This is Gonna Be HUGE!

This started off as a comment on Kneale Mann’s blog, but then I realized that a lot of my regular readers are probably expecting me to weigh in on the iPad, and why not! Ironically, Kneale’s post is about all the free publicity that the iPad is getting.  🙂

There are a lot of people griping about what the iPad doesn’t have, and its name:

iTablet was the obvious (good) choice IMHO, but it breaks the ‘two-sylabble rule’ of the Apple naming conventions, and the recent predilection for the use of the letters ‘iP’ at the start (iPod, iPhone).  Complaints about the name are missing the real story here:

All the coverage I have read misses just how much this device is going to revolutionize everything! Apple has created a huge developer community and worked them into a lather over the potential of becoming rich, famous, or rich & famous developing the next multi-million-downloaded iPhone app.  Now they provide those same developers a new platform to innovate on.

Lots of analysts seem to think that this is about Kindle vs. iPad, but that misses the point too.  The Kindle is a very well executed specialized reading device which will continue to do well in the segment of eBook readers.  The iPad provides the opportunity for innovations of much greater scope.

Expect big revolutions in:

  • Medical charting and visualization
  • Marketing
  • Gaming
  • Graphic design
  • eBook technology
  • GPS & mapping
  • Education
  • Human interface design
  • How you enjoy video and music
  • Point of sale enablement
  • Retail displays

Just as an example: imagine you go into the local car dealership, and instead of being handed the usual marketing glossies you are handed a iPad with an interior and exterior visualization of your new car with all the interior and exterior features & colours, exactly to order.  The same could be applied to making all the selections for a new home, where colour and material choices can be visualized in a 3D rendered world navigated by intuitive screen gestures and/or movement of the whole device.

The tablet itself is a nice piece of work at a compelling price point (especially compared to the capabilities offered by netbooks), but the real monster unleashed here is the rabid pool of developers who now have a completely new form-factor to innovate on. In 6-12 months, the folks at Apple will look like geniuses (again).

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TEDx Ottawa: A Resounding S.U.C.C.E.S.s!!

TED conferences are mind-blowing, but expensive and far away.  Sp when I heard about the TEDx concept (locally organized TED events) I was excited to hear that an event was being organized in Ottawa!  But how was a local event going to compare to TED conferences which regularly attract the worlds top thinkers?

The same weekend, I was trying to complete my presentation on a very compelling book that my wife bought for me: Made to Stick. This timing was very fortunate for my presentation because TEDx provided so many great examples about how to make ideas ‘Sticky’. I thought I would use the S.U.C.C.E.S.s acronym used by the book to illustrate some of my key take-aways from TEDx Ottawa:

S – Simple: Keep your message core and compact to increase the chance that people remember the one most important thing you want them to act on.

If someone really succeeded in getting their message across, I shouldn’t have to look at my notes! And one great example of this was Bob Ledrew who’s key message was to “Sing your song.”, which was all about remembering what things you were passionate about in your youth, and making sure that you make time for them in adulthood.  His personal story about his rediscovery of his passion for music, and his ‘House’ concerts was very inspiring.

U – Unexpected: If you can break a person’s guessing machine you keep their interest and increase the chance that they will absorb your message.

For me the ‘unexpected’ story that stuck with me most from the day was Ray Zahab‘s story about how he entered a Yukon ultra-marathon, and the mental and physical battles he fought during the race to convince himself that he could finish it.  At the end of the race he then says “Nobody is more surprised than me that I finished this race.” and the race marshall responded: “You didn’t just finish, you won.”

Cindy Chastain and Kip Voytek surprised me by clarifying the difference between ‘cooperation vs. collaboration’, and how most ‘collaboration’ strategies actually are about cooperation.  This surprise caused me to furiously write down their proposed approach to collaboration, which I will use!  As a result, I have a lot more ‘pleasure in not knowing’.  😉

C – Concrete: Everyone will take in your message using their own filters and lenses, you must make your message concrete to ensure that your audience gets your message, regardless of their background.

Images and video are fantastic ways to make your message concrete and accessible to a wide audience.  Najeeb Mirza used a video shot in Afghanistan to illustrate how people around have more in common than you would think!  It made me laugh to see a bunch of turban doffing Afghani tribesmen talking about who had the best cell phone.

Williams Jans‘ message about how ‘Bad Roads Bring Good People’ was driven home by his many great photos and video showing how friendly and happy people can be at the fringes of the inhabited world, and showed the joys (and laughs) of learning new languages!

Finally, Mark Levison talked about how images are ‘Google for the mind’ and there doesn’t appear to be an upper limit to how many images the brain can process.  So many of Mark’s comments echoed the ‘Made to Stick’ concepts that I ended up giving him my copy of the book when I was surprised to find out he hadn’t read it!

C – Credible: To get people to believe your message, you need credibility.  The book has many suggestions on how to accomplish this, but I used some TEDx presenters to illustrate.

Tracey Clarke has credibility for many reasons.  First of all, she is the managing director of Bridgehead Coffee, a company who has beaten the mighty Starbucks at the own game (in Ottawa anyway). This should be credibility enough, but then teaches us more about the dynamics of coffee business than I thought possible in such a short presentation!  Her many stories, pictures and detail about Bridgehead’s stance on coffee supply made me proud to be a Bridgehead customer!

Robert Mittelman, a Kiva Fellow, leant a lot of credibility to Kiva’s microcredit initiatives by his experiences with the program abroad.  It was good to hear how this money was being used, and how the inspiration flows both ways: debtor to creditor, creditor to debtor.

E – Emotional: In order to get people to act on your message, you have to hit them in the heart with it; with emotion comes action.

Mark Blevis and his message of the importance of children’s books really hit me at an emotional level.  It made me realize how I really didn’t recognize the importance of these books in providing children context on how to interpret and interact with their world.  The reminder that this is actually a high art form of imparting messages in a compact way to people with a limited vocabulary.  So is this emotion making me act?  Absolutely.  Just one week after TEDx I am sure I have had at least 4-5 conversations about the significance of children’s books!

S – Story: If you tell your message as a story, there is no way that your audience can remain passive. The act of listening to a story (as opposed to just a bunch of facts) forces the listener to build the mental image of the story as it is told, which increases the chances of the listener remembering it.

Danny Brown‘s presentation was all about story telling, digital storytelling in particular.  He told of the new Star Wars series that lost the viewer because it forgot that telling a human story was the important part, and not all the technology that enables it (actually I think it WAS Jar Jar’s fault).  I really liked how he compared the Millenium Falcon to everybody’s beater first car!

Nothing illustrates the power of story like Jowi Taylor‘s Six String Nation ‘Voyageur’ guitar!!  Every piece of this guitar has a story, and is perfectly united to his message of ‘One Canada’.  There was certainly a lot of emotion in his stories as well, as there were several that brought a tear to my eye, and the passion of Jowi about telling these stories was clearly apparent!  The best part about this guitar is that, for all the stories that are built into this guitar already, the guitar itself is creating so many new stories that are being captured by Jowi.  All Canadians must hear the story of this guitar, and I am certainly doing my small part.

I don’t want to diminish any of the other presentations by their omission here!  I got at least one great nugget from each presentation, and many great discussions with the presenters in the interludes.  It was a fabulous event, exceptionally executed.  Even the box lunch was fabulous!  I hope all people that attend TEDx events around the world are as lucky as we are in Ottawa to have such a great experience!  An experience worthy of the ‘TED’ name!

In a 5 Star World ***** Who Wants Second Best?

If you shop online (and if you’re reading this, you probably do) when was the last time that you purchased something that wasn’t 5 stars?

The online shopping world abounds with star rating systems, or their ilk.  If you buy on eBay, you probably wouldn’t even consider buying from someone who had less than a 99% feedback rating. If you look at reviews on CNET, Consume Reports, etc. you hesitate on that purchase if it isn’t an ‘Editors Pick’ or a top rated product in its category.  Considering buying that album from iTunes? Going to see a movie? Finding a contractor…  This list could go on.

The fundamental driver of this is the notion everybody has that they deserve the best.  But when you pick something with 5 stars, is that what you are really getting?

Aside from blue jeans (the one thing the human race has perfected), its hard to imagine that there is one product that satisfies everyone.  5 stars just means the people that take time to rate stuff online, and arguably find this rating valuable, rate that product very highly.  This is a very small percentage of the online population IMHO.  Accuracy here is fighting a large selection bias.

But if you have a product, and you can’t get to first place, is there any benefit to trying to be second?  I don’t think so.

The people that use ratings as their primary decision criteria will not buy your product.  Why would they?  You can offer a lower price than the #1 option, but then you really are just giving away money –and potentially a lot of it– to grab a few people that are willing to take second best because of a lower price.

If you are faced with this situation, you are better off instead selling to the audience that isn’t buying stars.

As usual, Malcolm Gladwell says it best:

Does Your Remote Know That You’re Drunk?

There is a lot of innovation going on in the advertising world, where advancements in the internet and cable TV systems allow potential advertisers to get much more information about the people they are trying to get their products in front of.

This greater knowledge allows an advertiser to buy advertising that is much more likely to be viewed by people that would be influenced to buy their product.

A great example is to do a search for ‘mesothelioma‘ via Google.  If you look on the Google sidebar (on the right) you will notice that most of the spots -which are all paid for- are taken by law firms.

Very few cancers have a well established causal relationship to a specific souce (lung cancer and smoking being one of the others).  Mesothelioma is almost always caused by exposure to asbestos.  This allows lawyers to sue your previous employer, landlord, etc. for ‘causing’ your cancer by causing you to be exposed to this dangerous (but popular) building substance.  This has become a very lucrative business for lawyers that specialize in meothelioma.

Therefore, if you are searching for ‘mesothelioma’ on Google, you, or someone you care about, is likely a potential client for these law firms.  This has made this word the most valuable search word on the internet.  It is also this targeted advertising capability that makes Google worth ~$100 billion.

So, what is my idea?

Well, how much more would you be willing to pay for advertising space, if you knew for a fact that your customer was intoxicated?

Here is a scenario:  You get home from the bar with a serious case of the munchies, and turn on your TV.  A sensor in the remote detects the alcohol in the air from the breath you are exhaling.  This information sent into the network which has the capability to send specific advertisements to your TV.  Pizza Pizza, who has paid extra for this priviledge, sends an advertisement or email to your TV:

Click ‘order’ to accept this 5 minute offer for a Supreme Meat & Cheese Lover’s Pizza with 6 bottles of water and a package of Tylenol for the low price of $35!!

I think this is the beginning of ‘State-based Marketing’.  😉

TED: A Great Resource for New Ideas!

Want an opportunity to see videos by some of the biggest thinkers in the world for free?  My friend Catherine tipped me off to the website TED.com.  “TED” stands for ‘Technology, Entertainment & Design’ which was the original scope of the conference when it started in 1984, but since has become much broader.

The concept of the talks is that each speaker is given 18 minutes to give the talk of their lives.  Here is a description of the conference from TED:

The TED Conference, held annually in Long Beach, is still the heart of TED. More than a thousand people now attend — indeed, the event sells out a year in advance — and the content has expanded to include science, business, the arts and the global issues facing our world. Over four days, 50 speakers each take an 18-minute slot, and there are many shorter pieces of content, including music, performance and comedy. There are no breakout groups. Everyone shares the same experience. It shouldn’t work, but it does. It works because all of knowledge is connected. Every so often it makes sense to emerge from the trenches we dig for a living, and ascend to a 30,000-foot view, where we see, to our astonishment, an intricately interconnected whole.

Here is a selection of some of my favourite videos so far:

Malcolm Gladwell on why you can’t just listen to your customers (or where chunky spaghetti sauce comes from):

Stephen Levitt on why crack dealers still live with their moms:

Tony Robbins on ‘Why We Do What We Do” (he actually steals an extra few minutes):

Martin Seligman on positive psychology:

Finally, Sir Ken Robinson asks “Do Schools Kills Creativity?”:

And there are 100’s of others! Enjoy!

Building a Brand Identity: Watch Your Language!

When you discuss with people the idea that a company should have a strong brand, you often get knowing nods and agreement that yes, this is very important for businesses, and people either laud or complain about their marketing departments for their success, or lack of success, in this area.

I think this is very indicative of the attitude of many companies (especially companies not involved in the consumer market) that ‘brand’ is marketing’s job.  I believe that this is fundamentally a language problem; a problem of what words you use to engage each employee in helping to build the brand identity and making it consistent throughout your company or division, not just the marketing department.

You would probably agree that a company that can produce products and services that are consistent with what the customers actually value, has a much better chance of success than one who is inconsistent, or even worse, has lost touch with its customers.

So how do you ensure that 1) there is consistency, and 2) you remain in touch with what your customers value?

In this article I want to try and tackle the consistency challenge, and propose it has a lot to do with the language you use outside of the marketing department.

Talk to most technical folks about ‘brand’ and I guarantee you will see some eyes gloss over, other eyes will avert, and some folks may even run for the door.  It isn’t a word that really resonates well outside the cubes of the marketing department; it is a very right-bained word.  So how do we translate it?

Brand Identity: A unique set of associations that the brand strategist aspires to create or maintain. These associations represent what the brand should stand for and imply a potential promise to customers. It is important to note that a brand identity refers to the strategic goal for a brand; while brand image is what currently resides in the minds of consumers.

Wow, even my eyes are glazing over!

What if we tried translating our ‘Brand Identity’ into the following words:

  • In the Research and Developmet lets call them our ‘Design Principles’
  • For customer support lets call them our ‘Principles of Customer Service’
  • Sales might call it their ‘Elevator Pitch’
  • Portfolio management would say it is our ‘Common Value Proposition’
  • Strategy and Architecture teams would call it our ‘Strategic Vision’
  • Product test or verification would define their ‘Priority Test Criteria’
  • When you get up to the executive ranks, you could talk about the company ‘Vision, Mission or Core Values’

This certainly isn’t a comprehensive list, as I am sure you can think of other areas, and other even better words to capture what the ‘brand identity’ is to each group above; in fact I encourage you to do so in the comments below (I am looking for ideas)!!

But, by using this more functionally-sensitive language, and defining what the brand identity means for each functional group, great strides can be made to create the alignment between the efforts of various parts of an organization, and what their customers experience.  This helps every employee understand  how they contribute to “the promise to customers”.

You might ask ‘who’s responsibility is this’ to drive this alignment?  I can offer you little help here.  I have heard some arguments that claim this kind of messaging must come from the very top of the organization.  But a more pragmatic side of me sees how this can be a very improbable suggestion, especially in companies where marketing is considered a tactical, not strategic function:

All I can offer is, If this post resonates strongly with you, it might just be yours!  🙂

Rogers Pushes Their Luck

I recently received a notice in the mail telling me that if I want to continue recieving a 15% discount for having a bundle of services from Rogers, that I would have to sign up for a 2 year commitment.

Hmmm… I wonder what assurances there are in this contract that they will not just hike service prices by 15% or more over the next 2 years?  Lets have a look at some excerpts of the fine print from their ‘terms & conditions’ which you must agree to in order to continue to receive the discount:

  • Eligible Rogers services include: subscriptions to any of the following categories of Rogers services: wireless services, Internet access services, phone services and television services. (But note that VoIP and home phone count as just one service, not two, as do internet and mobile internet).
  • Basic cable is not eligible, neither are phones on corporate wireless accounts.
  • Up to $100 early termination fee for EACH service!
  • Here is a biggie: Charges that are not recurring monthly service fees for Rogers services are ineligible for the Discount. For examples of ineligible non-recurring charges: installation, connection and/or relocation fees, pay-per-view television and video-on-demand charges, one-time activation fees, local airtime charges, pay-per-use Text Messaging, and roaming charges, long distance and other telephone usage charges; and any additional Rogers Cable, Rogers Wireless, RogersYahoo!® Hi-Speed Internet and Rogers Home Phone™ service options and/or features selected, hardware/equipment rentals or purchases (wow, how generous!).
  • Wait, nothing about protecting the customer from ramping up service fees!

So I gave Rogers a call to see what assurances (if any) they could give that rates wouldn’t be hiked soon as a service contract was signed.  The person I talked to confirmed that no such assurance existed, but assured me that the discount would be applied to the new service rate if it were hiked (thanks!).

Another thing that the customer service agent clarified, is that add-ons on wireless accounts, including extra data plans wireless features are NOT covered by the discount. Since local, long-distance and roaming charges are also not covered, the total dollar value of my ~$100 monthly bill that will be covered by the discount is only $35!  So I save $5 a month, but risk a $100 fee if I cancel within the first year (in my case I have already signed on for 3 years, so not a big deal).

I give Rogers credit for their guts, this is quite a gamble! Will they lock in revenues or lose customers?  Rogers is the envy of all other cable companies for their low churn rate of customers, so this isn’t a reaction to bleeding customers.  Looks like they might be getting too greedy!

Oh, by the way, I was told that I would have to sign up to the new plan by October 29th in order to maintain my 15% discount.

Disclosure: I don’t currently own Rogers stock, and based on this news, I have no intent to.

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