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Hospital Wars

August 8, 2010

Lately I have noticed an increased visibility of hospital brands in my part of town. For those that know the Seattle area, I live on the “East Side” — across Lake Washington. This is the Bellevue/Redmond/Kirkland area — the dreaded suburbs to many a city-dwelling person. The skewed perceptions of suburbia (and of the city) is another topic.

The area is dominated by a few named hospitals: Swedish and Seattle Children’s on the Seattle side of the lake; Overlake and Evergreen on the East side. Each of these stayed on their respective side of provided outstanding healthcare to the region (disclosure: Seattle Children’s is a wonderful client of my agency).

Recently, even in the midst of the Great Recession, all of these institutions have begun to expand. (I realize that the plans for these expansions were likely launched well before the current economic disaster and we are just now seeing the benefit. Seattle Children’s recently opened a facility in Bellevue. Swedish is expanding their small presence in Issaquah into a full hospital and building an ER/Outpatient center in Redmond. Evergreen is building a new facility with ER and primary care in Redmond. Overlake continues to add to its main location in Bellevue. I have gotten three different hospital flyers in the mail in the last month or so.

I am certainly not complaining about this increased availability of world-class medical care. Yay for more hospitals! What interests me is the brand fight going on. How am I supposed to elevaluate the relative value of a brand that is dedicated to health and well-being? What are the decision factors necessary to choose one over the other? Location seems to be everything, but there is a subtle battle here and it is about the placement of each brand along some continuum.

Seattle Children’s clearly is for “children” (well, under 21), but the others rely on a little bit of shared myth and memory about their relative strengths. I don’t have any facts, but Swedish has always been about surgery and babies in my mind. Evergreen, where my daughter was born, is my “local” hospital and gives me lots of glowing feelings. Overlake is where I go to get tests.

What does this all mean? Well, we have a surfeit of good choices in front of us. Everyone seems to win when hospitals exert their brand muscle. My colleague Henk Groenewald recently touched on a similar topic in his blog — How do you brand the invisible — check it out.

(The visit yesterday to the Evergreen Urgent Care because my daughter had a manicure stick pierce her foot contributed to the thinking about this post.)

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Ronald McDonald, Locavore

July 27, 2010

Last week I saw a new commercial from McDonald’s called “From Here“. This is part of a new campaign that focuses on the fact that some of the food consumed at my (Washington State) McDonald’s is sourced “locally”. Potatoes, apples, fish, milk. Yes, McDonald’s has taken the burgeoning “Locavore” trend and turned it into a marketing pitch.

I am going to go out on a limb here and assume that the typical McDonald’s customer is not also someone deeply concerned with things like Locavore and Slow Food and Michael Pollan’s manifesto. Yet, the savvy marketers at McD’s have realized that there is something changing in the overall consumer zeitgeist and everyone is starting to pay more attention to the origin of their food. What works for the best restaurants should certainly work for McDonald’s.

A good fact checker is likely going to demonstrate that similar items at other fast food joints also come from relatively local sources. In the Pacific Northwest we grow a lot of potatoes and apples and produce a lot of milk. Most of that probably ends up consumed within a reasonable radius.

But, facts are beside the point here. The ability to take a concept like Locavore that exists at the fringes of mass market consciousness and turn it into a strong and interesting campaign is just brilliant marketing. Like it or not, but somehow a lot of people are now going to “feel better” about eating at McDonald’s.

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Despicable Us

July 19, 2010

My girls (wife, daughter) and I went to see “Despicable Me” on Saturday. The best I can say is that it managed to keep waking me up during my nap. My 7 yr old kid, however, loved it. She loved it enough to see it again on Sunday with one of her friends. It seemed that the juvenile and sometimes bathroom humor, combined with the inexplicably idiotic “minions”, captured the hearts and minds of the little girls. Oh well, that is why there are kids movies.

Since the movie seemed intent on being loud enough to keep my slumber at bay, I did manage to pick up on some elements of the “plot”. It seems that the main character, Gru, wants to steal the moon. I can get behind grand aspirations and such, so this bit didn’t really bother me. Gru has wanted to go to the moon since he was a child, building more and more sophisticated versions of a rocket as he matures.

Late in the movie, as the rocket finally roars into space, I had my revelation. My child, and most of her generation, have no real world analogue to this fantasy trip to the moon. To them, I imagine this is the stuff of fantasy. We have all but abandoned our space program in this country and seemingly have no desire or will to revive it in the future. Our country has become Earth-bound.

When she was younger I read the kid a wonderful book about astronauts that I had purchased on a visit to the Kennedy Space Center. I tried to instill in her the wonder and hope that I had when I was a child. People actually went to the Moon when I was a child and Mars seemed just a step away. Kids dreamed of space travel because we were on a path to make it real.

I want my child to know that travel to the Moon is not just the stuff of a second-rate animated flick. It is something we once did — something that helped restore our national pride — and that we should do again. Even in the worst of economic and social times we need to dream and to achieve. We need to inspire and be inspired.

Much of the risk-taking, if it can be called that, in space travel is now being driven from the private sector. I sincerely applaud these efforts and hope they can find a viable economic model to continue their efforts. But, I don’t think that is enough. This is an opportunity for all of us to feel we can rise to the Moon and stars again. To dream.

Other countries are already investing and may soon surpass our capabilities in manned space flight. To that I say “despicable us.”

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Why I Love the iPad (and it has nothing to do with Apple)

May 6, 2010

I can’t add much to the hype about the iPad going on right now, but I can add a little of my own perspective on why I love the device and everything it represents.

In 1991 I began working at a company called GO on an operating system named PenPoint. You can read about the interesting history of GO, EO, PenPoint and pen computing here:

http://www.digibarn.com/collections/systems/go/index.html
http://hembrow.eu/personal/eo.html
http://www.mactech.com/articles/frameworks/6_2/PenPoint_Brugge.html

Also the outstanding history of GO as a start-up in the book “Startup” by founder Jerry Kaplan

Jerry’s book, in particular, provides context for the quest to create a computing device that you could hold in your hands like a pad of paper and use unobtrusively. He tells the story of tossing a yellow legal pad on a table in a pitch to VCs and saying that is what he plans on building.

As part of the UI/Usability team (this was before the term “UX” was in vogue) at GO I was able to experience hands-on the wonder of people holding a computing device in their hand and using a pen to tap and write. It was truly “magical” (as is the iPad). The tablet computer broke down the walls that a keyboard and a vertical screen presented to users and made the entire experience as natural as any interaction with paper.

I believed then, as I do now, that computing devices should integrate naturally and unobtrusively into our daily lives and work. They should not put up “screens” that separate us from other people, but should slip into the quiet spaces left when people interact directly with each other. The experience of using these devices should be natural and require minimal learning on the part of the user.

The iPad is the first device to really bring all of this to life in an affordable manner. It solved the handwriting recognition problem by not trying to solve the problem at all (duh). It provides great battery life, a beautiful color screen (PenPoint was an innovator in grayscale in 1990…), always-on connectivity, and easy to acquire and install applications.

Every single thing that iPad does so well was part of the vision the team at GO and EO and all the ISVs had in mind, even of the technology was not in place to make it real. We were busy envisioning a future and then doing the best we could to turn that future into something tangible. Others, such as Microsoft, believed in the power of the pen as well and took their own path to making it real.

I love the iPad because it works as Jerry Kaplan, Robert Carr, and hundreds of others imagined a device should work. Bill Campbell, who was the CEO of GO, has been on the board of Apple for many years and a close associate of Steve Jobs. I imagine Bill smiles very fondly when he sees the iPhone and iPad and how they deliver such an amazing experience to millions of users every day.

Apple may be the only company capable of producing the iPad, but the iPad was inevitable. I love it because of what it does for me. I love it for the fact that my 7 year old daughter can pick it up and be “productive” instantly. I love it because it breaks down the barriers that laptops of silently erected in our day to day interaction.

I have waited 20 years for the iPad to become reality. It was well worth the wait.

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Sample survey

February 28, 2010

Just playing with the survey tool to see how it works! Thanks

Take my survey
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Coding?

September 24, 2009

Today I have:
* Brought MySQL up on one of the many domains I own
* Downloaded Expression Engine
* Started searching for an IDE for Web development on the Mac
* Worried about CSS

Why?
Well, it has been a long while since I wrote a website using anything more than a bunch of pre-built templates or MS ExpressionWeb. I think it is time to start to get my hands dirty again (in my ample spare time) and build something.

My PC at home is all decked out with the latest and greatest, but now I am toting this handy MacBook Pro around everywhere and want to use it for my development. What? Run Win7 on it? Absolutely will do that in a few weeks. But, also want the experience of using the Mac as my development platform.

After a couple of months now of using Mac OS as my primary system, I have to say I am generally underwhelmed. So many years of using Windows and the amazing strength of Win7 have created a pretty strong bias in me. This is after having used a Mac as my primary home machine form about 1985 until 2005. Long time, lots of Mac OS versions.

My years at MSFT taught me, however, the power of the Windows platform. It also taught me to be patient and suffer through the quirks of Vista knowing that Win7 was on the horizon. Through the Win7 beta period it impressed me more and more, from the performance on my NetBook to the beauty on my desktop big screen monitor.

Now, a new job and a new focus have put the Mac at the center of my day to day activity. I am going to be a fully dual platform type of fellow.

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The King Continues to Rule

August 7, 2009

I am endlessly fascinated by the creativity and reach of the good folks at Burger King. Take a look at their latest here.

Endless kudos go to their marketing team as well as their agency, Crispin Porter & Bogusky, for taking risks and finding new ways to promote the company. Sometimes the link between the vehicle (as here, the inside of a sweaty soccer player’s jersey) and a tasty burger is tenuous. But, the image of the King is always familiar, even if jarring.

I think they are fearless and demonstrate that good marketing sometimes means taking risks and sometimes means failing.

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The dual(ing) social media household

August 3, 2009

Social media is reshaping our lives in ways great and small. Today is a perfect example of how it has become a new and distinctly different element in our two parent/one child/no grandparents nearby household.

Today is Ignite Seattle, a super (trendy>) event that is filled with great speakers each doing their pitch fast and furious on the big stage. It should be a blast, as I heard was the case at the last one.

Jen recently started getting connected with a larger group of bloggers in the area and they all are going to the event together. I am very excited for her and the chance to get out there. She is an awesome blogger and I am optimistic things like this will encourage her to write even more. Going to something like Ignite with fellow blogger is terrific.

Of course, I would be interested in going as well. We often have these situations where we both want to do something but it is just not in the cards for someone else to watch the kid. We always find the right compromise and everyone feels heard and their wishes respected. We also both want to go to the Seattle Tattoo Expo this weekend and need someone to watch the kid for that as well. We’ll figure it out.

The nice thing about Ignite (and here is the point of this little post) is that I can be there. Well, mostly. There is a live stream, there are endless tweets (#ignitesea), tons of photos, and all sorts of interesting long-form posts that will follow. I don’t feel left out; I feel like we got the best of all worlds thanks to the social media revolution.

Of course, I hear there is no A/C at the event right now and it is hot out. At least I can lie in bed with the fan blowing on me and a cool drink in my hand. Perhaps I got the better deal this time.

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Mobile post

August 3, 2009

Well, having made part 1 of the switch to an iPhone, I am now going to try a little blog post. The specifics of having a multipart move from my WinMo device to the iPhone is a story for another time. In the meantime I have the nifty little WordPress app and am giving this a go!

I am really amazed when I see people write massive amounts of content on their mobile device. I find the cognitive load of using the virtual keyboard just big enough that I really don’t feel like my other thoughts are as good as they can be when I am on a physical keyboard. I think I am just too deeply entrenched in my thoughtful writing occuring on the luxury of a big keyboard.

But, I am constantly pushing my boundaries.

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Into the fray

July 31, 2009

One of my clients asked me about my blogging and why I don’t do it more. I think it was a reasonable question and worth my addressing in a thoughtful manner.

After giving it some thought I realized that one of the major reasons I don’t spend more time blogging is that I always feel that I could be spending that time working on a client project and creating value for others (as well as helping to pay my mortgage). I tend to be very focused on getting work done and lots of it.

Another reason I spend less time blogging is because I spend a lot of time tweeting. Yes, I am addicted to Twitter as a very effective tool to both broadcast and engage in conversation. But, twitter is limited in many ways (not just the 140 char limitation) and often fails to satisfy the need to write in more depth on a particular topic. I recently tried Posterous, but that was the wrong mixture of ease of use and clumsy results for me.

Ultimately, my reasons don’t actually justify my not using this forum more. As a professional marketer and someone who knows a lot about social media I have to make sure I am pushing my own boundaries on a regular basis. This blog has been around in one form or another for over six years, so there is a significant investment of my time and thought already here.

Frankly, I owe it to myself and my clients and partners to continue to put thoughts out there, take the feedback I get, and continue to learn something new every day. So, back into the fray with a vengeance. Be warned.