Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Words of wisdom coming from Chicago

"Gratefulness is the soil in which Joy thrives"
Seen in a billboard at the Salvation Army in Chicago

A good friend spotted this one. I must say I am grateful to her.
And, hey, this dot connects with Thanksgiving celebrations. Right on time.

Innovation in online social networks

The innovation consulting firm Doblin has a powerful framework that identifies the Ten Types of Innovation by breaking business structure into four categories: Finance, Processes, Offerings and Delivery. It is quite interesting looking at different industries to see where in their business structure innovation is taking place.

Online social networks have brought significant product innovation: thanks to the power of the Internet they primarily enhance offline activities: connecting and sharing with friends or members of a community (facebook, myspace...pets included -dogster-), building and maintaining career-related relationships (linkedIn)... To a great extent they have enabled new behaviors, expanding and creating markets along the way. Think of the implications of "befriending" 1.000 people in myspace, or the fact that teenagers spend way more time checking their facebook than actually "living offline". Beyond the numerous product system innovations (for example Facebook offering IM messaging), in the last months we are witnessing network and alliances innovations. Online social networking sites are becoming platforms for other entities to provide their services. LinkedIn has recently launched applications a la Facebook.

All of this innovation revolves around strengthening the offering, but I think we still need to see more advancements regarding relevance and differentiation. Relevance is a big theme I will touch on in another post. Regarding differentiation, more than in a feature creep, I believe in the intangible: services, customer experience, brand image.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Make-Up and Burritos


Burrito bar at Chipotle

Eyeshadow palette (iStock photo)

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Something is rotten in Technoland

Interesting data on frustation and the use of technology. According to a survey by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project
  • "Nearly half (48%) of adults who use the internet or have a cell phone say they usually need someone else to set up a new device up for them or show them how to use it."
  • When technology fails 60% of users feel impatient, 48% discouraged and 40% confused.
  • 15% of the users is unable to find a solution. It is shocking that only a meager 2% of those who found a solution found it online.
That is a lot of frustration for an industry aimed at simplifying our lives, isn't it?. These data say a lot about messy interfaces. An interesting question is: does the interface have to be necessarily complicated in the early adoption phase of a product? As an advocate of effective , transparent communication I do not think so. Ask Apple.

The survey findings resonate with me to a great extent. I never understood why setting up an Internet connection almost required computer science expertise or why Windows punished me with having to go through a help file as engaging as the telephone directory. The following is a great example regarding macros (there should be a graduate program on Microsoft macros' error messages)

Click to enlarge. Would you ever read it?
By the way, clicking OK didn't make things better...
it was just an informational error message, not actionable whatsoever

I guess Windows Vista sorted out some of this problems. They lost me as a client way before Vista was launched.

In this post I have just pinpointed the conclusions that strike me the most in the survey. It is worth taking a quick look at the rest of the study.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Mice and books

One good example of a message that sticks, found at the Environmental Design Library at UC Berkeley:

It really stands out. The message is more likely to engage people and be remembered as compared to the traditionally "authoritarian" NO FOOD, NO DRINKS IN THE LIBRARY. It happens to follow pretty nicely the Made to Stick (*) "SUCCES" checklist:
- Simple: food attracts mice. Mice destroy books. Crystal clear.
- Unexpected: at the entrance of a library you expect a big poster with a red forbidden symbol crossing a cup and a sandwich icon, or just a NO FOOD, NO DRINKS printout, but NOT an alert to avoid feeding mice.
- Concrete: the message is quite specific...no mistakes here
- Credible: well it's posted by the library guys, they know about this stuff, right? Besides they give us a very compelling reason why we should not bring food into the library instead of the usual Don't do it. Period.
- Emotional: unless you are a ruthless human being, thinking of ruined books hurts.
- Story: again there is a strong visual component here. We picture the mice, or the varmints, or the critters, destroying the books...that visualization is like a little movie playing in our head, easy to remember and engaging.
(*) Made to Stick is a book by Chip and Dan Heath on "Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die". I highly recommend it. Their blog is pretty cool too.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Low hanging post

One of the things that gets my attention as a non-native English speaker is how profusely certain business terms are used, especially amongst consultants, bankers and MBA folks in general:

- "Our sales strategy will start with the low hanging fruit"
- "
Let's keep the ball rolling and proceed with the market research"
- "Costs are 40% according to preliminary back-of-the-envelope calculations"

Why all these expressions stick? My theory is that they are all very visual and visual language tends to work with a high percentage of the population. A low hanging fruit is quite a descriptive metaphor, isn't it? We can almost see and grab the opportunity with our hands... Some of the expressions are highly kinesthetic, the ball rolling or ideas bubbling up to the top, but I haven't found many purely auditory terms.

Low hanging fruit

Given their descriptive strength this expressions become usual business terms. Everybody uses them until they become cliches and loose all of their communication power.

My favorite one: "Dude, you look like you drank from the Kool-Aid"

Dreamforce and Salesforce.com's secret potion

There are many factors that help explain salesforce.com's success. For the sake of clarity let's explain that in a world where expensive proprietary software solutions with low customer adoption were the norm, salesforce.com turned the tables by delivering easy-to-use enterprise software on the web under a pay-as-you-go subscription model. The end of software.
Marc Benioff, salesforce.com's CEO, is an absolute genius pitching the big picture and building the "No software" story against the dark, old software "evil" guys. The Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) market would not be the same without this Star Wars-like communication strategy. No wonder salesforce.com's software development platform is called force.com. Yes, may the "force" be with you.

salesforce.com and...the evil guys

From a marketing perspective I think one of salesforce.com's most differential features is its customer-centricity. Let me approach it this time from the point of view of communication: corporate software companies sell to...eh...corporations. Duh!. Here are a couple of random snapshots about how SAP and Oracle "sell" their CRM through their websites.

"SAP maintains status as leader in CRM solutions"

"Differentiate for strategic advantage with the latest release of Siebel CRM 8.1.1"

Well, salesforce.com sells to corporations too, but they talk to people. Whether you are the CEO or the CIO, messaging is clear and straight-forward. Especially they are really good at talking to the people who are going to use their product 8 hours a day. Customer success stories play a key role in salesforce.com's communication strategy. Testimonials are pervasive all through their website. They are prominently displayed at events such as Dreamforce or Tour de Force. The "CRM Success Heroes" campaign is not on anymore, but the following screenshots can still give a you a bit of a taste of the difference in communication styles.

"Join the crowd. The trusted choice of 47,700 companies"

"Now Force.com can run my corporate website? Wow... Mike Wolverton. Cathedral Partners"

Dreamforce is a perfect example of the importance that the end user has for the company. I was there last Monday and I could witness the amount of resources dedicated to make this annual reunion with customers a blast. Impressive keynotes, sessions and workshops, training, demos... And on top of it, they throw a party with the Foo Fighters.