Technology redefines categories and experience

7E99A285-9B1F-4D8B-B72E-036022AEBE12.jpgI was not waiting on line at 5am for the iPad like some other people around the US. It's a device without a niche for me right now.

Think what you will of it, however, the technology behind the iPad and similar devices is helping to redefine categories that have had relatively little innovation in centuries.

Take the book industry. Now, I love my Kindle and it's innovative enough, but it uses the same paradigm as a print book. It works for what I need (quick consumption and ease of travel), but it is limited.

The experience of the Kindle is okay. It could be smoother and reminds me of what Blackberrys were like about 5 years ago. Get your hands on a new Blackberry and you'll see what I am talking about. It's smooth and easier to use yet still functional. The Kindle will catch up quickly.

Now, think about what publishing can look like on a device that senses when you tilt it or when you touch it. Have a look:


[video embed]

The experience that new technology provides opens doors and lets us shift our thinking about old standards and the experience that can be delivered.

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Can Google's weight give momentum to QR codes?

I was reading through a post today on the Ad Age Digital Next blog by my colleague Allison Mooney and wanted to share it with you. The post is on Google's support of QR code technology through a program called Favorite Places.

In short, Google is tapping into their local search data to find the top local establishments. They then send them a sticker for their door which has a QR code printed on it and takes the person to that business' listing on Google. It's an interesting way to tie live search data to a physical location and then back to search again.

The trick here, as noted by Allison, is that the QR reader software is an add-on to devices. There are some free versions around, but many people will have to pay for it, not to mention the level of education that needs to happen around this to make it successful.

Here is a quick video overview that Google produced to explain the program:

(Does anyone else find it weird that they used the iPhone throughout the video and not a Google Android device? Oh well.)

If you're interested, here is more information on QR codes from a previous post I did.

So what does this mean? Not much at this point. It's great to have a giant like Google throw their weight into it, but there is a lot of education that needs to happen first. If and when device manufacturers start installing a reader standard on all handsets (Nokia does on some handsets) we can talk more about it as a solid marketing option.

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Great technology is transparent

iStock_000004728491XSmall.jpgDo you remember what the web looked like in 1995? Do you remember the pain it took to dial up and wait for the page to load? Do you remember early email systems like Pine? If you do, you know what highly visible technology feels like. You basically had to write code to make some of the things work and the experience was clunky and hard to manage.

Contrast your experience in 1995 to today. Your network is likely always on, surfing happens in seconds and your mail is a natural extension of your body (well, almost). You don't think about the technology behind Twitter, you just use it. You don't think about the hosting infrastructure behind Facebook, it's just there for you.

If you look at the Web2.0 movement and the development of social technologies, it's all about making the technology disappear. The less we think about our interactions the better the experience.

Ways to spot unnecessary technology:


  • If your site was designed by a developer, chances are this is abundant
  • If you have to think about options before you click, you need to simplify
  • If you have to do any type of calculation in your head, you need to clarify
  • If your site is 100% in Flash, you're probably dead on mobile platforms

What other ways can you spot unnecessary technology?

Take a look at the experience you create for your customers. Look at it across platforms (mobile, web, applications, widget, etc.) and ask yourself if you have to think about the technology. If you do notice it, you need to look at alternatives to improve. Can you make the process shorter, more simple or just generally more enjoyable?

How would you rate the experience with technology at the following sites? Does the technology get out of your way or do you have to think about it?


  • Amazon.com
  • Apple.com
  • Moo.com
  • GetSatisfaction.com
  • Twitter.com
  • MySpace.com
  • Facebook.com
  • Your local newspaper site
  • Your website

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First//Look: Augmented reality

Picture 10.pngWhat do you get when you take a webcam, a piece of paper and some cool 3D animation? You get augmented reality (AR). This is relatively new though it's been experimented with for a couple of years at least. In short, AR is the combination of objects in the real world being combined with virtual objects using a webcam and some programming.

Sounds pretty cool eh? You have to see it to know what I'm talking about.

[Feed readers please click through to the post for the video]

Examples you can try yourself right now:

Potential uses:


  • The symbols that it uses can be printed on anything; paper, t-shirts, ads, etc.
  • Any time you want to make a physical connection with virtual objects
  • Allows interaction and engagement with printed pieces
  • People are working on using mobile device cameras to do this while you're on the go
  • It's just plain cool. Give it a try!

BMW looks at using AR to diagnose issues and help mechanics be more efficient

Turn the real world into a huge video game

Really bring Second Life into first life

This is pretty cutting edge, so not every company is going to be comfortable with it. The hardware barrier is pretty low (webcam) so this can hit a mass audience. It's great for presenting things when in conceptual mode (architecture, cars, etc.) as well as adding interactivity to existing items.

My advice is try one of the models above and think about the possibilities in your business. The hardest part may be to stop thinking of them.

[Hat tip to the Fleishman-Hillard digital team in St. Louis for putting this back on my radar screen.]

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Microsoft takes on QR codes

Picture 7.pngA couple of weeks ago I posted an update and video demo showing how QR (quick response) codes work. Today, I was pointed to a separate Microsoft version of the technology. It's called Microsoft Tag. The way it works is identical to the QR code system (download an app, take a photo, decode the photo through a gateway and deliver you the content).

Where QR codes came out of technology and manufacturing, this new system is coming into the world with a consumer-friendly push. The site is easy to use, shows the value of the service in terms that consumers can understand and provides a direct link to have the software download page sent to your device. The iPhone app has worked well in my trials.

Picture 6.png

The same Microsoft system enables marketers to create the codes through a central interface, track engagement through usage and render code images in a very easy manner. The application asks for your location (not sure if this is shared back to the marketer or Microsoft).

Here is a video demo of the Tag technology.

[Feed readers please click through to the post.]

Challenges

However, with the excitement around this system the same challenges exist for Microsoft as for other providers. There is a lack of education about this in the public and software readers are scarce.

Real world example

97200020-E04D-4DE7-9C8D-5E5D7581BDE8.jpgJust as an example of the kind of linkage you can get with this technology, I saw a QR code in the wild the other day when I was in a movie theatre. The cardboard standup for the movie "Notorious" had two of these codes on it. The code linked the user to the movie's trailer on YouTube and the revelation that people had when I showed them how I just linked the physical marketing to the online was amazing.

Could a move by Google embed this into the mainstream? What if all US carriers started installing this software standard? What would you use it for in an existing campaign? How are you engaging people offline to bring them online?

This isn't a short-term answer, but it does get you thinking.


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Virtually extinct or a comeback kid?

Mark Goren (PlantingSeeds.ca) must have been reading my mind this morning. I've had the following blog post sitting in the queue for a while, but he made me think about it with his message:

Picture 5.png

What is the future of virtual worlds? When is the last time you opened Second Life? Do you even have it installed anymore?

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It is completely out of the digital marketing conversation at this point and not without reason. Massive hype lead to major investments and disappointing results. Social media has picked up the hype-baton and left virtual worlds in the dust.

Personally, virtual environments are only a small, occasional blip on my radar screen. I do keep tabs on new innovations, but it would take a very targeted client with just the right demographic to get any benefit from participating.

I almost smacked somebody the other day for even mentioning Second Life. This was the big digital marketing idea a couple of years ago for many agencies. It has since been replaced by the Facebook page, followed closely by the YouTube channel and the Twitter profile. Admit it, you know I'm right. Strategy is boss now and we can do better than this.

That said, I think there is a ray of hope. Primarily I think that group events have the most potential to succeed. From conferences to trade shows to presentations, virtual environments have a level of engagement that you can't get on the conference call. With the economy going the way it is, this may be a more attractive option to some companies to get in front of their clients in a rich environment and without the up-front investment in time that cost SecondLife so many users.

What are your thoughts on virtual worlds? Take the poll below:


[Feed readers, click through to the post for more information.]

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Two tips on building microidentity

iphone.jpgLittle things are the new big thing, right? Well, in keeping with that notion, I wanted to share a couple of little tips on online identity. Whether you're a blogger or a corporation, these two items go a long way. One is very old school and the other is as new as new can be.

New school: apple-touch-icon.png

This one I found out when my lovely, amazing wife bought me an iPhone for Christmas. Thanks dear!! Through the iPhone you can add a blog/site to your menu just like an application. If you do this without following the next steps, however you get a very generic, non-identifiable icon. It looks something like this:

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Not impressive, not readily identifiable. After a bit of digging, however I learned how to add an icon to replace the generic default. To do this you'll need to create a PNG file that is 158x158 pixels. Here is the one I created:

apple-touch-icon.png

Now, rename that file to apple-touch-icon.png and upload it to the root directory on your website (meaning it will be at http://www.yourdomain.com/apple-touch-icon.png). The iPhone/iTouch does the rest. It resizes and rounds the corners and adds that shiny love to the image.

UPDATE: Here is a quick video overview of how this one works.

[Click through to the post if you cannot see the video.]

Old school: favicon.ico

Depending on how geeky you are, you may or may not know this little file. The favicon.ico controls the tiny logo/headshot that appears in the address bar for a site when you visit (see below). It's a small differentiator, but that's okay.

To create this file head over to this site. From here you can create one from scratch or upload an existing image. Keep in mind the output is around 15 pixels square so make sure you use something simple. Once you have the file, you need to upload it to the root directory for your site. (Ping me if you need more info on this one.)

Shows up in the address bar in your browser

Picture 8.png

Shows up in tabs when you have them open

Picture 9.png

Shows up in your bookmarks to help them stand out

Picture 10.png

These are both easy tactics to implement can make a big difference in user experience and usefulness. Feel free to add Techno//Marketer on your iPhone and let me know your thoughts.

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Do one thing well

There is a lot to be said about doing one thing very well. Services like Twitter started as a way to update friends on what you are doing and it has stayed true to its mission. Other services have started simple and have fallen victim to feature creep and trying to be everything to everyone.

I am particularly fond of online applications that have some focus, use the medium very well and extend the focus in strategic, well-planned ways.

Take this new site called Umbrella Today. If you go to the site and enter your zip code, it tells you whether or not you need an umbrella that day. Super simple, very useful and they extend it to mobile very logically and at the right point in the interaction.

Picture 18.png

Once you see if you need an umbrella, they offer you an option to see if you would like an SMS alert should you need an umbrella in the future.

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Simplification of complex systems and applications is a niche market in itself. This is a perfect example, think about how many clicks and how much reading it takes you to find out the answer to this simple question on a weather site.

There are very few sites that can maintain their focus, but those that do remain useful and relevant. What examples of simple websites or programs do you love?


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Twitter for marketing, branding and customer service

iStock_000003099857XSmall.jpgYesterday I had the opportunity to speak to the Cleveland Web Association on the topics of micromedia (Twitter, Pownce, FriendFeed, etc.). This was a follow up presentation to the one I gave back in February and is meant to dive a bit deeper into the subject.

I thought the audience was very receptive to the topic and the examples absolutely help out with that. David Meade of Optiem gave a bit of a more technical primer before me and is who I reference in the first few minutes.

The presentation is available below as a SlideCast (meaning I have added an voiceover audio track to it) which you can access by hitting the green middle button that looks like this Picture 18.png.

Enjoy!

[Feed readers click through to the post of click the "View" link above.]

If you are interested in having me speak to your company or organization, you can check out my other SlideShare presentations here and feel free to contact me for more information.


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Inside//Out: Identi.ca

Picture 14.pngDoes the world need another Twitter clone? How about thousands of them? Identi.ca is a Twitter competitor that us running on an open source platform called Laconica. The product is open source and can be installed and rebranded anywhere including behind corporate firewalls.

The trend with these services is to become more and more distributed and eventually interconnected. I would fully expect Google to implement a common protocol for these services to become universally integrated in the future. For now we'll have to rely on tools like Ping.fm and Summize (which was purchased by Twitter today) to carry out our conversations.


[Feed readers please click through to the post if you cannot view the video.]

Key Takeaways:


  • More and more Twitter competitors will rise up taking niche communities with them as Twitter remains on top for the foreseeable future
  • Open source versions of Twitter will begin appearing behind corporate fire walls acting as communications tools and helping knowledge managers compile conversations across the enterprise
  • Oddly during Twitter's periods of sporadic downtime, sites like Identi.ca were so crushed with traffic that they also crashed limiting Twitter's exposure
  • Core components missing here are the API, mobile integration (both of which are allegedly down the road)
  • Twitter's own open-source software is out there and may trump all of the up and comers


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Free mobile for advertising impressions; it's only a matter of time

Picture 29.pngBlyk, a free mobile service targeted at 16-24 year olds in Europe, has recently announced their expansion beyond their test markets in the UK, Germany and France. The company provides free minutes and text messages to its users, and in exchange they receive ads from marketers. The ads are targeted based on the profile of the user.

If you remember, this is the model that Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google talked about in November 2006 that got the whole world buzzing. Blyk has been so well received that they reached their initial subscriber goals of 100,000 users six months ahead of schedule.

Here is a short overview movie from Blyk that explains the whole process.

It is only a matter of time before this model comes to the US (though the way our mobile infrastructure is set up it will be much harder to gain the same level of traction). This does however, seem to be a fairly easy way for marketers to reach a targeted audience in a permission-based environment on a mobile device.

Heck, I could see the potential for a very small handful of global marketers try this on their own using this the MVNO model. MVNOs lease parts of a network from a major carrier and re-brand it as a new service. Examples of MVNOs include Virgin Mobile, mobileESPN, Firefly and Amp'd.

What are your thoughts on this model? Would you receive ads for mobile minutes? As a marketer, would you be interested in participating in something like this?


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Inside//Out: Plurk

Picture 3.pngIf you read the title of this post and thought I was kidding about the name of the service, I assure you I am not. Plurk is a new micromedia service that is just coming on the radar screen for the early adopter crowd. It builds on the ideas that Twitter has made de-facto standards and adds a bit more interactivity.

The key differentiator for Plurk is the timeline of messages that users can surf through, the modifiers (loves, hates, thinks) that are used to filter messages and the overall style. This looks to be geared toward a younger audience overall. There is a mobile site at www.plurk.com/m that allows you to post and read Plurks from your friends.

Here is a video overview:

[Feed readers please click through if you cannot see the video.]

Key Takeaways:


  • These sites are all about community and this one is still young
  • Users must update Plurk separately from Twitter, there is no stream connection at this time
  • Plurk allows mobile web and IM updates (haven't seen SMS yet)
  • Plurk is still new so the API isn't open yet
  • I personally think that people can reasonably manage 2 services like this at one time, the most broadly functional services will win out

Are you using Plurk? It's open to try if you'd like. Make sure you add me there. I'll add you back.


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What would it take to topple Twitter?

Picture 1.pngTwitter has a double unfair advantage over its competitors; a huge user base (estimated at over a million users now) and a very solid head start.

This hasn't stopped a host of new competitors from trying to give it a go. Among the latest competitors are BrightKite, Jaiku (who is owned by Google), Plurk, Utterz and even Facebook and LinkedIn have begun enabling micromedia updates on user profiles.

Picture 2.png
[Cartoon by Hugh MacLeod]

However, as Twitter's service woes keep mounting and user sentiment keeps edging toward the negative, I have to wonder...what would it take to topple Twitter?

In order to understand this, we need to look at what makes Twitter work. Let's break them down so we can see how it's gained such wide-spread popularity.

  1. Simplicity: Twitter does one thing really well. It lets you communicate what you're doing right now. Now other functionality (no matter how easy it would be to implement), 140 characters, one text field and one button. Anybody can look at it and start using it in minutes.
    What competitors need to do: Though I think that there is room beyond 140 characters of text on a service like this (think video and photos), it needs to remain easy to use. Design and usability needs to be where the majority of the development time is spent. The technology should, as I've said before, fade away to the background. If it's not clear on what the user should do within 5 seconds of opening the page it's too complicated.

  2. Ease of use: This builds on the previous idea of simplicity. Twitter let's you use it. It gets the heck out of your way and adds value by supporting conversation. The interface guides the user smoothly through the interactions. Posting a message is easy, replying is easy and the content is simple text. That's ease of use.

    What competitors need to do:This is a no-brainer. Any competitor who is going to topple Twitter will have to have an extremely easy to use service. Like I mentioned before, a lot of attention needs to be paid here. Too many services offer more features/better technology, but are a pain to use.

  3. Mobility: Twitter has a very strong mobile platform. Not only is the SMS (text messages) updating solid, but the mobile site allows most of the regular site's functionality from nearly any device and network. Either option allows for seamless use when away from the browser.

    What competitors need to do: There is no option for the competition to miss this crucial piece of the equation. The portability of the user experience has to be in place. Users need to be able to update and receive updates from any device in the world. SMS is growing in popularity and allows quick updates from US networks. The mobile site allows more reach and really lets the user step away from their computer with confidence. SMS also serves an important role in getting messages to people and breaking through the clutter.

  4. Platform agnostic: We just touched on the mobile platform, but Twitter's open architecture has allowed developers to extend the service to IM (AOL/GTalk/Jabber) as well as desktop applications. For IM, users add Twitter as a friend and send it their updates. Applications like Twhirl work like any desktop application (think Start > Applications > Twhirl) and don't make you keep a browser open at all times.

    What competitors need to do: This is another area that any competitor worth their salt will need to copy. The open architecture allows the development community to do its work and enhance the service faster than the competitor would be able to.

  5. Strong RSS: Twitter has a very strong RSS architecture. You can subscribe to individual's feeds, your own feed (messages and replies) and use the RSS feeds to build other services. Other services like Twitterfeed use RSS to update Twitter accounts automatically. You can look at my "Techno//Marketer" twitter feed for an example. That feed is 100% auto-generated by Twitterfeed.

    What competitors need to do: No question here either. RSS is a staple of the new digital frontier.

  6. Widgetization: Twitter had this right from the start. One of the most powerful ways that Twitter spread through the social media space was from the blog widget that allowed people to promote their messages as well as the service. It added value to the reader and drove new users. You can see my example in the right-hand panel of this blog.

    What competitors need to do: The more options people have to spread their content the better. Formats should be adjustable (width, height), customizable (color, branding) and should work everywhere possible.

  7. The community: This is Twitter's ace in the hole. No matter how good other services are, no matter how easy they are to use, no matter how comprehensive the utility there is no use for a service like this that doesn't have a community. While some competitors have been around longer they have not been able to build the buzz and following that Twitter has. Some of this is due the founder's background (having founder Blogger.com) having an immediate, connected audience.

    What competitors need to do: You have to transplant the community. What I mean is that a competitor that's looking to topple Twitter (not build a new, unique audience) will need to use the openness of Twitter against it. Accounts will need to be moved over while keeping all of that user's connections in tact. to move user's networks in whole. Accounts and logins will need to be moved to make it as easy a transition as possible.

What would you add to this list? Is Twitter indomitable at this point or are they Yahoo in 1999 with Google just around the corner?


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Nokia's Jan Chipchase on the evolution of mobile

I am a huge fan of the TED Conference's video library. If you're not familiar head over there and poke around (be warned, you will spend a lot of time there).

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This video of Nokia's Jan Chipchase is one of those videos that I come back to over and over again. It truly changed the way I look at technology's implications on the global community.

Jan spends his time traveling the world and doing ethnographic research to figure out how the mobile phone fits (and will fit in the future) into our culture. This local, first-person research is so valuable and has very wide-reaching implications.

The coolest part is when Jan goes into the way that phones are used in Uganda as ATMs. People basically exchange airtime minutes as currency. There is a central point person in the local village who has a phone and who exchanges minutes into cash. In other parts of the world there is a whole industry created around supporting and repairing devices where those services do not exist. Other countries are using mobile phone numbers above the entrance to houses instead of house numbers. That's their identity.

Check it out:


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Blogging from Sun's Startup Camp

sun_startup_camp.jpgI'll be speaking on a panel at Sun Microsystems' Startup Camp 5 at Moscone South today. They're expecting 500-600 attendees to this free event. I'll be updating this post throughout the day, so check back throughout the day.

We follow up Sun CEO, and blogger, Jonathan Schwartz. The panel is titled "Notes From Mission Control: Rules For A Successful Media Launch" and my fellow panelists are S. Neil Vineberg, Jyri Engestrom (co-founder of Jaiku), Christina (CK) Kerley and Adam Metz (theMIX). It's going to be a great time. Stay tuned.

There is a great vibe here and sense of community.

Keynote: Jonathan Schwartz (Sun's CEO):
I was really impressed with how casual Jonathan was and how passionately he talked about Sun's involvement in the startup community. After his initial remarks he was joined on stage by Om Malik of GigaOm. Om pressed Jonathan on a number of issues, none more inappropriate than his question about how Schwartz felt about having to lay off 2,500 people recently. Schwartz handled himself very well, spoke directly to the question and came across as somebody who really cares about his people.

My Panel:
I won't say a whole lot about the panel. Mashable had a really good recap thanks to Kristen Nicole. I was pretty mad that I missed Kristen and Pete after the panel as I had to duck below the event for an interview. I'll catch them on my next swing through the Bay area.

The Unconference:
This was my first true unconference and I liked what I saw. If you aren't familiar with it either, a portion of the event is planned on the spot by the attendees. People post sessions they want to host and then people show up. I sat in on a great discussion on Twitter and information overload (that's a subject for a future post).

Large_head_shot_yobie_1 I spent a little time with serial entrepreneur and overall great guy Yobie Benjamin. He's working on a world-changing startup right now and I was really amazed by his passion and energy around it. If you're a super developer and looking for a challenge you should reach out to him ASAP.

I was also able to spend a lot of quality time with CK and Neil Vineberg who, I must say, are two of the most kind, hard working, organized and brilliant people I know. Neil invited me to this event and took the time to show me some of the magnificent sights of SF. CK, as you probably know, is such a giving, helping jewel of a person. She made sure Neil showed me the right things and helped me to refine the points I made on the panel. It was a great experience because of them.

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The most powerful branding tool. Ever.

dig.jpgIf I were to give you a tip on the most powerful tool any company has at their disposal to positively impact their brand, would you act on it? When companies talk about branding, they often turn to the standard creative elements. They conduct focus groups and prepare branding briefs before the first pixel is pushed into place on the logo. If you're really serious you have a whole identity package. But that's not branding, that's just a logo right? From there they create the marketing campaign. Print ads are created to build emotional connections with people, TV spots reinforce the company image and convey the same emotions. Hundreds of hours are spent planning the website, the information architecture, the experience design, the content. When it's all said and done you have one damn fine looking marketing campaign.

Most companies know that part (very few do it right). The part they don't get is the tool that I am talking about. Customer service. Customer service is so powerful that it can make up for bad products, downtime and inconvenience. Conversely, poor customer service can kill even the most well thought out, killer product or service.

A brand is the sum of the interactions with an entity over time. Still, the last interaction with a product or service usually sticks with us. How many times have you felt your opinion of a company turn sour when somebody in the store isn't helpful? How many times have you sat on hold waiting in line only to not really get the answer you're looking for?

The last interaction is the only one that matters.

So why is customer service so often overlooked as a branding tool? It's hard to get right. Here are some of the challenges:

  • It takes time. Lots of time. Customer service takes training, dedication and people who are aligned with the company's goals. Time is money after all and most companies look at the short term outlay instead of the long term benefit of building customer loyalty and creating a great total brand experience.
  • High turnover. Typically customer service is made up of entry level folks packed into small offices strapped to a phone 8 hours a day. Why not really turn to results-based incentives here? Why not dress up their work area so they have a great attitude and convey to your customers?
  • Everyone is in customer service. This means the CEO, the VPs, the account people, the programmers, the designers, the administrative staff, everyone. This is a key shift in thinking that needs to take place. One off day for one person will have an impact on your brand image. The last interaction is the only one that matters. You may not get another chance.
  • Not just for consumer packages goods. Customer service happens in every industry whether you label it customer service or not. Law firms, ad agencies, PR firms and accountants all are in customer service. The problem is that it's not ingrained in their corporate philosophy, they think it beneath them. That's the
  • Too easy to rely on technology. No message board or crowd sourced solution can replace human interaction. Technology is a great way to give people access to basic, commonly asked questions. However, when a person's questions are not answered by those solutions they can be left frustrated. Have you ever tried to reach Flickr, Technorati or Feedburner to get a prompt answer to a question? They make it 100% impossible to talk to a human. Don't be like those guys.

I think David Armano summed it up well in his reply when I posted this on Twitter a couple of days ago.

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How do you integrate this common sense into what you do? How can you improve your support system? What will you do NOW to take action to create a customer service culture?

What do you do to make sure every personal interaction is the best it can be?


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First//Look: Facebook Chat

facebook_logo.jpgI have been hearing murmurs about Facebook's new chat application for months. Within the past couple of weeks that chatter has intensified as they systematically roll out the service across the community.

Here is a quick video overview of Facebook's new chat service


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Key takeaways:


  • The service is nicely integrated into the site, not overwhelming, seems to be where I thought it would appear in the design
  • Follows very familiar interaction models of other, more popular chat services
  • Will be interesting to see if they allow 3rd parties to hook into this to extend the functionality
  • User control here looks to have been handled correctly, you can turn it off and on


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Speaking at Sun Microsystems Startup Camp

On May 4th and 5th I'll be attending, and speaking at, Sun Microsystem's Startup Camp 5 in San Francisco. The event is about 1/3 panels and 2/3 unconference (where the agenda is set on that day). I am really honored to be sitting on the "Notes From Mission Control: Rules For a Successful Media Launch" panel alongside S. Neil Vineberg, Jyri Engestrom (co-founder of Jaiku), Christina (CK) Kerley and Mark Modzelewski (CEO of Stealth Startup).

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Other panels on the 4th include the likes of Matt Marshall, Stowe Boyd, Pete Cashmore, Brian Solis and Sun's CEO Jonathan Schwartz. You can check out the full schedule here and see the impressive attendee list here.

I'm really excited to go to the startup capital of the world and learn from some of the best minds in marketing technology. I plan on shooting lots of interviews, meeting people that I've admired from afar and sharing my expertise (and midwestern perspective) with an audience who is willing to be bold with their marketing and use of technology.

If you're going to be there or would like to try to meet up while I am there (I'll be there through the 6th) drop me an email or leave a comment!


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Inside//Out: FriendFeed

Picture 1.pngI'm finally set up again to do more video for you guys and this is the first one on the new equipment. Thanks again for your patience.

FriendFeed stormed onto the social media scene a couple of weeks ago and has received a lot of buzz. To break it down into the simplest terms, FriendFeed allows users to create one RSS feed that combines all of their social media touch points. You can then subscribe to your friend's feeds and have one single feed that combines all of their feeds. In the end, you can consume a lot of information in one stream instead of going to 8-10 disparate places to do the same thing. You can add me here.

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Information overload is a real problem with social media, especially for those who are new to the space and could become easily overwhelmed. Services like this one are popping up to solve the information overload problem. The service is entirely opt-in so you follow who you like and you can remove somebody at any time.


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Key takeaways:


  • Information overload is a real problem as social media outlets grow daily
  • RSS is the technology that enables FriendFeed to scale and grow
  • RSS feeds can be combined, shared, redistributed and consumed in a number of helpful ways
  • FriendFeed allows users full control over who they follow and they can un-follow people at any time

If you know of a service that you would like to see me cover in a future post, just let me know by email or by leaving a comment on this post.


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Blogging from Virtual Worlds 2008

Picture 11.pngI'll be blogging and shooting videos over the next day and a half at the Virtual Worlds 2008 conference here in NYC. I'll also be posting updates on Twitter as well as here on the blog. If you have questions drop me an email or a Tweet. I'll update this post throughout the day.

Keynote:
mattel_logo.jpgMattel toys actually has a Chief Barbie Girl who is focused on making sure that the Barbie brand stays relevant and engaging. Toy lines need to scale with kids to stay relevant to their lives. Barbie Girls is for girls ages 8+.

The barbiegirls.com world was named the fastest growing in a recent report. First world focused on girls with a unique, focused offering. Highly customized avatars allow a lot of combinations and more connection/engagement. The world allows socialization and friendships to be formed in a fun and very safe environment. The world allows for multiplayer games that bring girls together like the makeover game that allows people to become a stylist and interact with each other.

"Virtual worlds as the new playground." Kids now are digital natives and they think of toys differently. In 10 years, the people entering college and the workforce will be 100% savvy to virtual environments.

Some statistics from some Mattel-sponsored research:


  • Just 39% of moms feel websites are safe and secure
  • Just 38% use the tools to make the web experience safer
  • 78% of moms are influenced by their offline trust in brands in their online interactions.

The Mattel model is Educate, Empower and Engage. E3.

Educate: Making parents comfortable and being transparent in the interactions. Allowing parents to understand how to monitor what their kids are doing. Making sure it's easy to understand. Also educating the kids so that they understand the safety features.

Empower: Allowing parents to monitor and update their daughter's settings. The experience is very empowering for the girls as well. Users have full control over who they make friends with and can be seen by. Blocking and reporting features are built in.

Engage: Taking steps to build a tool where the kid and parents can set their own rules and agreements. This encourages an up front conversation about the rules and expectations. Time spent, safety settings, etc. are agreed upon together.

The future of Barbie Girls. Moving to a subscription model with Barbie Girl VIPs. There will still be a free experience to allow any girl to connect. VIPs will be world celebrities. VIPs will have exclusive access to clothing, have virtual tiaras and access to VIP-only areas.

The world is seeing huge growth with between 20,000 and 30,000 new signups a day from around the world. That's amazing.


From the tradeshow floor:
Lots of interviews to come in the next week or so. The number, and breadth, of companies participating in the tradeshow is pretty impressive. Vendors surrounding all areas of the worlds from consulting companies to companies that build sims and avatars to the companies that run the world platforms to e-commerce companies and everything in between.

It's pretty interesting to see how down on SecondLife everyone is and how they really use the negativity surrounding that brand to compare/contrast their own offerings. I do have to say that I am amazed at how many different worlds there are out there with very specific demographic and geographic influence.

Pro-marketing. Second Life, for most intents and purposes is not a very friendly environment for marketers looking to enter the game. There are companies that you can work with to get you set up, but it's not right off the shelf. There.com runs the technology for MTV's virtual world offering and has a very pro-marketing approach to virtual worlds. They have set offerings that allow marketers to reach people through a variety of different tactics.

LindenLabs does have a new offering called SL Grid that lets you brand a private world and control what happens there. There.com has a similar model as does Multiverse. Look for interviews from these guys in a couple of days.



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Going virtual (and taking you along with me)

I'll be attending the Virtual Worlds conference in NYC this Thursday and Friday and I want to ask you a question.

What do you want to know about virtual worlds?

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The overall feeling that I pick up on from most marketers that I speak with about virtual worlds is predominantly negative. There has been a lot of media hype, a lot of lessons learned and some nice successes as well. Certainly virtual worlds have a future as a communications vehicle/marketing launchpad/community/engagement platform, but I want to know what you have on your mind.

Do you want to know demographic information? Who the key players are? How you build a sim? What the average cost is? What the differences between worlds are (SecondLife vs. There)?

You name it and I'll do my best to track down that information and record it here on the blog, on Twitter and in videos that I'll post here at the end of the day.

Just leave a comment here on this post or you can send me a direct message on Twitter or just drop me an email. I look forward to hearing your questions and tracking the answers down for you.


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Voiceless, spoken communication

Now this is pretty cool and I just have to share. I found the following video on Marc Andreesson's blog and it blew my mind (as it did his). These guys have developed a way to intercept and translate speech before it gets to your vocal chords so you don't need to say what you are thinking, you just have to think it. Check out the video below.

This is very cool technology and may well shape the way we engage with technology in the future. You could be sitting at your desk and just think things like "open Microsoft Word" and it would open. You could create thought to text software that would actually work because the words are pre-digitized. This could possibly enable speech impaired individuals to communicate "vocally".

What other implications will technology like this have on our day-to-day lives?

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Kelly Goto on user experience design basics

I had the pleasure of meeting Kelly Goto when she came in to do a presentation the Fleishman-Hillard office in Washington, D.C. yesterday. I've heard Kelly's name before from her myriad speaking engagements and I know her design consulting firm, but I had no idea that she was the person who wrote THE web design bible. (I highly encourage you to check out her book.)
 

Her presentations were full of very helpful tips and it was great to see a strategic, manageable approach to user experience design (UXD as it's called in the trade). There is a trend out there to make UXD so complicated and labor intensive that it becomes overwhelming and slows down the process. Her advice was to stay agile.

She talked at length about becoming an experience ethnographer and how she accomplishes what she does on a scale from Fortune 100 companies down to small projects. Her main point was finding the difference between what people say (in a focus group or interview) and what they do (either by following them or through photo diaries). That is where the valuable insights come into play.

Kelly asked us to find a balance between practical and emotional design. Making sure that the user accomplishes what they need to, but also that the experience is as good as it can be. She urged us to look at simplified applications like Twitter that really work to accomplish one task really well as a basis. Feature creep is a killer in web-based environments.

She and I talked about the constant "battle" inside agencies between technology and design and how the real opportunity for growth is to blend the two areas. CSS, for example, has given non-technical designers a way to use technology to impact the user experience in a positive way and from device to device.

We also spoke about how Flash development provides companies the ultimate opportunity to bring technology and design together, to have this conversation and move toward better experiences. The use of creative and ActionScript (the language that makes Flash move and interact with elements and data) provide a powerful tool for creating rich, immersive experiences.

As I mentioned in a post last week, the best technology around is invisible to the user. Design can act as a shield for technological complexity when done correctly, but can make simple technology overly complex if done poorly.

I absolutely loved her company moto which is "Exceed expectations, take vacations". I highly encourage you to seek out Kelly and her advice as it's truly valuable and practical for any organization.

Photo courtesy of petele on Flick.

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Your thoughts on election 2.0

InLogo.jpgThis coming Friday, I am speaking on a very cool panel through PRSA at Kent State University's "You Too social media boot camp and leadership summit". The title of the panel is "Packaging the Presidency online" and will be moderated by John Elsasser, Editor in Chief of PRSA Strategist. Other panel members include a former congressman and CEOs of various communications companies. You can read more about it here.

I want to pick your brain on this topic to add to my own thoughts. Here are some questions that you can answer in the comments or by shooting me an email. I'll recap your responses and what I learn at the panel in a post next week.

Discussion points:


  • How has social media been used during this election?
  • Who is using it the best?
  • Do you think they have a plan for what to do with these communities once the election is over?
  • What mediums have been most successful in reaching you?
  • Have you become involved in a campaign and used social media to take action?
  • What else would you like people to know?
  • If you live outside of the US, how has politics evolved in your country?

Let's use this to open the conversation and talk about the future of politics.


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Technology does not have to be boring to be social; it needs to be invisible

iStock_000004190374XSmall.jpgI was reading my feeds this morning and came across this post from Simon Collister at his excellent blog, Simonsays. In the post, he quoted a new book by Clay Shirky titled "Here comes everybody".

"Communication tools don't get socially interesting until they get technologically boring. The invention of a tool doesn't create change: it has to have been round long enough that most of society is using it."

I have to wholeheartedly disagree with this quote and here is why. Technology that enables social interaction doesn't have to be boring to be great, it has to be invisible.

Here is my comment from his blog:

Simon -- I take exception to this point. Technology doesn't have to be boring to be social, it needs to be invisible. The less we perceive the technology behind the services we're using the more adoption will take place. Our goal as marketers is not to use boring technology, but to make the technology work so well with our campaigns that the end user doesn't notice them.

There is a *lot* of non-boring, very complex technology behind sites like Amazon and Facebook. The reason that they excel is that the user experience is where they put their focus. As a user it makes sense to just use the site and the technology gets out of the way.

WAY too often marketers use technology as a scapegoat for poor user interface and interaction design. The goal for any marketing campaign should be to do something great that your target audience can use so that it "just works". The technology doesn't need to be boring, far from it. The technology can be mind blowing and earth shattering as long as the user can interact with it and not even notice it.

The technology behind sites like Utterz is a good example. Utterz has some very exciting technology behind it, but to the user it's all easy. Want to create a podcast? Dial a phone number and leave a voicemail. Look at the social recommendation on Amazon.com. That's millions of dollars of technology investment done so well that you think it's boring.

Here is a diagram of what I mean charting your awareness of technology and the level of technological complication/coolness/cutting-edgeness (I don't think those are real words).

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So what do you think? Does technology have to be boring to be social or does it just need to be used correctly? I'm very interested to hear your thoughts.


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