Thursday, April 12, 2007

High-end kitchens: I'm not the only sucker

I try to avoid posting on purely personal stories unless I can find some relevance for a larger audience. Finally, Consumer Reports has given me the green light to blog on my disappointments with high-end kitchen appliances. In an upcoming article, (described by MediaPost here) CR will publish an indictment of high-end appliances based on more than 5 million product reports.

And I thought it was just me.

Appliances in my new kitchen that are too unreliable to ever merit consideration for re-purchase:
  • ICON Electrolux fridge: icemaker replaced twice, still doesn't work
  • Wolf gas range: parts fall apart; multiple repairs
  • Fisher and Paykell dishdrawer dishwasher: sigh. Finicky and doesn't wash dishes well.
What's your experience been?

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Saturday, December 16, 2006

Going for baroque

As I was making a big 'ol Christmas order on Amazon, including a couple different shipping addresses and a mix of wrapped and not-wrapped presents, I was surprised when I realized that I hadn't done anything other than One-Click in a good, long time. What a shock -- the Amazon checkout process has become so complex, so rife with the possibility of error, that it had me tearing out my hair. I'm a User Experience professional, and probably more adept than the average human at figuring these things out, and I was completely baffled at time. I found myself backtracking to indicate multiple shipping addresses. Missing gift wrap options. My annoyance level was about what it would have been standing in line at the mall and the post office, back in the day.

Finally, I just gave up, and called my mom to tell her to giftwrap her own gift. Touching, no?

I used to work for Jay Chiat in the late '80s at Chiat/Day. The agency was embarking on a string of mergers and acquisitions, and Jay was fond of saying that "we'll grow until we suck."

Amazon, you're there.

Happy holidays!

Thursday, November 16, 2006

New plan for automaker profitability: eliminate dealer satisfaction surveys

Is there an aspect of marketing more perverse than the automotive dealer satisfaction survey? If so, let me know about it.

After having a dealer service your car, they inform you that if you're surveyed later, any rating lower other than a "5" -- a perfect score -- is a failure. And you are offered a free oil change to give them a 5. If what the dealer tells you is in fact true, than the dealer's scores are not a diagnostic tool for the manufacturer to use in improving dealer service; they're simply a blunt cudgel to be used as punishment. (Another instance of the rampant trend in "zero tolerance" policies.)

The upshot: the data is utterly fallacious, and isn't being used to discover and report on actual drivers of satisfaction for the purposes of performance improvement.

What do GM, Ford, Chrysler, Toyota, Honda, and so on pay for this farce every year? There must be a better way to spend that money in order to drive customer satisfaction. How about a real diagnosis of satisfaction drivers -- and a real program to help and incent dealers to deliver on them?

Who has the courage to break from the pack?

Monday, September 25, 2006

Chief Whatever Officer

James H. Gilmore and B. Joseph Pines II, authors of The Experience Economy, suggest that companies create and staff a position for a Chief Experience Officer (CXO), arguing that businesses must integrate experience management in one (or more) of four ways:
  • Experiential marketing
  • Customer experience management
  • Online user experiences
  • Experience lines of business
In their recent article Wanted: Chief Experience Officers in Event ROI they mostly advocate for the latter construct: CXOs should go off and "...develop, manage and refresh a portfolio of paid-for experiences… created specifically to generate new sources of revenue and profits in an increasingly commoditized world."

I find this to be a truly curious prescription for success. Isn't setting the bar for experience at designing paid experiences the ultimate in high-end cop-outs? E.g., a business with no chance of becoming a "paid experience" might as well not even try. We shouldn't let business owners and managers off so easily -- anyone responsible for a P+L, a customer segment or customer-facing process should be able to articulate how they are improving the overall economics of their business by improving the experience. Creating a new title with a new mandate to create new businesses that may or may not link to the core mission of the enterprise itself is nothing but an exercise in distraction from the hard and sometime dull work of making your business better.

Think about it this way... suppose Home Depot decided to create paid experiences... how about trips to the Pacific Northwest to cut and mill your own lumber? It's a facetious example, but how far would you have to go with it to be able to calculate the difference in return between that exercise, and an alternative in which you optimized the Home Depot experience for the tens of millions of customers in the store every day -- actually, you'd just have to go to Lowes, who have found that women prefer a slightly more comfortable and well-organized store with bathrooms that don't look like they belong on a construction site.

Experience can be a real differentiator, but the notion that there is an infinitely scalable market in paid experiences in our real-world service economy is, well, a setup to a relatively painful experience for the CEO who approves it.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Uh... sure, forward our email -- but not so much!

Full disclosure: I've ragged on Starbucks before for not thinking through the customer communications email program. So this story on MediaPost kills me -- apparently 'bux sent out an email for a free iced coffee to friends and family -- and then was shocked (shocked!) when it got forwarded all over the country. They quickly killed the program.

What aspect of viral did these guys miss? Strong brand esteem, high passalong value, low barriers to forward. It's a perfect value-based viral setup, and anybody not caught under a large, heavy rock should understand this by now.

Connecting effectively with your non-identifiable foot traffic is clearly a priority for Starbucks -- so how can they be messing it up so badly?

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Seeking your feeback on, well, feedback

Our user experience team recently proposed to a B2B client that we give users of their site the ability to provide feedback on individual content objects, e.g., a page, white paper, case study, etc. Based on the successes we've seen with consumers rating content, we were surprised to get quite a bit of pushback on this tactic in a B2B context. Have any experience with soliciting and acting on content feedback in a B2B setting? If so, it would be great to get your comments. Thanks in advance.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006 pitches Subway; where's the meat?

In a bid to differentiate itself from competitors in a pitch for the Subway business, posted a "viral" video on YouTube. Plenty of blood has already been spilled on adfreaks and other blogs about the video itself... I can't help but thank for confirming something I had long suspected: agencies should never assume anyone is as interested as we are in stories, concepts, songs and now videos about what we do. (Full disclosure: I run the strategy function for an interactive agency, THINK interactive, and yes, the concept of making this kind of video comes up every six months or so at our place too. So far, we've killed the beast every time.)

Back in the 1980's, I worked in direct response marketing. Every six months or so, a team would come up with a concept parodying bad direct marketing creative. ("Buy now!") Every time, it was clear that what we were dealing with was actually arrogance -- the arrogance of assuming that anyone cares enough about the marketing to differentiate between the truth and the parody.

Recently this idea (or really, lack of an idea) manifested itself in the latest BMW tv spots, in which an entire campaign was seemingly constructed around the insight that creatives sometimes get their concepts killed by client executives who don't care enough about their ideas. has taken it to a new level (or new low?) here. The shocking thing about this tactic isn't the lack of understanding of the true nature of viral marketing, the blatant unreality of the video (uh, if it contains video of you uploading the video, than you actually faked an upload to shoot and then later actually uploaded it, in a sort of Escher-esque loop) or the attempts at humorously badgering a Hasidic man because, apparently, he isn't just like an agency employee. No, what's really bad about this idea is that there is no idea. There's a built in assumption here that there is inherent interest in watching agencies talk about coming up with ideas, and being all crazy, with our gumball machines, thrift-store blouses, facial hair and piercings. Hey, we all have that stuff -- but it's critical to differentiate between the things that help you feel OK about what you do, and whether they matter to your audience.

I've always been of the opinion that we care far more about any of this stuff than our audiences do -- be they marketers, or eventual consumers of marketing. In a bid to look cool and current, has gone ahead and confirmed that opinion with this overwrought, under-powered video tactic.