Monday, September 26, 2011

The Need to Expand Beyond Traditional Channels

The current Fast Company's special design theme offers up some interesting articles. Its article about the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum ("Mister Moggridge Has Mad Ambition") raises some interesting questions about the broad field of design.

What I also find interesting was a quote about the nature of museums, from Richard Kurin, the Smithsonian's undersecretary for history, art, and culture -- and someone who understands how museums work:
"Museums originally were founded as 19th-century institutions. Well, now we exist in a different kind of world. A hundred-thousand people came to an exhibit? Well, a hundred-thousand people watching a TV program is very little. A hundred-thousand people watching a YouTube video is puny! And so I think the idea is, How do we take the stuff of the museum, the visceral experience of the object, and somehow translate that to other forms of media? We haven't figured that out yet."
That's a challenge all communications functions need to solve in their own way: how to take an organization's traditional content and push it out to make it more accessible by the people who can't visit your corporate equivalent of a museum gallery.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Nine Lessons from Netflix and the 'Half Apology"

Until two months ago, Netflix offered one monthly fee of $7.99 to order videos by streaming and DVDs by mail. Then Netflix announced it would charge its customers $7.99 for a subscription to its streaming service and another $7.99for Netflix' mail-order service -- representing a 100 percent increase.

Then, on Sunday, Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix posted an explanation of sorts: "An Explanations and Some Reflections" only to cause more problems for Netflix. Hastings may have intended it to be an apology, but one person termed it a "half apology," and I think that's about right.

Here's a list of nine lessons learned from this incident:
  1. Companies need to provide context when the price customers are going to be charged will increase significantly. Changing the fee can be a critical time in almost any company-customer relationship. But that's especially true when the increase is so dramatic. Hastings said he should have provided more of an explanation about why the company increased its subscription fees. But Hastings's explanation notes that a full justification "wouldn't have changed the price increase." 
  2.  Waiting two months to respond was probably too long. The company lost about a million subscribers recently -- probably due to the price hike. Hastings said the company is moving and evolving quickly, but that's not the impression one gets from a two-month lag time before Hastings responded.
  3. When communicating with customers, make sure the information you provide them is focused on their needs. While Hastings's  explanation on his blog did a fine job of laying out the company's vision and goals, it didn't really address customer concerns.  Instead, Hastings used the blog post to explain why Netflix is changing the name of its DVD-by-mail service to Qwikster, and to prepare customers for what that change will entail. His explanation was focused on the company, not the customer. Hastings explanation is focused on discussing the upcoming changes from the company's perspective, not the customers, and is tone deaf in addressing customers' needs and perspectives.
  4. When launching a company, a blog post on a Sunday night might not be the best strategy. It's difficult to know how much planning when into the spin-off of Qwikster, but the company look unprepared with a lack of a Twitter ID, Facebook page and website, even as placeholders.  
  5. If you do use your blog to launch a new business, don't bury the lead.  Hastings' post first mentions the Qwikster name change midway through the post. It made Qwikster seem an afterthought. The post is fairly clear on what the Qwikster experience will be like -- i.e, Netflix with a different name -- but I don't think it does a good job of serving as a launch pad for the new brand. 
  6. When seeking to appease your critics, try to lock down areas that might spark further criticism.
    As laid out in the post, Qwikster is likely to continue to rub customers the wrong way. Customers have to log onto separate sites to select a DVD-by-mail and to download a video; they have to look at reviews on two different sites (because Netflix and Qwikster will now offer separate customer reviews); they have to update credit card and other information into two different systems, and they will receive two separate charges on their credit card statements. I understand the need for separate brands but there could have been ways to streamline the customer experience.
  7. Naming a new brand is very difficult these days; while it's hard to come up with a great name -- and I think Netflix is a great name -- it should be easy to identify a lousy name.  For example, Qwikster.  It's easy to misspell. It doesn't actually deliver on its brand promise (instant downloads are fast; delivery by mail is not quick). And it sounds too much like Friendster.  That said, even though I don't like the Qwikster name, I think the reason behind changing the name makes sense because separating the Netflix brand from DVDs-by-mails may have a better chance for survival if people no longer associated Netflix with its iconic red envelopes. After all, AOL is still associated with slow dialup service, and it gave up that business a few years ago. 
  8.  If you're going to claim you messed up, you should explain the steps you will take to prevent a similar mistake in the future. Especially when you identify the nature of the mistake as being not communicating enough.  Hastings may mean for this to be his "sincere apology" but he doesn't outline how he'll make sure that both Netflix and Qwikster will make sure to overcommunicate critical information in the future.
  9. Listening and responding to customers' concerns goes beyond branding -- even though it is a big issue for the Netflix brand. Getting this wrong can also exact a real cost to the business. In this case, Netflix has lost subscribers (even as its total subscriber base is larger this year than it was last year; the company has lost about a million subscribers over the past two months).  And Netflix has also seen its stock price drop, too, and that has financial implications as the company continues its global push.
Let me know if there are additional lessons to be drawn from Netflix.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Five Qualities of Innovation

The New York Times' Steve Lohr wrote a nice article about Steve Jobs and innovation a couple of weeks back: Reaping the Rewards of Risk-Taking.

In addition to all the usual points made about Jobs in just about every article about him after his resignation from Apple, Lohr's article makes the point that Jobs himself feels that getting fired from Apple, and finding new experiences -- like founding Pixar -- helped him when he returned to Apple.

Lohr also referenced Jobs in a review of a new book, "The Innovator's DNA: Mastering the Five Skills of Disruptive Innovators," co-written by Clay Christensen and Hal B. Gregersen, a professor at the European Institute of Business Administration, or Insead, which identifies five traits that are common in disruptive innovators:
  • Questioning.
  • Experimenting.
  • Observing.
  • Associating
  • Networking.
According to Lohr, innovator's "bundle of characteristics echoes the ceaseless curiosity and willingness to take risks noted by other experts. Networking, Mr. Gregersen explains, is less about career-building relationships than a search for new ideas. Associating, he adds, is the ability to make idea-producing connections by linking concepts from different disciplines — intellectual mash-ups.'Innovators engage in these mental activities regularly,' Mr. Gregersen says. 'It’s a habit.'”

Might be worth picking up  "The Innovator's DNA: Mastering the Five Skills of Disruptive Innovators."

Friday, September 16, 2011

The New York Times Looks at The Times' Business Coverage

New York Times' ombudsman Arthur Brisbane raises interesting questions about coverage in his columns. One I meant to look at was a recent column, "Financial News for the Rest of Us," in which Brisbane looks at the impact of the growth of resources and digital space allocated to the Times' DealBook section.  Edited by Andrew Ross Sorkin, 10-year-old DealBook, which started out as a newsletter that aggregated breaking mergers-and-aquisitions news, focuses on Wall Street issues, and in print covers part of a page in the daily business section. Online, Dealbook now has a staff of 15, and is able to dig deep in its coverage, so sometimes it's very much inside Wall St. baseball.

Brisbane makes the point that while DealBook serves an important constituent among Times' readers, other urgent business stories may go untold.  While lauding DealBook's coverage of the Google acquisition of Motorola "served a broad readership’s desire to understand what this might mean for Google and its quest to exploit mobile technology," Brisbane wonders, "A week before that, though, when the world economic system shuddered and stock markets dropped, I was left wondering whether The Times should have spent its money not on expanding DealBook but on enlarging its stable of journalists aimed at the wider subjects of international banks and sovereign debt."

Brisbane provides insights into the print business section and the needs of the online reader when he quotes  Larry Ingrassia, the Business Day editor, who said, "that while in print The Times can succeed by broadly addressing 'the five or 10 most important things you need to know,' the Web demands narrower and deeper offerings."

Interesting perspective, especially when combined with a recent David Carr column in the Times: "News Trends Tilt Toward Niche Sites," which makes the point that news giants being outmaneuvered by smaller sites with passionate audiences & sharply focused information.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Notes from the FutureM Conference

The FutureM conference in Boston yesterday featured an interesting panel on the Future of Advertising, featuring executives from DataXu, Mullen, Localytics, Digitas, Arnold and CampusLIVE.

The panelists agreed that future of advertising will be measurable
-- even as some said there are some things you can't measure.


Though one panelist said that "Some things that are not yet measurable may soon be measurable -- and be developed by someone in this room."

Currently what we measure traffic, click-throughs, etc., but that doesn't necessarily capture key factors that marketers need to measure and understand, such as being able to the value of community and other long-term issues, including how do you link content and marketing initiatives to the long-term actions.

One frustration noted by the panel is that organizations don't necessarily want to spend money to measure.

Another question the panel examined was: Is conventional advertising dead?  Some on the panel Some said conventional advertising is dead -- just like some say the press release is dead. I disagree.

The problem with looking at online vs. conventional marketing is that people access info across platforms so you need communicate that way.  It's how you use advertising, a number of panels said. And it's important not to put initiatives into buckets. I remember that a cable client kept referring to the difference between cable and TV, and I pointed out that for those outside the industry, most people look at the TV and their remote, and don't think too much about the differences between cable and broadcast. Now, given the range of ways we interact with media -- via TV/cable, smartphones, tablets, etc., brands must look cross-platform, to enable people to access content whichever way they may want. And how they access content changes throughout the day; during their commute, it may be radio. While grabbing coffee, it may be their smartphone. During the day, it's their computer. And somewhere along the way, it's their tablet. The point some panelists made was that you ignore potential customers if you ignore one platform.

That holds true for those focusing exclusively on social media.  Twitter should not be the only channel. Remember, one panelist said: Twitter is not as pervasive as it is in the room.  Companies need to make it easy for people to connect, whichever way they want to.

That said, a big point of discussion was the need to monetize and measure social media, and not be afraid to experiment.

One of the last questions taken up by the panel is do most brands need a mobile app? The answer: assess the need for a mobile app on a case-by-case basis.  But every brand needs to make sure their sites are mobile-optimized. (One panelist made the point that if Android continues to gain share over iOS on smartphones, optimized mobile sites will be more important that apps, since the app-based approach and app market really belongs to Apple.)

The final question was whether panelists feel we're in the middle of a unprecedented marketing transformation.  One panelist said, "No. I think we're just at the beginning."

Redesigning Workplace

Thanks to technology, the workplace has changed dramatically. A decade ago, you probably carried a huge brick of a cellphone and a heavy laptop. Today, you probably carry some combination of a smartphone, an MP3 player, a tablet and a laptop -- and all the accessories and chargers. While that may seem like a lot of devices to lug around, the fact is that they free us up to work and play anytime, anywhere.

One of the technologies that interests me most -- videoconferencing -- was a solution 10 years ago that only big businesses could have afforded, with room systems costing hundreds of thousands of dollars. Today, smartphones and tablets now offer video chat capabilities.

As people become accustomed to videoconferencing at work, businesses need to redesign cubicles to enhance videoconference experience for those on the other side of the videoconference. For people who work next to a window, outside glare can cause people to squint, for example. Or, because of current office lighting, people may appear to be either lurking in the shadows or checking in from a desert. In the Aug. issue, Fast Company ran an illustration of an updated cubicle (Redesigning: Cubicles). Some of it was tongue-in-cheek, like Dilbert creator Doug Adams' suggestion of "adding a foldout seat [that as] soon as it's down, 'a timer starts that makes your phone ring after a few minutes, so you can excuse an unwelcome guest."

But at least one suggestion makes a lot of sense: "Webcam lighting: To streamline digital meetings, [a} switch instantly adjusts cubicle lighting to offset the brightness of the computer screen."

That makes a lot of sense to us. Check out Redesigning: Cubicles for other tips.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Adopting our workplace for how we work today

On paper (for whoever still uses paper), it might seem unlikely that a Duke University English professor is a driving voice in how to approach and address the "bewildering pace of technological change."

But Cathy Davidson is interested in more than essays and punctuation.  As profiled in last month's Fast Company, Davidson is the "cofounder of HASTAC (Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Advanced Collaboratory), an international network of academics inspired by new technology, which administers the annual Digital Media and Learning competition with the MacArthur Foundation. Davidson believes that true conceptual innovation is needed to reinvent our homes, schools, and workplaces for the demands of the digital age. She calls her approach 'technopragmatism,' or 'technorealism.'"

As Beloit College's annual Mindset List points out, this year's freshman class barely remembers dial-up Internet access. Davidson says, "We're at the perfect moment to begin reimagining our institutions and developing practices to deal with the onslaught of information, the reality of constant connectedness, and the challenges of global collaboration."

The way we collaborate has evolved significantly from the "Mad Men" era. And it continues to evolve quickly. Offices and the nature of the workplace need to evolve to enable people to collaborate effectively wherever they are. Especially, as Davidson points out in her new book, "Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn," distraction is a significant factor in our 9-to-whatever days. Also check out the Fast Company article, Duke's Cathy Davidson Is Fixing The Future Of Distraction.

Friday, September 9, 2011

10 Years Later

Earlier this week, Bret Stephen in the Wall St. Journal published a 9/11 essay I liked: "9/11 and the Struggle for Meaning; An act of evil has been reduced, in our debased parlance, to a 'tragedy.'"Discussing the search for meaning in the tragic events of 9/11, Stephens wrote "there's something dangerous ...about 9/11 being reduced to a 'tragedy," noting
 Dangerous because we risk losing sight of what brought 9/11 about. Dangerous because nations should not send men to war in far-flung places to avenge an outrage and then decide, mid-course, that the outrage and the war are two separate things. Dangerous above all because nations define themselves through the meanings they attach to memories, and 9/11 remains, 10 years on, a memory without a settled meaning.
I was in Boston on 9/11, when I looked up at the TV in my office and saw that CNBC was showing a fire in the World Trade Center on an otherwise clear, crisp beautiful fall day in Manhattan.  I'll never forget what happened next.

If we can look beyond "tragedy," we can, perhaps, find glimmers of positive meaning from 9/11. As others have pointed out, the first responders. And the people inside the World Trade Centers who put themselves at risk to help others escape. The people who came from around the city, from New Jersey and Connecticut, to help. The people on Flight 93 who fought back. The global response, even for a brief moment, that "We are all New Yorkers today" and "We are all Americans today."

Our thoughts and prayers continue to go out to the families and friends directly affected that day, to those who helped and continue to help rebuild lives and rebuild part of New York City cruelly impacted that day.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Paul Gillin's Trouble with Klout & the need for a true measure of social media impact

Paul Gillin, a columnist for BtoB magazine, has been at the forefront in terms of discussing metrics for social media.  I recently came across a five-year-old column by him that spoke to the need of being able to measure social media impact, made the case that we need to define commonly assumed social media metrics -- like circulation or readership are for advertising and PR.

Klout, a service that says it "measures influence based on your ability to drive action" online, is trying to be the new standard by which people and organizations can measure their online impact.  And in his blog today, Gillin points out the many flaws in Klout's approach and methodology, such as the limited transparency into how Klout generates its scores and the fact that having a Klout account will raise your Klout Score.  (Check out his blog, The Trouble with Klout for more.)

I've discovered two issues with Klout:

1. Klout's algorithm identifies the top three topics you are most influential about -- but Klout is not always accurate. According to Klout, I'm influential about three topics I don't remember tweeting about:

    (Ok, I once mentioned Friendster, but it was ironically. And while I actually might like to be influential about parties, doubt I am.)  Another person I know found out from Klout, much to her surprise, that she's influential about community management and wheelchairs. Both are worthy topics but not anything she addresses. 
2. It's possible to game the system and boost your Klout score just by tweeting a lot. Earlier this year, after my name was mentioned in some spammer's tweet, I checked out the person via Klout. I found that he had only 11 followers but a Klout score of 59. How was that possible? Because he had posted 9,156 tweets.

What that says is that it's easy to manipulate the Klout algorithm by tweeting a lot.  Doesn't matter if no one else replies or retweets what you've said.  I've been able to boost my Klout by posting more frequently -- talking about four or five times a day, not anything like 9,156 tweets. (The converse is true, when I tweet less frequently; my Klout score always drops over the weekend, when I tend not to tweet.) 

I understand why my score will drop during periods on inactivity, but just posting a lot should not be a way to boost a Klout score. If someone posts a lot in a short time, and no one responds, they shouldn't see their Klout score increase.  More posts do not mean you're more influential. Also, on an interesting note, I've noticed that when I tweet something negative about Klout, my Klout score drops within a day, even when the frequency of tweets has not changed. Coincidence -- I think not.

Meanwhile, five years after Gillin's BtoB column about the need for metrics, we still need reliable metrics. Klout is interesting tool, but it is hardly comprehensive or accurate. I also check out from HubSpot.  I find that a more useful tool because I have not seen the same inaccuracies that I've seen with Klout.

Let me know if you're experiences with Klout and TwitterGrader are different.