with seven people. Fortunately for me, I was the second person dropped off -- they also don’t provide you any feedback about the order that you will be dropped off in, and consequently, when you could actually expect to arrive. After arriving after midnight, I didn’t finally get to the hotel until three-ish. It was late, so I hardly remember the exact time. In my case, if I had more information, I would have selected the cab experience -- I would have preferred to trade the $35 price difference for 2 hours extra time at the hotel attempting to sleep.

Out of curiosity, I asked a representative at the SuperShuttle counter if it was common for customers to be disgruntled about the disconnect between the reservation system and the availability of the ride once you land. I was told that the experience is not uncommon (at least once a week, they get someone who is pretty grumpy about it). As a front line customer service person, the rep also mentioned initially feeling really bad for the customers who had problems (got worked) by the system, but that had diminished over time working with SuperShuttle. The rep explained that the drivers are all basically freelance, so it’s difficult for them to wait when there are big airport delays -- many basically clock out.

My issue isn’t with the drivers, my issue is with the reservation system and the bait-and-switch nature of the commitment. With their system, SuperShuttle implies that the online reservation provides you with some advantage, but it doesn’t actually provide you with anything -- it simply locks you into a purchase and a system designed to make it difficult for you to change your selection if their service isn’t inline with your expectation. Many traditional businesses use this strategy both online and offline.

In one organization, we reduced the our bookings with because they were booking reservations with a no cancellation or a full-charge cancellation policy, making it an expensive option for the changing dynamics of business travel (combined with the “what if this hotel truly sucks” factor). The same deal worked with Cell-phone contracts -- sign you up for a couple of years, and if your service sucked (like you couldn’t get cell service at your house), charge a steep service cancellation charge. Cingular Wireless initially responded to this competitive environment with a switch anytime plan -- for me, this was a big factor in them winning my business from Verizon.

Of course, the companies that do business this way don’t have to change, they don’t have to be responsive to customers -- but the world around them is changing. Years ago, I might have just told my colleagues about my annoyance with SuperShuttle -- warned them against doing business with them if they were on a tight schedule. But in today’s marketplace, I’m publishing this for the world to read. What’s more, it taught me another lesson -- I’m going to be even more careful about my transportation choices in the future. My friends and I already do it some now -- we check yelp before we pick restaurants, we check TripAdvisor before we stay at a hotel. SuperShuttle has taught me that I need to inspect these travel logistic layers even deeper, so if have a positive takeaway from the whole experience, it’s that.

Traveling Week - Intro

So this has been a traveling week, which always makes for a good chance to see the world from branding, marketing, and the customer service side of the world. Airlines, shuttle services, hotels, restaurants and more. Since I have some time on the return flight, I want to take a minute or two and touch on a couple of highlights and lowlights.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The New Critics - Blogs, SEO, and What Your Adwords Tell You About What You Write

I've been busy lately. Lots of stuff going on. Currently, I'm traveling and I'm on the east coast, so that adds an extra level of complication to getting things done.

Anyway, as part of my standard due diligence on the web/blog, I was looking at what my blog looks like from the visitor perspective.

If you want a quick measure on what you're writing, take a look at the adwords that pop-up on your blog page. For those of you that aren't familiar with how all of this works, the adwords that pop-up are scanned and analyzed by Google. What you are seeing on your page is what Google thinks is most relevant based on what it reads from your site.

Do you like what you see?

Sadly, when I looked earlier this evening, my Google Adwords are packed with get rich quick ads... perhaps my writing isn't delivering the message that I was hoping for. So here's a question for you -- is Google's algorithm a critic on your writing?

Updated: for spelling, grammar, and traveling exhaustion

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The First 90 Days follow up

I just wanted to follow up on the previous post. I was discussing this topic with one of my marketing friends and the resulting conversation left me thinking that I might have been a bit unclear on my take on the whole 90-day plan. Put simply, these are good things to review, great things to understand, but for the most part, this isn't a formula. These are guidelines and strategies for functioning in dynamic situations. It's my believe that, most of the time, if you're following a hard-and-fast plan, you've already made decisions and judgements that aren't going to map well to the dynamics of a specific situation.

Good managers have an ability to anticipate problems so that they can plan and avoid them. Better managers can adapt and overcome problems -- be they anticipated or not -- and be successful.

Friday, July 25, 2008

The First 90 Days and the 90-day Plan: Does This Mean That You Know What You're Doing?

Another book that I was pawing through recently -- The First 90 Days: Critical Success Strategies for New Leaders at All Levels by Michael Watkins -- has been sputtering around in my thoughts in recent weeks. While I've only given the book a quick skim so I can't fully endorse the contents or the writing, I found several of the key points easy to extract and interesting to consider. The basic premise of the book is -- as the subtitle suggests -- a strategy roadmap for approaching new jobs, promotions, and changes in responsibilities. The author breaks new opportunities down into four basic categories -- start-up, turn-around, sustain, and realignment -- or something along those lines. Since I haven't read it all the way through, I'm hesitant to write much about it though.

More to the point, when I looked on Amazon, this one is neither the first nor the only 90-day plan book. Amazon also lists a 100-day plan book (does this leave you a 10 days behind?), a 12-week book (it sounds longer, but I think it's actually shorter). Actually, another quick skim of the Amazon page shows this quote as the first sentence of the book, "THE PRESIDENT of the United States gets 100 days to prove himself; you get 90." I guess that tells the 100-day book guy.

Do You Need to have a 90-Day Plan to get a Job?
Recently, I was speaking with one of the execs that I work with, and he was talking about his recent interviews for a Director-level position that he was attempting to fill. He mentioned that several of the candidates that he interviewed had 90-day plans. So, my question is, is this some new portfolio benchmark that's been set or is it just a new piece of fashionable vocabulary for your portfolio that currently moving through the business community? I say that only in so far as this is really one of the first times that I've heard that as a specific topic of discussion during the interview process.

Don't get me wrong, I agree with one of the fundamental concepts in The First 90 Days -- that you need to have an understanding of the rhythms and processes needed in assessing and establishing your position in order to be able to be successful. It's basically the same thing when you get ready to cook a meal -- you need to understand your available ingredients, map a plan for the food your going to prepare, and then, frequently, proceed through the your prep work before an ingredient ever touches a pan. This may be surprising news for some. In the same way, when you're stepping into a product marketing role and the product is ramping up for launch, if you can't answer the call quickly, then you're not going to be successful.

Having provide marketing services for several years as an outside consultant, I understand how important it is to be able to build a quick understanding of a set of business problems and to be able to build a path to success. When you're brought it as an external vendor, you don't usually have the luxury of saying -- let me spend three months understanding your culture and adapting my practices and my success strategies to your operations. That being said, you're also in trouble if you go in saying something like, "your entire infrastructure and your approach to marketing sucks and it needs a complete overhaul. This is going to be a 3-year, multimillion dollar project." (yeah, uh huh... don't call us...)

So, going back to the interview process and the 90-day plan thing -- what exactly are you supposed to be presenting to your prospective employer? Here are the ten strategies that are covered in The First 90 Days.
  1. Promote yourself
  2. Accelerate your learning
  3. Match strategy to situation
  4. Secure early wins
  5. Negotiate success
  6. Achieve alignment
  7. Build your team
  8. Create coalitions
  9. Keep your balance
  10. Expedite everyone
This probably goes without saying, but if you're in an interview and you tell someone that this is your 90-day plan, you're in trouble. What's more, if your prospective employer hires you based on outlining this as your plan, you're probably in even bigger trouble.

Here's the real issue to keep in mind with your first 90 days and your 90-day plan -- you're prospective employer / manager is hiring you to solve a problem or a series of problems. Like solution selling, they have a pain point and their big focus is how to address that issue. Before you even get to your first 90 days, your vision needs to include an understanding of those pain points and the desired solution.

The thing that troubles me the most about the various 90-day plan books is that some people might know only know enough about 90-day plans to think of these techniques as a recipe as opposed to a series of strategies (for those of you who might not have found yourself immersed in business culture, business people are notorious for not reading). One of the things that I think really drives this message home is Michael Watkin's blog. In one series of posts, he builds a case study for a woman that is promoted within the organization and the challenges that she faces going forward. Check out the post and the comments -- there is a great discussion of what kinds of factors she should consider as she goes forward, mapping a strategy to fit the unique requirements of her situation. And if you want a counter to that post, consider what would happen if she followed her own thinking as though it were a precise recipe to be implemented.

So, back to the interview -- how should you answer the 90-day plan question? Or perhaps the better question is, how should you present your understanding of the principles that roll up in The First 90 Days? For me, I find that the key is in presenting yourself and your ideas in a way that demonstrates your understanding for both what you are doing and your ability to analyze and adapt those processes depending upon the requirements you face. But turning the question around -- if you were the hiring manager and you asked a candidate for their 90-day plan, are you looking for a formula for what to do... or are you looking for the reassurance that your candidate knows what they are doing and will be successful -- and make you successful?

Monday, July 21, 2008

Another Great Book -- Meatball Sundae by Seth Godin

I picked up a copy of Seth Godin's Meatball Sundae: Is Your Marketing Out of Sync? a couple of weeks ago and I've started working my way through it. Let me start by saying that this book is an excellent roll-up that helps translate many converging factors and explain the strategic vision for where these trends are driving marketing practices. It seems like I have been trying to explain these same concepts to some more traditional audiences for a couple of years now -- and this book effectively summarizes those points.

When I first saw the description and quotes on Brand Autopsy, I was fairly impressed with the overall messages. On several occassions, I've tried to explain these concepts to different people, but often in trying to explain these concepts -- particularly across international audiences -- I've found the "meatball sundae" concept to be the biggest obstacle in trying to connect with the audience. But don't let that stop you from picking up this book -- it really does tie a number of these important concepts together.

Consider this simple difference between old marketing and new marketing in terms of advertising. Google adwords versus a television commercial (or advertising in the movie theater, a pop-up window on a web site, or a host of other "interrupting" advertising techniques). When you search for something on Google, Adwords presents a host of "related" sponsored links. The links are keyed to the term that you searched, and Google's program rejects terms that don't respond well and are appear to be not well-matched. Contrast this with the interruption, the advertising message that isn't in context, that you didn't ask for. When you get these in email, their simply termed Spam.

Anyway, it's a great book, an easy read, and I recommend that you check it out!

Good Product, Bad Product, Angry Customers - Connecting With A Passionate Audience - Matias Tactile Pro Keyboard

For many people, the computer keyboard that they use doesn't matter. If they think about it, maybe their main interest in for an ergonomically shaped one, one with customizable game keys, or some other cool feature like bluetooth for wireless connectivity. Part of this comes from a simple fact -- one one level, other than the shape and color of the plastic, there's not much difference between most keyboards. A keyboard is basically a single chip (I used to work for one of the semiconductor companies that sold these single-chip keyboard brains), connected to a board that holds a bunch of switches that are the keys. After all, how much variety can you get out of that platform? Besides, how important can a keyboard be?

Short answer -- it it can be huge. Your keyboard is probably more important than the driver's seat of your car -- not only do you spend a lot of time working directly with it, but it also shapes how you control the computer. As someone who writes and spends a lot of time on the computer, let me just say -- there are huge differences between keyboards. From the feel of the keys, to the response that they have when you press them, to their size and position, your keyboard is actually something that you're constantly using. If you're not careful, how often do you hit the wrong key when you try to click the backspace or the delete key? How does the size of the shift key compare to the others around it? When you're using your keyboard, your life may be filled with tiny little keyboard frustrations that, on their own may seem small, but add up over the course of the day -- frustrations so small that you don't directly associate them with the quality of the tool that you are using.

When it comes to keyboards, Apple used to make some great ones. My benchmark for keyboards is probably the old Apple Extended Keyboard II. It had great key feel, it made a nice click when you tapped on the keys, the size and the position of the keys were well placed relative to how frequently you used them (a large back-space key and an Apple-command key that were sized for easy access), and these things are virtually bomb-proof.

If you were a PC user at the time, you probably could have found a PC keyboard with similar click response and platform-appropriate key layout, but one of the things that always sucked about PC keyboards was the difference between Apple's ADB (Apple Desktop Bus) standard and the PC's use of either the PS2 or serial interface to connect keyboard and mouse to the computer. What this meant in practice was that, if you used a Mac, you could daisy-chain your mouse off of your keyboard and have one long cord going to the computer instead of two long cords getting tangled up on your desk. USB has solved this issue (as has the battery-munching Bluetooth interface).

With the first generation iMacs, it seemed like fashion started to replace functionality. The USB keyboards that went with them were nice and the clear plastic was cool, but the feel started to change. My next encounter with an Apple-made keyboard came with the G4 desktop system that I was working with in the 2003 timeframe. Typing on that was keyboard was annoyingly poor. I would frequently get duplicate letters when the keyboard would stick or the signalling seemed off. The feel was terrible too -- no clicks, poor key return, you name it. I vowed that the next time that I bought a keyboard, I would invest an hour or two in comparing the different versions available in the store to find one that felt right.

In 2005, I was updating my system and, as noted, I went to the store to research the available options. I happened to come across the Matias Tactile Pro. Here was a keyboard that was designed for Mac publishing professionals -- based on the Apple Extended Keyboard II. Supposedly, it used the same key switches, so the keys were springy and made a nice click when you tapped them. The key layout and sizes were similar -- well thought out and sized to match typical typing -- large backspace/delete key, larger Apple command key, large return key. They also integrated a USB hub into the keyboard, so you could connect a USB mouse to either side of the keyboard (the keyboard cable connected underneath the middle of the keyboard. And finally, to add to this awesome keyboard, they included all of the "optional characters" on the keys of the keyboard. If you're not familiar with the Mac, Apple's standard key set includes many type characters that you can generate using the combination of shift, option, or shift-option -- things like the copyright symbol or the trademark symbol. In contrast to the PC where you would need to use a Symbol font (or special functionality within the application), these are all accessible across the Mac platform, but there are so many that it's hard to remember all of them. In the past, the way to see what key combination created them was to use an application called "Keycaps" that would show you what they were. In short, this was a convenient feature, one of those -- why didn't somebody else do that kinds of things. Let's just bullet those features to make them stand out more:
  • Mechanical key switches for maximum comfort and speed
  • Special characters and symbols on the keys
  • Integrated 2-port USB hub -- one port on each side (left or right handed mouse)
Anyway, the Matias Tactile Pro keyboard rocked. Other than driving the other people in my office crazy (they believed that I must be angrily pounding away on my keyboard -- it's funny how people have forgotten the noise that keyboards used to make), I had zero complaints. I thought about buying another one for home -- but at about $120, I just wasn't ready to drop that kind of money. Instead, I would carry my Matias Tactile Pro keyboard home on nights when I expected to type a lot.

As luck would have it, one night while carrying it home, I dropped it in the parking lot and the plastic enclosure broke. It was just the corner, so I thought I might be able to continue using it, but with the top part of the plastic on there, it started to pinch the space bar. So I took the top part of the keyboard case off, and presto, it still works just fine. The biggest problem that it has right now is that the plastic connectors for the USB hub will sometimes slip off when I carry it back and forth from the office (and the power button has fallen off and is lost somewhere on my desk).

These are the kinds of things that prompt you to start looking for an update -- and off I went to the Matias site to make sure that the still made my keyboard. Incidentally, in another great piece of marketing, Matias included the name and web address stenciled on the space bar. It turns out that the Matias Tactile Pro keyboard has been replaced -- upgraded to the Matias Tactile Pro 2.0. This is what this post is really about.

Product Marketing Gone Wrong - How do you add features and screw up a great product?
With all of the wonderful things that I have described about the Tactile Pro, you might wonder what you could do to update and improve this keyboard. This question, and mysteries of product marketing gone wrong are really at the heart of this post. First, in reading various published comments and reviews on the web, the biggest complaints tended to be an issue where, when some people where typing really fast, certain key combinations triggered incorrect entries. Other than that, the only commonly published complaint was that the see-through-plastic/white combination seemed to show things like food crumbs, etc. So what did Matias change / Fix for gen 2? Here's a high-level list:
  • Added support for USB 2.0
  • Expanded support for PCs with a PC-focused silver/black version
These seem reasonable, but there are caveats and the caveats are what this is really all about.

Take a quick read between the lines and you'll see that the added support for USB 2.0 comes at a HUGE price.
  • There is only 1 USB 2.0 port. It's located on the right side of the keyboard.
  • The previous USB port on the left side is now occupied by the cable that connects the keyboard to the system -- the old cable used to connect through the bottom middle of the keyboard.
  • The cable requires two USB plugs to connect (FYI, Mac laptops like the Macbook Pro only have 2 USB ports available on the system).
As for the PC version, they added an "Optimizer key" that maps to many of the PC commands that you would use. This key, as it turns out, is basically the shift-lock key. I'm not sure if that was the driving reason behind this change, but here's another interesting shift -- they removed the LED on the Caps Lock key for the Mac version. Basically, there is no longer a keyboard-based feedback mechanism to tell you that you have the Caps lock on -- not a big deal if your typing in a document, but potentially a problem if you're having trouble logging into a system using that case-sensitive password.

So as a marketer, the question that you have to ask is, what was driving these decisions to make these core modifications to the product? Is this supposed to be innovation? Who was the customer that fit their target profile? Where, during the design and planning process, did the analysis of how these decisions might impact their existing customer base get processed? Do they really know their customer base or are the just "adding features"? How do you take and award-winning design and make so many people in your customer base angry?

If you think that it's just me, Google the Tactile Pro. You'll find a handful of posts and comments posted on consumer sights. All of them underscore the shortsightedness of the updated design. This is another challenge with the Passion of the Niche -- here are people who are passionate enough about their computer keyboard to have written full web posts on the topic.

As for me, rather than purchasing an updated version of the product, I'm still using my old Matias Tactile Pro. Sure the plastic has exploded and it looks like Frankenstein's keyboard, but it still works well. Meanwhile, on their web site, the Matias folks say that they have obsoleted the 2.0 version and are working on version 3.0, expected to be available in spring 2009. It will be interesting to see how that one unfolds and whether they are able to reconnect with their customers.