Tuesday, March 31, 2009

iPhone App/ Developers’ Meeting in Boston

Went to a local iPhne-developers’ meeting last night (March 30, 2009), which I found on Gary’s Guide
- a great resource for meet-ups, conferences, networking opps in the Boston area (oddly enough the iPhone meet-up is no longer listed on the site). The event was organized by Raizlabs
, a small dev firm in Brookline. It was great to connect with different folks at the event and look at a few interesting apps.

Raizlabs has one popular one – Tip Calculator
– what’s neat about it is that it lets a group of friends calculate their individual tip amount based on how much each one ate or drank (we all know such a tool comes in handy, especially after a few drinks…).
Another good app is talkFree
– which let’s AT&T subscribers talk for free (wish this app was available for international calls☺). Durga, the developer behind the app, even contacted AT&T to acquire the app, but they politely declined...wonder why:) There was a really neat app that I saw by Andy Nalband, but promised to keep it on the DL until he is ready to wow us all (and he will). Of course, I showed the OurStage app
to a few folks, including Wade from Xconomy
– a must read publication covering start-up activity in New England.

A lot of folks were interested in learning how to market their apps. Durga figured if he released new additions to the app every once in a while, he would get recurring top listings in the store. Others shared that tweaking the app description could help. If you have suggestions, pls leave me a comment – would love to comply the best ideas in a subsequent blog.

Yours in scratching

Monday, March 30, 2009

Fans, Friends, and Followers – A Must Read for Entrepreneurs and Artists Alike

Welcome to the era of digital creativity – building an audience and a creative career in the digital age. The era of digital creativity is a term coined by Scott Kirsner in his new book Fans, Friends, and Followers - Building an Audience and a Creative Career in the Digital Age
. The premise behind this new, intriguing book is that the old promotional machine is dead – labels, movie studios, and publishing houses no longer have the clout to make or break artists’ careers.

Consider this: In 2000, 973 full-length films were submitted to the Sundance Film Festival. By 2008, that number had risen to 3,624. (Just 121 were accepted.) Apparently there 50 FM radio stations in LA – so what is a struggling band to do? Read Fans, Friends, and Followers.

The book
not only offers a slew of ideas of how to build a career DIY, it contains interviews and tried-and-true advice from 32 real, genuine, authentic artists who made it in this new era – ground-breaking filmmakers like M dot Strange, musicians like Ok Go, and comedians like Mark Day.

Scott shares a set of successful strategies used by most of these artists – strategies that apply not only to developing artists’ careers, but also to emerging businesses who are looking for ways to build a strong brand. Example: create opportunities for participation. Everyone online, says Scott, craves recognition and connection – and I could not agree more – this is precisely the premise behind OurStage
– the biggest online community for new and emerging music. People today want to have a say – as they did in campaigns we at OurStage did with T-Pain
and John Legend

Even the language artists use in this new era of digital creativity is different –Scott found most artists don’t talk about “audiences” – they talk about building communities, a fan base, co-conspirators. Yup, they are absolutely right.

You can buy the book here

I religiously follow Scott – his blog
, and his Innovation Economy
column in the Globe. I suggest you do that too.


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Dumb, Dumber, Dumbest Marketing Award Goes to Kodak Gallery

Kodak Gallery, the online photo storage sharing service that I have been using since 2005, then known as Ofoto, advised me this morning:

“To store photos at the Gallery, members with photo storage of more than 2 gigabytes (GB) must make annual minimum purchases totaling at least $19.99.** Failure to meet this requirement may result in your photos being deleted from the Gallery.” Here’s the link to the html view of the email

I am one of Kodak Gallery’s heaviest users – I resisted opening a Flickr account or using Google Picasa because I was entrenched – I have been a digital billboard for this service every time I send pictures to my friends and family. That list kept growing, and I have helped not one of my buddies join the service – because it is great. Was.

So for being one of their best customers, Kodak decides to penalize me. Why? Because they have to monetize their Ofoto acquisition – this unit needs to show money. What Kodak does not get is that I do have a ton more choices today – and so do they. Enter a slew of online back-up services – Carbonite
, Mozy
, iDrive
, Box.net
. All Kodak had to do is partner with one of these companies to offer their best customers more space, AND thus increase their reach. Or maybe they could have looked at the cloud and made a deal with Amazon.com. But I bet Kodak’s corporate culture is just so introverted, with so many departments needing to have a say – legal, compliance, sales, purchasing, finance – that a creative solution to their storage issues was not possible.

I suppose I could have even sympathized with Kodak had they thought about how to communicate this term of change to me. Had they been more caring, more human... Oh, but I am sure those corporate politics got in the way yet again – so marketing there had to leave it to legal and finance.

The Kodak brand is tarnished for me – and from this moment on, I will grant my loyalties to another file share site – one that gets that in this flat world we live in it is all about relationships. I will go out of my way to avoid purchasing anything with Kodak on it. Once you screw that up, there is no turning back.

Monday, March 23, 2009

(So Much for) Trusted Carbonite: Loses Customer Data

Today TechCrunch
, and The Globe over the weekend
exposed a rather ugly lawsuit filed by Carbonite against Promise Technology Inc. The Globe quotes: "Carbonite lost the backups of over 7,500 customers in a number of separate incidents, causing serious damage to Carbonite's business and to its reputation as a reliable source for backup data service."

One of the comments on the Globe’s web site reads: “I think it's about time someone takes to task the bloated claims of an industry inundated with false promises, slick marketing and shoddy "high-failure rate" acceptance. Too many of today's technology players rely on smoke and mirrors to lull their customers into a false sense of security”.
Another one chimes in: Promise Technologies reported sales of $300k according to hoovers. Carbonite trusted 7500 customer to an start up. Good luck getting any judge in Massachusetts to hear your case. IDS is just a sandwich between two very stupid group of managers. Carbonite you made $200K in sales, in a $1.2 trillion dollar industy. Grow up...the courts is not the way.”

This from a company that built their marketing on: How will you survive a computer disaster….It turns out this data loss occurred in 2007 – after the Carbonite CEO weighs in on TechCrunch. But has the damage been done?

Curiously enough the comment posts on both TechCrunch and the Globe are devoid of comments from Carbonite – not a single post from the company. So is this an opportunity for the company – who’s CEO in an interview with Scott Kirsner
later last year said that the thing that sells online backup for Carbonite is fear – fear of losing your data?

I hope that Carbonite subscribes to one of the online social media research services (like Crimson Hexagon), who can tell them precisely the damage they have done with not addressing this issue head on.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

MITX User Experience Series: Notes from How it’s Changed and Why it’s Important

Made it to the MITX User Experience event - MITX User Experience event
this morning. Panelists included Kerry Bodine, Hill Holiday
, Adamaya Ashk, Usability at Staples
, Toby Bottorf, WGBH Interactive
, Alex Jenkins, Microsoft Start-up Labs, Fred Leichter, Fidelity Investments, and Chauncey Wilson, Autodesk
. You can find the Twitter event feed here

The discussion started around defining what good user experience is and how it is mastered at the companies the panelists represented. Even though there was general agreement that there are many ways to describe it, the general consensus was that a good user experience should exceed expectations. Chauncey had a way of describing user experience as a triangle – at the bottom of it is useful design, followed by comfortable experiences and at the top – user delight and pleasure. One way to measure how good your design is is to think of it as a continuum – rangng from extreme frustration on one end to extreme delight on the other.

It was refreshing to hear that good user design is much more than web design – since now we all are in the relationship business, designing with the user in mind means we need to look at all touch points – offline and online, and exceed expectations at the points where the customers derive the most value of what we offer them.

Then the panel talked about the evolution of delight and the fluidity of the concept – what is delighting today usually becomes the must-have feature of tomorrow.

Good user design is not with its challenges – Adamaya described home page designs in particular as a political exercise. Alex mentioned Ray Ozzie’s cookie licking analogy – business units claiming ownership over certain concepts or product ideas stalling work on these until they are ready. You got it, if you licked the cookie, nobody else would want it – this is why Microsoft launched the Microsoft Start-up Labs
as a way to force rapid innovation, with the end user in mind.

I particularly loved the way Alex and his team at the Microsoft Start-ups Labs approach new product development – they seem to religiously test with real-world humans at every step of the way – starting with simple white-board sketches. Interesting enough, involving customers at Microsoft does not mean letting them design your product – customers get engaged for product and feature validation, but the concept and its eventual design still remain in the hands of those who know how to do the job.

It was also stimulating to hear about what has changed in user experience since it first hit the ground running. A lot of things have changed, it seems, but the four big buckets that were shared were a) customer expectations, b) customers’ tendency to multi-task in proportions never seen before, and the growing challenge in keeping customer attention focused, c) more advanced technology (which doesn’t mean that it has gotten easier), and d) companies now being (or need to be) more transparent and honest in their interactions with their customers. Fidelity had a good case in point – they recently redesigned their web site
to make it more of a news portal rather than simply a channel for Findelity’s marketing messaging (it turns out Fidelity’s chairman is not a huge fans of marketing, but stands behind the ease of use of their web site). One of the impetuses behind their site redesign came from their UI team’s constant monitoring of how customers interact with their products (they even offer free lunches to customers so they can observe how their users interact with their product on a daily basis) – what the Fidelity UI’s team discovered was that their customers needed unbiased industry news – and how they were meeting that need before the Fidelity’s site redesign was by having Yahoo Finance and Fidelity on two screens next to each all the time.

If you are wondering if you are designing with your customer in mind, all you have to do is ask yourself this simple question (as Toby advised us): When was the last tine you’ve watched your customers using your product?

If the answer is – well, we do it all the time, because we have domain experts who we run everything by, then you are wrong. All panelists agreed that domain experts run their course pretty fast – they become so ingrained in the product, they no longer provide valid feedback for its real-world usage and experience. I cannot agree with this more – we all often fall into the trap of thinking of ourselves as domain experts – just so we are proven wrong. Even though there are folks, like Malcolm Galdwell, who say you need to rely on your instincts (check out his book Blink
, they also agree that you need to know when to discount your intuition because you are plain wrong. We are not as rational and objective as we want to be – I wrote about the concept of predictive irrationality by Dan Ariely in this blog post
. Rather than guess, just test. With actual users.

How do you know you are on the right path? You have to know why you are doing something – Fred says that in most cases, in his over 12 years of leading UI at Fidelity, people usually can’t answer why they want to do something. Unless you know where you are going, you will never know if you missed your arrival point. It may sound trite to state that every UI initiative should have business goals attached to it, but let’s face it – more often than not, we deal with leaders who viscerally know this or that course of action is the right one. Again, it is encouraging to see that big business now gets it and empowers their UI folks to accomplish their mandate.

At the end, the old adage still applies: “you can’t manage what you don’t measure.” Create a baseline – track yourself relative to yourself and your competitors – which is precisely what Fidelity is doing. And I would add – measure not only satisfaction, but the organic growth of your business. If you get increased number of referrals, if more people buy more from you, you are on the right track. If these growth indicators are flat, you are measuring/focusing on the wrong thing.

How to you “socialize” UI within a business? The panelists were unanimous that people don’t read - some detailed product specs is not the way to go. Try to present new ideas and features in a visual format - social media design patterns
is a good starting point.

Then Kerry (who did a great job getting the right insights from the presenters, so kudos to her) asked each panel participant to share top books and blogs they recommend to the group. I am sure I missed a few, but here’s what I got:
1. Don’t Make Me Think

2. Groundswell

3. Everything Is Miscellaneous

4. Paradox of Choice

5. The Tipping Point
(read my blog
on Duncan Watts too – he is someone to watch!)
6. Visual Explanations

7. Timeless Way of Building

8. The User Is Always Right

9. Neuro Web Design

1. A list apart

2. Joel On Software

3. TechCrunch (my favorite too)

4. Mashable

5. Boxes and Arrows

6. UX Matters

Now you are faced with a few options: a) take a sabbatical and read, read, read, b) focus on the blogs, c) share the kernels from each book/blog you read with the rest of us – via twitter, blogging, Facebook, (name your own social here☺)


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

New Product Success: Influencers vs. Spreaders

For a long time, we marketers have trusted the age-old maxim: get your message to the right folks, who then will spread it to the rest/masses. These folks, affectionately called many names, including influencials, brand evangelists, information mavens, bloggers, among others, we believe, possess the power to infect the others and make them really passionate about an idea, service or a product. The idea that influencials have the power to make or break our business is so ingrained in our minds – after all, it intuitively makes sense on so many levels, that it has given rise to a plethora of new marketing services – mostly known as social media marketing. The logic is – influencials are now online – if you find them, and then convince them to endorse your product, you will be all set – organic demand and growth for your goodies will naturally follow.

This is precisely the premise behind The Tipping Point - How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference
. Gladwell
presents a rather compelling take on how to induce change and start your small epidemic (it got me so revved up that I ultimately negotiated the publishing rights a few years ago and helped publish the book in Bulgaria about a year ago). One of the premises in the book is that ideas can spread like epidemics – you just need to know how to start one. And you guessed it right – a key ingredient in starting an epidemic lies in the hands and behavior of influentials – like the cool, hip folks in NYC who started the Hush Puppies epidemic for example. The power of influencials was harnessed by a cool new site called CoolSpotters
– which offers celebrity product choices spotted and exposed by hordes of avid followers.

Then, out of nowhere, enters in Duncan Watts
, whose new trend philosophy gets exposed in a very interesting piece by Clive Thompson in Fast Company
. Duncan Watts says that “to succeed with a new product, it's less a matter of finding the perfect hipster to infect and more a matter of gauging the public's mood.” He is quoted to go even further saying that “any attempt to engineer success through Influentials…is almost certainly doomed to failure”. Because, he found through multiple, large-scale tests, that influentials don't govern person-to-person communication - we all do.

According to Watts, a product’s or an idea’s bright future is contingent on how susceptible we all are to that product, idea, or trend - “not how persuasive the early adopter is, but whether everyone else is easily persuaded”. Then he says trends occur at random – they cannot be predicted or engineered. (That article has a very interesting bit on what makes some music tracks hits - in essence, he says, hits are created randomly. What we know for sure, the article points, is that hits are heavily influenced by our social interactions - the more people rate a song highly, the higher our individual propensity to rate it higher too. But this group pressure is not enough to make a hit hit.)

So then Clive Thompson asks - what's a poor marketer to do??? Well, I have a few ideas:
1. Gauge how ready the market is for your idea – a few years back, I was part of a team who started a business offering automated travel advice to online travel providers – to be precise, we started that business in 1999 – it was too early. Online booking was nascent, trusted online advice was s stretch concept. People were not ready as they are today. There are a number of new market research companies who can help you there – my favorite ones are the ones that use the semantic web – like Crimson Hexagon
2. Start small and test it – see if people get your message right away. My friends at Propel Consulting
, are really great at helping companies validate their ideas. Hey, while you are at it, keep testing – build your product in a way that facilitates learning. And if you are New England-based, graduating or recent graduate, and are looking for seed money to start, check out this piece in the MHT
, which lists Business plan contests in the area
3. No matter if you are in front of the curve, or if you are riding it, map our your eco-system – there are probably a plethora of partners who will benefit from your service. Use them, leverage their brand power, trust and relationship with customers to build your position in the human mind.
4. Build your product with “spreadable” as one of your top core product/service features. Come up with your spreadability index scorecard – include things like person-to-person (email, easily embeddable code), social networks like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, news aggregators, RSS, etc. – be religious about making easy, simple and intuitive for everyone to spread your idea. Measure what works, adandom what does not.
5. And then last but not least, look for those influencers– they may not influence person-to-person communications, but they do validate your idea. They alone may not start your epidemic, but without them, it will take you a while (and definitely more money) to infect a large following.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Do Over Day: Social (Marketing) Ideas at Their Best

February 26 is Do Over Day
- a better, funnier, more genuine holiday that Valentine's Day or Family Day. Righting the wrong, reliving the right. Picked up by bloggers, general media, and everyday folks, including a Toronto teacher who gave her students a Do Over Day project. A great phenomenon, that caught on like wild fire, that legitimized the need for everyone to openly and honestly revisit what we love most in our lives and what we, if given the chance, would simply do over.

Never heard of Do Over Day
? It is time you caught on - Google has 234,000,000 listing for it (well, ok, maybe not all of them are for that same Do Over Day, but you get the point). So let me tell you about it - Do Over Day aims to answer this one simple question: What would you do over? Right now, today, tomorrow, next month, next year.

It started, just before the holidays, with a few creative minds
up in Toronto who were tired of sending their clients the same old gift baskets and holiday cards each year. So they asked a simple question: what can we do different? They kicked around a few ideas and checked what was available - apparently Super Hero Day
and Jump in a Puddle and Splash a Friend Day
were taken. Then someone said: what about a Do Over Day? What if, instead of traditional gifts and well wishes, the team could send cards to all their clients asking them to save the date, the date being February 26th.

The idea was the right one - totally inoffensive, funny, cheeky, with global appeal - for young and old, for churchgoers, and hipsters. The timing was right - past Valentine's day, new US President just elected, symbolic for hope, nothing else really going on for Canadians, who despite what you might think, really don't like long winters.

The team went on and developed the Do Over Day web site
. Which kicked some serious gear into motion - the design came from Mssngr
, and the writing - from Paul Fenn
- two creative geniuses (and yes, I have worked with them in the past many times - but you would too if you knew them). Next came the gift baskets for their clients - in there were funny t-shirts (one read: In your case I guess it is going to be more like a Hair-Do Over Day), and Do Over kits with 5 different pads with 5 different Do Over sayings on them, Do Over pencils, and Do Over erasers.

But then the team felt they were onto something - something much bigger than a clever thank you campaign for their clients for the Holiday Season. So they enlisted the help of other creative minds - Lifecapture
- helped the chat rooms and forums get started, a PR partner helped get the media interested. Now the goal was to legitimize Do Over Day. The focus was to create a fun project that made a difference - not some marketing scam. The team then launched a Twitter account
, a YouTube channel, and a Facebook fan club
. They went on a commissioned an Ipsos Reid study to find out what Canadians would mostly want to do over. All this with no money spent – the only paid media was a printed insert of the eCards in the Toronto Metro newspaper, which people could cut out, fill in the back, and send to friends.

February 26th rolled around and all major Toronto TV and radio stations picked up the holiday. CityTV was out on the streets interviewing people, the new Virgin radio station had people calling in with their Do Over wishes, the web site was getting record hits, the posts on the site were coming in – video and text responses from people from all walks of live. The reaction from all levels – from the general public, the media, and the clients of these same creative minds, was of total acceptance. Do Over Day was a legitimate holiday, with a viral following, much bigger than how it started.

Missed Do Over Day this year? You have nothing to worry about – there’s always next year. Consider yourself lucky – now you have almost a year to make your Do Over wish list to share.

As for the folks behind the idea – they sure boosted their reputation – their clients now come to them and ask for a Do Over Day-like campaign for their brands. You can do it too – you just have to commit to do over the Do Over Day success. Good luck!

Friday, March 6, 2009

Social Media: Social Rewards for Building Lasting Online Communities

I came across a brilliant book, thanks to Kevin Rose
, founder of Digg, Predictably Irrational
. The premise in one of the chapters is that we are happy to do things, but not when we are paid to do them. Here's how it works according to Dan Ariely
and ...me.

We may intuitively know that basing a relationship on social norms and exchanges is more lasting and more powerful than when we get paid to do something. What we don't usually know is when to cross the line between social and into market (or money) exchanges and what effect that transition has on the relationship longer term. Dan conducted a number of experiments and discovered that people are willing to work for free or for a reasonable wage - but when you offer them a small amount, they usually walk away. Dan points to open source software where people contribute their free time to develop projects or fix bugs on collaborative platforms - if these same engineers were to paid for the work, they would command high wages - yet, they are willing to do it for free. Why? Because social rewards and social reputation can be enormous behavioral motivators.

What was also interesting was that people who got paid reasonably to do a job were motivated to do almost as good of a job almost as those who did it for free, but they tended to avoid collaboration. Apparently, thinking about money made people more self-reliant and less willing to ask for help. What's more important, I think, is that once we move away from a social exchange into a market exchange, we are governed by the market forces for a long time - you ask a friend for a favor, maybe a free yoga session, and she gladly helps. She does it a couple of times - then, you offer to pay. The friend takes the money - and the friend now expects to be paid each time.

So does this mean for us, social media marketers?
1. People will work for free - they will gladly volunteer their time - in exchange for the right social rewards. Social reputation is a huge motivator - so whether you are running a for-profit social network, an online community, or a non-profit initiative, make sure that you recognize and thank your volunteers.
2. Recognize your volunteers contributions - on your home page, in your newsletters, Twitter feeds, or Facebook account. Make them the stars of your community - give them special status, offer them exclusives, make them part of your business decision-making process. People don't just work for free.
3. Offer them symbolic gifts - a thank you card personally signed by everyone on the team, a virtual hug, a t-shift - for each of their meaningful contributions. Don't ever forget that in social relationships you are always exchanging social currency - it is a give and take. Every time. I recently attended a meeting of marketers to help a non-profit organization - I spent two hours there, contributed and did not hear back. A simple thank you in most cases would do.
4. Be clear about the norms for your community - what you consider social and what you consider market. And don't mix the two. American Express Platinum Card is known for its exceptional Cardmember customer service - you get a very special treatment when you call. Only a select group of people get the privilege to carry one - yet, for a bounced check or a later payment, Platinum customers get the same monetary penalties as everybody else.

As Dan Ariely says, "If you want a social relationship, go for it, but remember that you have to maintain it under all circumstances."


Monday, March 2, 2009

Brand Momentum: Start-up Marketing Thoughts

Once I first came across the book, I envisioned that at some point I would revisit Momentum by Ron Ricci (Oracle) and John Volkmann (AMD). What I did not know is how often I would do that in my life as a marketer. Last week I attended my first MIT Forum Concept Clinic on Pongr.com - and as all of us attending the session tried to impart our life-long learnings about what makes concepts and companies succeed, I went back to the simple truths I first discoverer in the book.

But before I share these, I wanted to revisit another take on the evolution of marketing I discovered in that brilliant book - what made marketing marketing up to the early 80-ies, between the 80-ies and mid 90-ies, and then the mid 90-ies and beyond. I hope that this perspective will help young and established entrepreneurs market their ideas, products and services better and with higher impact.

See, marketing up to the early 80-ies was all about the past - about selling predictability - you walk into a McDonald's and you know exactly what you'll get and how it'll taste. Marketing up to 1980ies = Predictability + Tradition.

Then came the 198o's and in came the era of now - the more a company could show, the better off it was. The more features, functions, bells and whistles you could brag about, the stronger the product you were selling. You get a laundry list of product attributes...and that's not all:) The early 80-ies to mid 90-ies were the Golden Age of the marketing brochure - the more pages it had, the happier the CEO, and (supposedly) the company's customers - now they had all the info they needed to make that first purchase and keep coming back...right?

Not so fast guys, not so fast - in came the Internet in all (well, some) of its glory. It was going to change the way we think about things, marketing included... but how? Well, it was about the future, it was about possibilities and ideas. Enter the new era of marketing - the marketing of the future.

What makes marketing of the future different from its previous reincarnations are two fundamentals, outlined in Momentum:
1. Digital products and services are never finished.
2. Digital products and services never stand alone.

Simple. And brilliant. And it turned everything, marketing included, on its head. It shifted the power from what you did to who you did it with - today who you partner with sends a more powerful message about who you are than what you sell. Marketing of the future is dynamic - no competitive audit is ever current, no brochure or web site is ever up to date, no sales deck is every finished. Entire marketing departments becoming obsolete, rationalized, globalized in our fight to adapt to a world of possibilities.

What, then, is a start-up to do? What do's and don'ts do we offer in this new marketing order?
1. Own one meaningful thing in the minds of your prospective customers. Business success comes from creating strong perception, NOT products.
2. Focus on the benefits of your service or product - both present but preferably future (You won't fail tomorrow but hiring us today). Forget about features - eliminate features that are of little value to your customers.
3. Work with your customers - make them part of your dynamic product development process - yeah, that product, the one that's never finished, always being improved. Think Gmail - it is still in Beta.
4. Build a strong net of like-minded partners - they will provide a launching pad and a safety net for your product.
5. Don't sell your customers' data - sell them offerings from your partners that they value - protect their privacy by opening up your ecosystem to like-minded partners who value your customers privacy and understand that helping you protect it protects them.
6. Don't market to the masses - there is no such thing as "the masses" - there are customer segments that influence those around them. My bet is that Eons.com will succumb to Facebook.com - no one wants to be old, everyone wants to be young at heart.

Feel free to agree and disagree with me - on this blog, on Twitter - @sallyswimsalot, or Facebook.

Scratch (aka Lora K)