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.