SocialĀ Self-Promotion

August 12, 2010

Yesterday Twitter streams everywhere were filled with an avalanche of “SXSW vote for me” requests. The infamous SXSW PanelPicker had opened up and everyone was rushing to gather votes. I know the importance of this because I was one of those people trying to drum up votes.

Please check out my most excellent proposal for a panel at SXSW Interactive.

There were almost 2400 proposals up for vote at SXSW Interactive. It is part of the community-based aspect of SXSW that the voice of the people helps determine the content of the event. This voting component accounts for 30% of the “score” for any proposal. In some ways it is a test of the speaker — generating votes is a proxy for generating attendees at their session. Full and successful sessions make SXSW better. Simple equation.

Please consider voting for my really interesting proposal, “Whatever Happened to Good Design Online” at SXSW.

Everyone involved in SXSW knows it is an event about connections. Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, Gowalla, etc are all essential elements of the experience. Making self-promotion an element of the session selection makes perfect sense to me. I think that conferences driven by the interests of the attendees are very important. I also believe that attendees should not choose all the content — sometimes they can be surprised and delighted by the unexpected. This gives SXSW an advantage over other “unconferences” where attendees choose everything.

Have you checked out my SXSW proposal? Take a look and cast your vote.

So, we all dive in and get everyone we know to cast their vote. It is a popularity contest, but all social media is a popularity contest of sorts. We put our voices out there and hope someone listens. We look for the call and response of voices from the electronic ether and feel a small sense of validation. It is the world we have created online, for better or worse.


Gold Stars

August 10, 2010

For years airlines have been working tirelessly to increase brand loyalty (create brand loyalty?) through frequent flyer programs. When the economy was booming the savvy traveler could rack up thousands of miles a month and be able to take lovely vacations at the end of the year. Businesses paid for travel and the whole “brand loyalty” aspect of the programs seemed to work. I know I certainly benefited from it.

Now we are in more austere times and smart businesses have realized that not every meeting needs to be face to face. I know that as a service provider I always look for ways to give my clients the most value for their money and conference calls beat plane trips most of the time. This has made a huge dent in the amount of travel for many of us.

Through one lens this might mean the death of any loyalty to an airline. What matters now is price. A different perspective is that every trip needs to be optimized to gain miles on a preferred carrier. I know my organization is optimizing for price. That just makes sense. The benefits of a frequent flyer program are far outweighed by the benefits of a good bottom line for the business.

So, last year I failed to achieve “gold” status on my preferred airline for the first time on almost a decade. This year will likely be the same. Am I really losing out on anything? Well, perhaps next year’s vacation will require more dollars out of pocket than miles from my account. That might make the vacation all the sweeter.

Fundamentally, that gold card when I go to the airport got me through the security line faster and made it more likely I would be in a first class seat. I miss it a little, but those perks are not really worth the savings to my clients and my business. Besides, I have a new gold card in my wallet.

Yes, I am a frequent drinker. The marketing team at Starbucks finally saw the opportunity they have been missing for years. Many of us visit Starbucks 2-3 times a week; some people go 2-3 times a day. This is real brand loyalty. It might also be “blind” brand loyalty — we are on auto-pilot as we cruise by and grab our latte each morning. However you want to define it, Starbucks has a strong hold on their customers.

The new Starbucks card program rewards frequent drinkers with a gold card after 30 visits. Every 15 visits after that you earn a free drink. There are some other benefits but they really don’t amount to much. When you present your gold card to the cashier you are treated exactly the same as every other customer — friendly and efficiently. You can’t jump to the front of the line and you don’t get to boot someone else out of the comfy chair while you drink your coffee.

What are the real benefits to me besides that free drink once a month (and a gold card with my very own name engraved upon it)? It is the “stars” you earn with each visit. This handy device for tracking your use of the card is the world’s simplest video game. I visit a store and another star drops into my cup. I can see my cup on my computer or on my iPhone through the Starbucks card app. I can also track the balance on my card. As dollars go down, stars go up. How can I minimize the amount I spend per star? Can I treat a friend to a drink just to earn another star? The gaming possibilities here are limited; and that is part of the appeal.

There are a lot of ways to win brand loyalty. The best way is to deliver an outstanding product or service to your customers at every touchpoint. But, don’t overlook the possibility of giving them a gold star for their efforts as well.


Your brand, subverted

August 9, 2010

If you think you are controlling your brand across all channels, think again. It used to be that a small number of brands (e.g., Rolex, Cartier) knew they were being counterfeited on a regular basis. A street corner scam was practically a shared joke between scam artist and victim.

Now, every brand is subject to counterfeit and exploitation. Consumers can’t tell the real from the criminal without a lot of help. How will you react? How will your brand protect itself?


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.)


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.


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.”


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:


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.