Google makes LIFE's images available

Now this is a great application of the web, combining Google's image search with what is arguably the finest image archive out there, LIFE's image archive.

I wonder what the usage rights on for LIFE images?

Hell hath no fury...

... like a mother insulted. Or something like that. At least that's the way the weekend appeared after Motrin released a viral marketing video aimed at, well, not sure what. Google on "Motrin Moms", and you'll be up to speed in no time.

I watched the first shot across the bow from JessicaKnows, one of the twitterers I follow, and I watched the fury grow from there. Soon I checked out the hub-bub, and while I didn't see why the video was that bad, I certainly understood the reaction. Duh.

Yes, I'm late blogging on this, I figured I would wait for the dust to settle a little and see if I have any insights combing through the rubble. Whenever I see good or bad marketing attempts, I like to try and dig into the deep, root cause on why marketing is successful or fails.

I've read a lot of the reaction on this, and much of it centers on the "baby carrier" and "official mom" specifics. But there's a deeper learning here, one that I haven't seen made mention of yet:

Don't trivialize mom or the job she does

It's not just baby-carrying moms that were upset (and no, not all moms were upset), it was a broad section of moms that felt trivialized and talked down to. This is where Motrin failed. And it is such a fundamental principle. I've been at social gatherings with moms in the room, and believe me, we husbands of moms know when to start slowly backing out of the room with our beer and take cover.

The ad looked like something a few 20-somethings put together, with a voiceover from a 20-something that didn't sound old enough to be a mom, with an attitude that came off as condescending. Ouch, a no-no for the most important customer segment out there.

When I was at Whirlpool, we had a saying that guided our innovation: Mom is a tough customer. Amen to that. It kept us focused that we would never be able to pull the wool over our customer's eyes, and forced us to maintain a high bar on our innovation projects.

Don't guess what your target segment's needs and attitudes are, engage them and find out.


My Innoview with Robbie Cape

In a previous life I spent three years running Whirlpool's Connected Home Technology group, where we researched a myriad of home-based solutions that leveraged information technology. I still have a lot of passion in this area and keep a watchful eye on it, so I was intrigued when I first caught a glimpse of Cozi, based here in Seattle. I thought it would be a perfect match for the Whirlpool brand, so I reached out to Robbie Cape at Cozi and put him in touch with some former Innovation contacts at Whirlpool. Sure enough, Cozi and Whirlpool have partnered up to help busy families.

I wanted to undersand Robbie and Cozi a little deeper, and Robbie has graciously agreed to talk about Cozi.

JR: What gave you the inspiration for Cozi?

RC: The needs of the family inspired Jan and I to build Cozi. We saw an incredible gap between the needs of the family and the degree to which technology and software were addressing those needs. That represented a wonderful opportunity for a couple of guys who love to (1) build simple technology experiences, and (2) address the needs of the typical "consumer." The Cozi vision was the perfect problem for us.

JR: Where have you found the greatest adoption for Cozi?

RC: Cozi has been adopted right across the United States; there is no one area where we have more adoption than others. Cozi tends to appeal most to families with kids between the ages of five and fifteen. Cozi families tend to have multiple PCs in their home and are comfortable with the internet, and they are far from "techy". In fact, most Cozi families talk about themselves as "no tech - no time".

JR: What was the biggest challenge getting Cozi to market?

RC: I'd say it's the same thing that challenges every startup: staying focused. It happens to be one of the things that this team is really good at, so it came naturally to us. Jan is exceptional on this front and he constantly reminded us that we needed to stay true to our original vision for v1, deliver on it, and then begin to iterate. That's what we're doing.

JR: What has been the biggest challenge growing the business?

RC: The biggest challenge has been acquiring customers. It's almost always a tough nut for a company starting with little marketing money. For us, it was especially hard since we didn't build in viral from day one. Why not? Because we needed to stay focused on what families were asking for. While sharing matters to them, it wasn't their #1, #2, or #3 requirement. And while it might have helped us get the word out on Cozi faster, we decided to optimize for the needs of Cozi families rather than for the growth of our user base. What's much harder to find is GREAT people who have the drive, experience, and ability to execute. I urge entrepreneurs to find the best partner (you need a partner to get through the challenges of a startup) and ensure their first few employees are all about execution. If you can execute, there is no stopping you.

JR: What other ventures have you been involved in?

RC: Cozi is my first startup. Before Cozi, I was at Microsoft for 12 years; I had a bunch of different jobs there, the most interesting one was the six years I spent on the Microsoft Money business. My last "job" at Microsoft was to build a startup team (we started with 2 people!) to help Microsoft figure out how to deliver annuity value to our best enterprise customers. It was fun to do a startup at Microsoft before I did one in the "real world."

JR: Can you talk about what's next in Cozi's future?
RC: Family Life - Simplified. That's what's next. We will continue to work with laser-like focus on delivering on this promise, simply. It turns out to be really hard to design, build, and deploy simple software; it's much hard than it looks. We are also focused on building the revenue side of the business so we can continue to build value for families for years to come. Thankfully, things are going very well on that front.

JR:Thanks Robbie for taking the time to post your thoughts, and best of luck to you and Cozi!


About Useless Meetings

So I'm reading more and more about people complaining about useless meetings. Nothing new, Dilbert (ok, Scott Adams) has made a fortune on this topic. But for some reason I feel people are feeling more and more helpless about it.

You control how useful meetings are. Yes, you. Even as an attendee.

There are four types of meetings:

1. All-hands. Ok, I admit I don't have any secret recipe to make this one more effective. Which is why I usually skip them. Worked for Amazon for three years, Whirlpool for three years, and I attended exactly one at Whirlpool. Once I found out how useless they were, I used my time more wisely.
2. Your meetings you call. Clearly this is up to you how useful they area.
3. Meetings that request your presense, and you're integral to the meeting. Meaning you are providing input. Here, you can keep this on track by asking up front for the goal and agenda of the meeting. And making sure the meeting organizer keeps on track. Or you punt for those organizers that have a track record of wasting your time.
4. Meetings that request your presense, and you're not integral to the meeting, at least on the surface. These tend to be the meetings that fill up your calendar, at least in larger companies. Whether they be reviews, status meetings, whatever. These can be easily solved by talking to the organizer. Why are you there? In a previous life I went to my boss basically asking to have an hour of my week back by skipping out on one of his weekly metrics meetings. He told me why he wanted me there, that I provided value by helping his techie managers think through business problems and offer a customer perspective to issues. This was a perspective I didn't realize, and it made me realize why my boss valued me on his team. All of a sudden those meetings weren't a waste of time after all - they were opportunities for me to reinforce my value prop to the team and strengthen my performance.

In short, you control whether meetings are useful. Take control of your calendar - you own it, your time is a precious resource, use it wisely.

And I recommend anything by Tom Peters to shake yourself from the "I'm a trapped employee" mentality to "I'm a free agent" mentality.


The new era of advertising

Google gets it.

I wondered when this would happen, and great to see Google make inroads here.

Can you imagine the disruption this is going to cause in marketing departments?

Now, there are a lot of problems with measuring advertising, but imagine what you can collect with advertising campaigns in a much more fine-grained, accurate manner.

  • People who watch this channel also watch this channel. Not from anecdotes or surveys, but from user behavior (so have different campaigns on those channels).
  • People saw x seconds of your commercial before they switched the channel.
  • x eyeballs actually saw your commerical.

and so on.

This is a baby step that will eventually change how we think of advertising. And not just TV advertising. Satellite radio can do the same thing.


Marketing as a Customer

This is something I've been thinking a lot about lately, primarily because my wife is a manager at a local restaurant.

She does a great job. She only works a few nights a week, and usually she tends bar. She has a loyal following, people ask for her by name, and customers come in when she knows she's working. The policy is that the restaurant closes at 9pm, but she will keep the place open until it makes sense to close. As long as there are customers coming in, leaving good tips, she keeps it open, and creates customer loyalty. She's been doing this a couple of years, and the results for her have been impressive.

There is a flip side to all of this - you have to be a good customer for her to do this.

This gets me to thinking - how do I market myself as a customer? Yes, indeed, noodle on that for a bit. As a customer you are marketing yourself on why you should get a better deal, better service, better treatment, etc than other customers. Being a customer might be good enough. Then again, maybe not. Do you have a value proposition

I recently put this to test when Washington Mutual hit me for two overdraft fee recently. I have a sizeable amount in a savings account at WaMu, enough that WaMu makes more money on my savings in one month than they do on fees. I asked for a refund, and I did not get one. Clearly, I did not market myself correctly, as my value proposition was clear and beneficial to WaMu.

My recent Fathead experience, I must have marketed myself correctly. They sent a replacement Fathead despite it being out of warranty.

Pay attention to how you market yourself as a customer. It will have an impact on your customer experiences.


Bittersweet news on Clearwire / WiMax

Great to hear that $3.2B is going be to invested in Clearwire, but not so great that Comcast is one of the investors.

I'm waiting for Clearwire to be available in Snoqualmie so I can dump my Comcast broadband connection. Can't stand Comcast (hence we have Directv, despite their faults). Maybe I need to go back to dialup.

Interesting that Google is investing so much. I truly hope there is choice in software apps/services when WiMax is ready for primetime.

Painful to watch WiMax emerge so slowly. So much promise five years ago that has largely been untapped.


Shocked at the number of companies you CAN'T contact

I just tried to contact JellyFish's online tech support. They provided an email address to contact. I sent an email.

It bounced.

No support? I can't contact you? Won't be buying anything from you, that's for sure.

Are you chasing potential customers away?

About Brand Value

Brands can add value to products or they can destroy value. Take a high-performance sedan. Put a BMW or Audi label on it, and you can charge more. Put a Ford or Chevrolet badge on it, and you will have to charge less to sell it.

That much is obvious, and the reason companies have brand managers (my recent experience with Fathead is a great example of companies aggressively managing their brand).

Problem is, brands in general do not resurrect, and never do so without doing something radically different. Nintendo thought outside the box and targeted a new customer segment with its Wii. Result? Resurrection of a dead brand. Sega is still dead, because they haven't done anything different. Apple resurrected its brand with the iPod. But even with these examples, we have examples of TiVo (dying), Sears, Cadillac, Sony, etc. as brands that once they started dying, they have been unable to resurrect themselves.

Reason is: brand value is a trailing indicator. The data in sales, revenue, and margin, which you are using to measure brand value, occurs after people have devalued your brand. Your reduced brand value is out there and having and impact, and you must now overcome it... which is really, really hard.

You must course correct and take action (again my Fathead example is a good one) before your brand is devalued. Audi fixes problems on my car before they are problems. Coach fixes their products even if I am the one that broke it (yes that is true).

The good news is that Web 2.0 makes this possible. People complain about their problems and experiences on blogs, instant messages, domain forums, etc. That information is out there and available to mine. Fathead found me through a blog post. They were looking. Smart of them.

Back to declining brand value. What is Yahoo going to do that is different from what it currently does? In three years they will kick themselves for not taking Microsoft's offer. And I think Microsoft will be thankful for not paying a premium for a dying brand.


So-called E-commerce Experts and self-awareness

Credibility is important. I just dropped my RSS feed to E-commerce Times, as I just read a horrible article by a "so-called expert" complaining about the way Amazon and other retailers their shopping experience. I didn't see any justification for his complaints, just that "it's not like what brick-and-mortars do." If this is their definition of an expert (and this is the level of advice they give), then I can't justify taking time out of a busy day to read their articles.

About the article, I find it amazing that a "Creative Director", apparently in the e-commerce space, doesn't understand customer intent and context in their shopping experience, and the difference between brick-and-mortars (where this is a customer cost component to get to a brick-and-mortar that must be overcome) and online shopping (where the cost of participation is very low which drives lots of one-off sales... hence the success of woot.com). Do Creative Directors really not perform contextual studies to understand customer behavior? I assumed that was a prerequisite to expert advice on design.

By this person's logic, woot.com cannot possibly be successful because no brick-and-mortar store sells only one product and a different product every day at that.

Instead, this Creative Director would do good to study these success stories and learn from them. It is not the e-tailers that don't get it, it is he that doesn't get it. Self-awareness is important, and a reason it is key to good Emotional Intelligence.

I feel bad for his clients, who are getting bad advice from a so-called expert.

By the way, this is my favorite interview question when I interview designers: why do successful online entities to apparently "stupid" things according to design theory? The answer, of course, is that they have data to justify their decisions.


Turning singles into doubles

I vividly remember a saying from my youth from Detroit Tigers' Hall of Famer Al Kaline: you make doubles between home and 1st base, not 1st and 2nd base. His point was clear: you can't ever make up ground on a slow start.

I see project teams try the equivalent all the time. They do not build the discipline, the know-how, the process into their project up front. Instead, they take a lacadaisical approach, thinking they have a lot of time, and thus not fully utilizing their time to develop the right processes. Suddenly, scope creeps in, things change, they get behind on their project, and all of a sudden they are in a crisis - there is no way they are going to hit their date. The next action is usually to "sprint real fast to second base" hoping to beat the throw - working long hours, scrutinizing the plan, cutting scope, etc. I have yet to see that work.

You need to develop the right culture, the right discipline, and the right process as the first phase of your project. There are going to be problems, there are going to be corrections. That's ok. Pay your dues early. When it's time to sprint to second, you'll be way ahead of the throw.


My definition of a stupid question

Stupid questions should not be confused with simple questions.

If a question has only one logical (or possible) answer, that can be deduced by the asker, then it is a stupid question.

I get these types of questions a lot as a Product Manager. I view my job as making things less ambigious. If there are multiple ways to do something, my job is to pick that way. Beyond that, the team should be able to find their own way. This creates engagement, makes their jobs more interesting and meaningful, and can help drive innovation (input from many instead of input from one).

One way I accomplish this is by a) clearly defining the customer segment and their behaviors/values, and b) setting up prioritized design guidelines. Both give program managers, developers, designers, etc the tools they need to make decisions for themselves. I've watched some very impressive decisions made by the team, simply based on their understand of our customers and how they behave.

My job is not to document the obvious. That's inefficent.

Then again, maybe that is why I am changing jobs.


Jeff Bezos' presentation at Startup School 08

View it here. Very nice introduction into all of Amazon's Web Services offerings.

What makes a good product manager?


Yes, I'm jumping right to the point. What makes a good product manager is understanding reality.

Your product is not as good as leadership thinks it will be.

It is not as bad as sales says it is.

It is not as well-positioned in the customer's mind as marketing says it is.

It is not as difficult to support as customer support says it is.

What you have to do is be the one without the filtered glasses, and see things from a realistic perpective. Only then will you be able to prioritize your features and get your roadmap right.

Those stakeholders will milk you for everything you have to get their requests in. You need to be pragmatic. Nobody else will.

Seth says it much better than I do

That's why I read his blog every day.

Here is his guidance on customer service. I especially like the point on responding to customers who have taken time out of their very busy lives to contact you. That's a free marketing touchpoint, and it shocks me the number of companies that blow it. Perhaps its time that those touchpoints go to the marketing department instead of the so-called customer service department.

I wonder if Fathead is reading it :)

Smart positioning by iRobot

I've bought three iRobot products in the past, and I love them. Two Roombas and a Scooba. Even though the Scooba is broken, and I've had to replace one Roomba, they are great. Keeping my eye out for a deal on a Scooba.

Anyway, I got an email today inviting me to be part of the iRobot Advisory Panel. Sounds cool! Turns out to simply be an opt-in to receive survey invites, but so what... "Advisory Panel" sounds much more engaging than "surveys."

I signed up. Nice job iRobot.

What can I do to make you happy?

This is a common statement that companies use when they've screwed up with their customers. Maybe its a good line, but it doesn't work for me. Then again, I'm an INTJ type that is all about efficiency and optimization, and also we are less than 1% of the population.

Why doesn't it work for me? Because in my experience companies that truly care about their customers and giving them a great experience already answer that question. They don't ask you, they offer. Audi, Coach, my favorite restaurants, etc all take care of me without asking. Sears, that crappy pizza joint in Michigan City, Lincoln, GM, all have to ask, probably because they truly don't know what custmoers care about.


People still don't get viral marketing

Let your customers do your marketing for you. PLEASE!

I went to the Chicago White Sox web site. I expected to find a widget that I could put on my blog, showing what place they were in, their latest game results, and their next game. No such luck!

They are missing out on free promotion, and worse yet, letting others take up that valuable real estate on the web.

The web is real estate, you have to grab it now.

What marketing opportunities are you missing?

Don't assume you understand what your customers want

When I worked at Whirlpool, we spent a lot of time developing concepts and solutions that would help our target customer segments automate their tasks and activities. There was only one problem... that's not what our customers valued. We assumed that anyone would like to have things done for them. Bzzt! Wrong.

No, instead what we learned was that our customers were cravers of information, and that they still wanted to be in control. Don't manage their energy consumption for them; instead, give them information on where their energy usage goes, and they will manage their energy based on that information.

I had an experience on Saturday that left a bad taste in my mouth. In our typical "plan what we are doing Saturday night on Saturday afternoon," Amy and I started calling around for other families that didn't have anything going on. Turns out our neighbors would be around and would love to join us for pizza and socializing. So our menu consisted of gourmet Chicago-style pizza for the adults, and take-n-bake pizza for the kids (no sense letting the kids have our pizza!).

So, at about 5:45pm, 15 minutes before our guests arrive, I fire up the oven and head into town (Snoqualmie Ridge) to pick up a couple pizzas for the kids. I like Nick-n-Willy's because they have the pizzas pre-made - just grab and go. So I grab a couple pizzas and give them my discount card. The lady gives me an explanation that while she will honor our card I am supposed to buy a pizza from the menu that's not pre-made. The problem is she took about 5 minutes to explain this to me. Or at least she made it feel like five minutes. At that moment in time, I wasn't worried about saving a couple bucks, I was worried about getting back home to meet our guests and finish prepping the house. If she would have just said "we don't honor this because of this statement on the back" I would have been fine with it. Instead, she spent a lot of time explaining to me how much she was helping me by honoring the card. Problem is... she wasn't helping me, she was frustrating me.

I am not sure why, but this little hiccup during my day bothered me. I mean it really bothered me to the point where they did damage to their brand.

Never assume you understand what your customers want.


Motley Crue debuts song on Rockband

The marketing game is changing. Here's yet another example - Motley Crue to debut new song on Rock Band. Awesome!

Fathead and poor customer service

Several months back (like September), we purchased a Fathead for our play room redecoration project. It was a Purdue football helment and fit in nicely in our football themed room, painted in Old Gold (Purdue's official shade of gold).

We got the product, layed it flat, painted the room, and waited two months to put it up so that the paint dried right. We put it up, and while we had some problems with it, overall it stayed up with some minor peeling. After a month or so, it came tumbling down and we could not re-attach it to the wall.

We are busy people, so it took us a while to contact Fathead about it. I was quite surprised at their response. They said they were sorry for the defective product, but that we were outside the 60 day warranty window. They would however be more than happy to sell us a Fathead at 25% off retail price.

I was stunned. Fathead doesn't have a product if it doesn't do the only thing it is supposed to do - STICK TO THE WALL.

I had planned on buying other Fatheads - for starters Detroit Red Wings for my bedroom and Star Wars figures for the kids' Lego room. Clearly, if Fathead doesn't think that their product will work for more than 60 days, and if they won't take care of "defective products" (their words), it doesn't make sense for me to drop $100 on each of these Fatheads.

With the cost of one replacement product and shipping Fathead had the opportunity to sell us more Fatheads. Not to mention the viral marketing opportunity lost by people now not asking "Cool where did you get THAT?"

Are you intentionally chasing away your customers?


Attaching a Google document to a Gmail message

So of all the things I figured I would be able to do with Google Documents, attaching a Google doc to a Gmail message I figured would be a no-brainer.

I can't figure it out. I looked, I Googled, I searched help, no such luck. I had to save the Google Doc to a file on my computer and then attach it to my message.

This seems like an obvious use case, and a trivial implementation. What's the deal?

This is an example of what I am talking about when I say "you need more than raw brainpower" to companies that claim to hire really smart people. Sometimes really smart people don't see the forest through the trees.


Conducting online surveys

My first rule of online surveys: don't make it harder for the respondents than it has to be.

I have yet to see an online survey that does it right. Amazing. Every time I'm asked to perform many extra, unnecessary clicks just because the survey company can't figure out how to put more than one question on a page.

One of the great things about the web is that we can get very detailed data and metrics on web usage. If you mail a survey out, you don't know why it wasn't filled out an returned. If you email a survey, while you may not learn why it isn't completed, you can at least learn where in the process the participant abandoned. And you can use that data to improve your survey tool.

I understand it is the job of these companies to find candidates for surveys, and no question they deliver value there. But they are overlooking an opportunity to improve their response rate for their customers at little or no cost.

Seth Godin hits the nail on the head

We discovered and practiced this at Whirlpool several years back: your inbound customer calls to your call center are a perfect way to market to your customers. Whirlpool changed from "avoid phone calls at all costs," to "invest in the call center to drive customer loyalty."

Marketing at the customer service level does not mean sell the customer something. It means deliver value for the customer (via help) so the customer perceives greater value from your brand or product. In turn, they spread word of mouth and become repeat customers.

By the way, trying to chit chat with your customers and "be nice" is NOT necessarily delivering value. I become irrated when I call a company only to have the person on the other end take 30 seconds out of my busy day to ask me how I am doing. A simply "how many I help you?" suffices.

Are you taking advantage of ALL of your customer touchpoints?


Exactly what I've been waiting for

Google announced Google App Engine today, and while I haven't used it yet I am on the waiting list and I took a look at their docs. They announced it at CampFire One last night, and its already gotten good reviews.

It appears to be the integrated web development and hosting environment I've been looking for (I don't do a lot of development anymore but I always have a need for doing a little development). To date I have yet to set up a dev/hosting environment; every time I've tried something has gotten in the way relative to usability or functionally working. Hopefully Google App Engine works :)


What is Gibson thinking?

I have an XBox 360. Guitar Hero II was an interesting idea when it came out, and although I am not a musician or even musically inclined, I bought it. The best game I've ever played (at the time). Fun, good music, gameplay, you name it.

Guitar Hero III came out in late 2007, as did Rock Band. Both were even bigger hits, the ground being laid by Guitar Hero II. I ended up buying both.

That's a lot of money on three video games, as each comes with its own instrument controllers.

And here's the kicker: I've since spent additional money on Amazon MP3 buying up the songs I like from the games (some of which I have never heard before). In addition, my six year old son now has an interest in music and wants to learn to play guitar.

So why is Gibson continuing to sue to stop sales of Guitar Hero?. It's irrelevant whether Guitar Hero infringes on one of Gibson's patents; Activision and retailers are creating a demand for Gibson guitars. Their innovative games are helping Gibson, and Gibson wants to stop that? Really? I understand Gibson is simply trying to position itself for a share of Guitar Hero (and I assume RockBand) profits. Still, it seems like they should be taking a more partnership approach rather than an aggressive stance.

I also think this highlights the problem in our patent system. Harmonix and Activision bore the risk of bringing these games to market, including developing new types of controllers for the games. While someone like Gibson bears some costs in developing intellectual property, it's the companies that launch products that bear more risk. Sure, in some industries developing technology is a huge investment.

The patent system should protect those that invest significantly at a high risk of not getting a return. Any other use case is simply gaming the system. At the expense of our market and our customers.

Are you missing out on high return opportunities because you can't see the forest through the trees?


Google sorting out the medical record mess

At least that's how I interpret what they are doing.

It has amazed me for 10+ years that of all the things I *can* do online, aggregated medical history is something that isn't done yet and isn't done in the name of confidentiality. I don't hear confidentialty when TransUnion, Equifax, and someone else collect my financial information, aggregate it, and score it, so why shouldn't my doctor here in Snoqualmie have access to my records of my doctor in Michigan City, my doctors in Chicago, and my hospital visits in Michigan?

If this indeed is what Google is doing, kudos to them for doing it. About time someone did it!


A good article on raising the bar on usability

Read it here. Philip is right - very few people know how usable their products are... or even know what usability really means. Hint, usability does not equal efficiency!


You need to blog

I just ran across the TSA's blog. They've been up and running a couple of weeks. The TSA. You know, that arcane organization that has illogical rules, terrible service, and unmotivated (and underappreciated!) employees? Yes, they have a blog, and apparently they listen to public input.

People expect a public face of you now. Really, they do. If you don't, something is amiss. You're hiding something.


Microsoft, Yahoo, and Google

By now anyone browsing the web (which means you :) ) has heard about Microsoft's big $44B+ unsolicted offer to purchase Yahoo. I'm not real certain whether that's a good deal for Microsoft, but it appears to be a good deal for Yahoo.

I did find Google's response interesting. A shot fired across the bow pointing out Microsoft's past legal transgressions, posted by one of their attornies.

Does Google fear a strong competitor? Or are they genuinely worried about Microsoft's past practices?


Why do companies intentionally upset their customers?

Some number showing up as "Verizon Conference" calls every day. My wife answers the phone, and they ask for me. She explains she is my wife and asks if she can help. The person always says no, and hangs up. Every time for the last couple of weeks.

So today, I happen to be home snowed in so I can't get to work, and the same company calls. This time my wife hands the phone to me with a visibly frustrated look on her face. I take the phone, and the person goes into a long-winded explanation that they are from Discover and they are thankful for my business. The person starts to ramble about something, when I finally ask "what is it that you want?" Oh yes, they reply, they ask if I am planning any events in the future, and starts rattling off things like weddings, birthdays, yada, yada, yada. I tried to ask again "what is it that you want?" but I cannot get a word in edgewise. The arrogance that I have time to chit chat to a stranger without getting my permission is incomprehensible to me. I finally had to hang up and get back to that document that I need to send out in the next five minutes.

Capital One (my Visa card) just earned my business by default.

First, I don't like companies that are not respectful of my spouse. You called us, we didn't call you. My wife runs our house, she's smarter than I'll ever be, and has better judgement. Talk to her.

Second, I don't like companies that disrespect my time. I am not sitting idle all day waiting for random marketing people to call me. If you want my business, make yourself available when I look for it and I am ready for it.

Discover pulled a classic example of a violation of my five second rule for prospecting - they didn't give me a reason to keep listening, because they never told me why I should keep listening.

Are you driving your customers away? Do you know why? Do you even understand basic customer behavior?


Why Companies Fail

I don't keep up on primetime TV shows in real time; instead I record them then watch a bunch in order when I get a couple spare hours in the evenings before bed. One of the shows I watch is The Apprentice, including this season's Celebrity Apprentice.

I just got caught up on the last two episodes, and if the Gene-Simmons-being-fired doesn't epitomize corporate America, I don't know what does. And that's not good. Here we have this season's top talent, bringing new good ideas for his clients, and he gets fired.

Now, I understand Trump's rationale. That doesn't mean I agree with it. I could pontificate for hours, but let me try to be succinct.

No wonder Kodak is struggling. I know its not fair to judge an entire leadership on just two execs; however, I also have enough experience to know that at the exec level there is a certain culture and likemindedness. Their judgement of the best display for the show came down to "well Hydra used the work 'ink' which is what we asked them to do." No thinking outside the box here. "It's a Kodak World - Welcome", although a better idea, lost. Wow.

But this is what is rewarded in the business world - do what is asked of you, not what's best for the customer or the company. It's what kills innovation, creativity... and ultimately your brand.

And don't get me started on a company that thinks they can win the photo space by having cheaper ink. I can't believe that was allowed outside a brainstorming session. Talk about desperation from a company. Would love to see their data on consumer insights that backed that notion. I wonder if they've even seen the data that more and more people are having others print their photos due to the convenience and cost.

I know not all companies are like this. I have some friends at Google and one cool thing I hear about Google is that "the best ideas win." Must be a great culture to work in :)

Now, on to Trump. I understand that the two other team members brought into the board room with Gene were not responsible for losing. But is that what decisions should be based on? Shouldn't they be based on who gives you the best chance to win moving forward? Sure Gene showed a poor choice in judgement but does that override his other talents? That's like the Seahawks dumping Matt Hasselbeck instead of the backup QBs because "well the backups didn't cause Seattle to lose!"

Trump could have shown his leadership capabilities and kept Gene and fired one of the weaker team members. Would have improved his talent pool. Apparently that is not the goal. Amazing.

No wonder Dilbert is so popular.

What if the best ideas, the best execution, and the best people, won at your company?


So what's happening to ebay?

I've been a long time user of eBay, and have also followed their business performance over the years. Their core marketplace growth has disappeared. Amazon surpasses eBay for the first time

Speculation ranges from high seller fees to high risk of fraud on eBay.

I think the reasoning is more simple: everyone else has caught or surpassed eBay.

For a long time (5+ years) eBay was pretty much the only place to find, purchase, and receive "stuff" online. If you received your item, and it was even close to the condition in which it was described, you as a buyer were thrilled. This model served eBay very well. As their marketplace grew, people started

Problem is, the eBay experience has not improved. The rest of the e-commerce world has. Consumers now get better selection, better prices, better service, and a more streamlined experience from the rest of the web than what eBay provides.

I just purchased a couple "Stuff and Scruff" thingys that hang over the back of the front seats of a car, providing some organization for our kids' stuff, and keeping the kids' shoes off the back of the front seats. I found it through Google at an e-commerce site that looks like a mom-n-pop shop or one run out of the seller's home. It was easier for me to find something like this through Google than through eBay - Google provides access to a wider selection. If users are finding products through Google, then sellers have to keep up. As the e-commerce world grows up, it is inevitable that others are going to hang their shingle on the web and offer goods directly, providing their own experience to customers, their own customer service, and their own promotions. Sellers used to use eBay as their channel; they've now figured out how to do it without the help of eBay.

What happens if your customers bypass you?


Is there a problem with perfect?

I don't disagree with Seth Godin very often. In fact he's probably the one person (besides my wife and kids) that change my current thinking about a topic. But I disagree that there's a problem with being perfect.

His hypothesis is that being perfect is a) not remarkable (to still one of his older phrases) and b) only remarkable when you screw up.

I agree with b, as I think most people will. On a, I do believe perfection *is* remarkable. "FedEx" it is a statement of being perfect. They are the de facto standard when needing to overnight something. That FedEx is a verb in our language is a testament to "perfection being remarkable."

My favorite restaurant is Jak's in Issaquah. The best steakhouse I have ever been to, and that includes the great steakhouses of Chicago. They are simply perfect. Been there about 10 times over the last two years, and always a perfect experience. Wine is always at a perfect temperature. My steak is always a perfect cut cooked to a perfect medium rare and delivered to me at a perfect temperature. In fact my first bite of a Jak's steak is always better than I anticipate. The UFO potatoes (their specialty) are always perfect. As is the timing for the service staff, their service, and their atmosphere. It's perfect; as such we remark about it. I've even blogged about it multiple times.

However, I don't think perfection is an end-all-be-all. Perfection is a business choice companies need to make. I don't always opt for a perfect meal; in fact, I rarely do. I spend way more money on imperfect.

Here's my take on being perfect:

1. If you are going to be perfect, you have to be perfect, period. FedEx cannot screw up.
2. It's important for Product Managers to recognize when something is "good enough" and when you're overserving your market. Google Spreadsheets has adoption because it is "good enough" and Microsoft Office has overserved the market.
3. Make a strategic decision whether to be perfect. Sometimes (most times?) the goal is not to be perfect but to move the needle.
4. Understand that most customers in most situations do not value perfect.

I remember proposing an impressive appliance diagnostic solution for Whirlpool and talking to their customer support organization. The solution include communications with an appliance over the phone, Artificial Intelligence, and a voice (over phone) menu to collect data. The most challenging part was the voice interaction, and we hadn't worked out all the kinks by the time we talked to the CS team. I thought we were at a disadvantage because our voice component worked only half the time. Interestingly enough, they thought it was great because it worked half the time. Why the discrepancy? I was comparing our 50% solution to my personal goal of a 100% solution. They were looking at my 50% solution as compared to their current 0% solution. My solution moved the needle 50% for them! As such they loved it.

Clearly a case where perfection should not be a goal. And there are numerous ones in the business world where understanding what is "good enough" is the difference between success and failure.


A smart move by Yahoo and great news for OpenID

OpenID finally got its flagship account customer in Yahoo. This has been a long time coming and I'm glad a major player has jumped on the OpenID movement.

This is also a smart move by Yahoo. To date this has been a classic chicken-egg scenario. By moving first, Yahoo can cement its logins as the de facto standard for a "universal login" (universal login is how I think users/customers will view OpenID). It creates brand share of mind for Yahoo. I know I will start using my Yahoo account.

Side note... if OpenID was named "UniversalLogin" instead, I bet we would have seen more movement in this space than . OpenID doesn't resonate with the layperson; UniversalLogin does.


Integrating the online and offline worlds

The line between online and offline is disappearing. Companies (some, anyway) are getting better at understanding how to use online tools to integrate into their operations and customer experiences.

Best Buy hasn't yet. I tried ordering something from Best Buy for Christmas. I chose instore pickup. I went to the store to pick it up. I waited in line for 15 minutes without anyone showing up at the special "in store pickup" counter before leaving the line, picking up the product off the shelf, going to regular checkout, then going home and cancelling the original order (which was tough to do with Best Buy's site broken). That is not a good experience for customers. Clearly they don't "get" the online space.

Progressive does get it. After a new car purchase I was able to go online to change vehicles, all online, all in a matter of about three minutes. They even told me the new insurance rate and the difference between that and my old rate. They get it.

ING Direct gets it. They allow management of account products (CDs, how to renew, moving money between accounts). They have sensible security precautions. It's a breeze to use (and good rates to boot). I've tried to set up new accounts at FNBO Direct and WTDirect, only to find that those banks don't get it. FBNO Direct has a weird login name policy, and neither has the ability to manage money easily. WTDirect doesn't even save bank account information when transferring money - you have to re-enter it every time.

Amazon has an amazing return experience. If a product is broken, I go to amazon.com, tell amazon I want to return an order due to a defect. They give me a label to print out, I package the item back up, put the label on it, set the package by the front door, and wait for UPS/Fedex to pick it up. In the meantime they are shipping a replacement item right away. Not only is that a great experience, it's better than what brick-and-mortar retailers can offer. Retailers need to understand the benchmark Amazon has set and reset their bar.

In the end, companies that "get" how to use online tools to enhance their customer experiences will win, and will win big.

Innovation is not the goal

I think it's time to kill the buzzword Innovation. It's become overused. According to some, everything is innovative. According to some, you aren't a good company unless you're known for innovation. I think they're wrong, and I think innovation as a buzzword has become so mainstream that the business world is losing focus on its customers. I say this as I continue to experience worse and worse customer experiences and become more and more frustrated by companies like Apple (who can't get their browser to work properly), T-Mobile (who screwed me over on a rebate), etc.

I think Good To Great should be required reading for everyone who thinks they operate in the innovation space. Good to Great is not about innovation - it's about businesses that broke out of "good" corporate performance and evolved to "great" corporate performance. And they were innovative in the process (more importantly they had great leadership that enabled that innovation). And that's the point. The goal was not to be innovative. The goal was to create great business results. Innovation happened to be a tool companies used to drive growth. The companies listed in Good to Great (Abbott, Fannie Mae, Circuit City, Gillette, Kimberly-Clark, Kroger, Nucor, Philip Morris, Pitney Bowes, Walgreen's, and Wells Fargo) aren't exactly companies that scream "innovation" are they? Walgreen's? Fannie Mae? Gillette? Nucor? Let that be a lesson.

If you are focused on Innovation, you are focused on the wrong thing. Focus on your customers and/or your business.


Why would I...?

This is a question that every product manager must answer. Why would your customer take the time to use your product? Why yours? Why not what they already use?

Squidoo is an interesting offering. You can build web pages around any knol you choose. I tried it. I built one for Purdue football. And I put some content on it. And I checked the traffic. Wow, I get more traffic to my personal blog than I do to my Squidoo page (which is zero). Which begs the question: why would I put time into building a Squidoo page? Especially when blogs are easier to build/maintain than a Squidoo page?

Usability in your Product Development

So how does one specify usability requirements in the product development process? Remember, usability is not the same as efficiency! I often see teams try to optimize on efficiency thinking they are getting usability - and are then surprised when they don't get the results on their usability tests that they expected.

I generally define usability requirements as a section in and of itself. I tackle it this way (yes this is high level):

1. Define the profiles of the users that will use the product. This is important. Include your "anti-users," or people that won't use your product.
2. Define the primary functions the user needs to be able to perform.
3. For each profile, define what the usability expectation in. I generally define this as "x% of users will understand how to perform the primary functions the first attempt and within so many seconds; y% within second attempt." Repeat for secondary and tertiary functions. This does not have to be complicated; however, it does have to be thought through.
4. Then prototype and usability test. Ask the participants to perform the primary and secondary functions and measure. While in an ideal world you want to have participants that meet your profiles defined in #1 above, in my experience you don't need a lot of participants to perform a usability test - I've done it with as little as one (because one usability test is infinitely better than zero).
5. Expect to find new, unanticipated findings from your participants! I have yet to do a series of usability tests that did not uncover something I would have never thought of testing for.

It is important, IMHO, to break out into primary and secondary functions. This is where most usability fails, in my experience. I've seen designers design for a secondary experience at the expense of a primary experience. A good product manager will prioritize their features/functions.

It is also important to be reasonable in your usability expectations. Another mistake is to try to have perfect usability for everyone. That won't happen, especially for something that's new-to-the-world (for stuff that's not new-to-the-world the usability has already been done and de facto standard interfaces have already established themselves). Instead, set a goal of "moving the needle" and managing to that.