Making Space for Better Outcomes

Over the past week I’ve made visits to a number of interactive agency offices and noticed something significant. All of them have a major part of their space under construction.The reasons offered by the senior managers of these firms as to why they are making this investment are nearly identical. They want to more closely connect team members to the arc of the process and elevate the work through collaboration on a natural, everyday basis. The days of sitting with people who have pretty much the same role; take in the assignment, add their part and then pass it along to the next team on the assembly line are over. Thankfully.

The convergence of channels and interfaces has made the need to do great marketing, branding sales and service simultaneously, and primarily in digital, of utmost importance. Every agency had a plan taped to the wall of the open space detailing the objective of the new design, sprinkled with artifacts; tables, chairs, colors and space purposes. All of this is meant to redefine how people work in a world that has been redefined by technology, devices and increased competition to stand out amid the clutter.

Corporations could learn a lot from this. Most of us are still trapped in a meeting mentality. In my opinion, work doesn’t get done in meetings. It’s kind of like planning for “quality time with your spouse or children.” It can’t be easily manufactured. Oftentimes the best experiences are spontaneous and occur at the most unexpected times. It’s the opposite of a meeting. One of the things I hear often among people who work in big firms is the following.

We should get all the stakeholders in a room for one day and knock out all the requirements and make all the tough decisions. When we walk away we’ll have exactly what we want to do and then we can go do it.

If that doesn’t speak volumes about the silos and layers and approval processes and over-collaboration, yes you can over collaborate, then I don’t know what does. There is a strong desire among people to work better, smarter and faster. Certainly no one thing or one space will magically make this happen, but I think these agencies are on to something meaningful here, and all of us should pay attention.

Memo to the Afterlife: Steve Jobs is Yours Now. Get Ready for 2.0.

I did not meet Steve Jobs, but I feel as if I knew the man. I did not work with him, but I am embedded in each one of his products. Everything he created was built for humans, for himself, and for all of us. Steve was driven to excellence in every way, and I believe his example has made many of us better. He has planted seeds all over the world and the forest has yet to sprout. It’s going to be amazing.

I have written several times on this blog about Mr. Jobs and Apple. But today it is not about devices or operating systems. Today, this is my reflection.

And when shall we come round to ourselves?

When shall we be ourselves again?

Ourselves in the round climate,

in the murky dark.

Ourselves soaring on the

marvelous syllable of the wind.

Ourselves in the boundless stream of time.

Ourselves as if we were stone.

We say, Oh anything but ourselves

in this vanishing skin.

But our true self. Unwinding, always moving.

Not beyond us, but right here.

Fast and forever.

You will be missed Steve.

Start Small, Then Subtract

Addition or subtraction? It’s not a trick question (boxers or briefs?). It’s a legitimate question. Designing interfaces today is more challenging than ever. As servicing, marketing, branding, lines of businesses, channels and devices converge, it is more important to leverage data to make the right display choices. But there is so much data, and it’s not always conveniently available. We may not always have access to customer or transaction data, but project milestones must be met. In these cases there needs to be an informed decision about what to show users. By that I mean user input and a thorough inspection of web analytics that uncovers valuable clues to help connect the work to your firm’s KPI’s.

It’s very easy to pile on. Companies, particularly large firms really like the property of addition. Make a spreadsheet of all the things that can be done. Cram in as much as possible on the real estate of a web page (tougher with a handset isn’t it). It becomes a mess very quickly. I prefer another approach. My favorite mathematical property is subtraction. It’s harder to do because people look to see if their drivers are present in the design, and if not, push to put them in. Frequently four or five people are doing this. They always want more, I insist on less.

Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not one bit simpler.

This quote is attributed to Albert Einstein. Leave it to some brainiac to interrupt my simplicity post by adding complexity. Further proof that subtraction, when it comes to content and design is one of the hardest things to accomplish. So, how does one subtract? By making addition a lost art. Many designers now are starting the work on smartphone screens, perfecting them, then taking them to the desktop browser. This forces one to be extremely spartan and strict. I love that trend. Here are some approaches I use.

  • Make the objective, or job of the page, the hero
  • Put only elements that will advance the objectives on the canvas
  • Prioritize the elements by using data, preferably at run time, and bring those into sharp focus (mature)
  • Lay out the customer journey, including all touch points and entry points to the design
  • Use personas to validate the journey
  • Repeat after me, nothing else matters

Group think or org chart mentality will kill the effectiveness of a design for the user and the business. No one wins when in many cases both sides can realize gain. Leverage live user testing that when done right, illuminates the big problems and can put to rest feature creep or business driven design.

One of the biggest challenges now is labeling and navigation. On the desktop browser we still have a pretty good chunk of real estate to put tabs, buttons, links, etc., to guide the user. On mobile devices we are much more restricted. Plus, you have to make it work in portrait and landscape. In these instances grouping is required. How to group and what to call the group is the challenge.

We are now using social media tools and the social graph to help. We set up a card sort exercise on the web and Tweet out to our followers that we are looking for people to help us design the next generation mobile interface for our customers. We also post these notices on our Facebook page. It’s essentially free and another great way to leverage the wisdom of the crowd.

Tweet to followers

Here is what users see when they follow the link to the card sort.

Card sort interface

My advice. Start small and then make it smaller. Incorporate data to inflect the design for segment relevancy and you will see improved results. Remember the mantra of Expedient MEANS; abandon the comprehensive and abbreviated, and select only the essential.

The Business Profit Time Horizon

There are countless perspectives in the business world. The one we are most familiar with and where we spontaneously go when looking for solutions to business problems, is of course our own. But that represents only a small part of the overall picture. Being able to project yourself into someone else’s shoes expands your thinking and helps fill in the puzzle of reality. It is a very useful skill, but extremely hard to do on a regular basis. Honing this art will be extremely helpful as you look to successfully navigate a large company and get things done / change things.

There’s a side benefit as well. You will enrich your own development and round out something that is a requirement to advance to the next level.

One of the tricks I use to help me transport into another’s mind is to try to identify their business profit time horizon. In other words, is their perspective being filtered through a short term, mid term or long term lens? Generally the higher you go in an organization the shorter the profit time horizon becomes (yes profit, because it’s a business). On the surface it seems counterintuitive because leaders at the most senior level are suppose to be visionaries. True enough, but they know if they don’t meet short-term profit goals it won’t matter, because there won’t be long term anyway.

Firms have reporting levels for numerous reasons. One of them is to ensure that bright, focused minds can thrive. Another is to ensure no one person, perhaps working in a vacuum, initiates work. Perspectives are drawn into the discussion and the end result is most often far superior to the original thought (wisdom of the crowd). Senior managers want to know four things. When am I getting it? How much does it cost? What’s it worth? How can you scale it?

Time Horizon Rule of Thumb

  • If you’re a CEO you are trying to close the week
  • CMO’s are looking to close the month
  • The VP’s want to deliver a positive outcome for the quarter
  • This leaves it to the Directors to look at an entire year or beyond

Keeping this construct in mind when I’m working on an idea is helps me anticipate other perspectives. It also reminds me why people make the comments they make when I describe my ideas. What are your ways you break out of your walled garden?

Apples will Continue to Fall from Trees

It’s not so much that Steve Jobs has stepped down as the head of Apple that saddens me, it’s the reason why he is stepping down. Cancer invades so many people’s bodies and it’s a ruthless scourge. Regardless of which side of the technology war you are on, no one should be happy about the fate that has befallen Mr. Jobs. Go ahead and despise Apple, but keep Mr. Jobs on the good side of your thoughts. I had a brush with cancer a couple of years ago, but was one of the lucky ones. I am completely cancer free now and expect to remain that way for a very, very long time thank you.

With or without Steve, Apple will continue to grow and thrive. It’s not simply a computer manufacturer any longer. It has evolved well beyond the days when Macs were found in the occasional household. Apple has transformed the music industry and the personal computer industry, redefined the handset into a smartphone, remade retailing and introduced the tablet.

How did they do it? They broke with conventional wisdom and overcame the inertias that weigh down firms and industries. But the main ingredient of success in my opinion, is they made products that worked with people’s daily lives. Seamless integration and updates. No tribal language code. A near flawless user experience that are beautiful to look at. Not always plug and play, but pretty close. If you make products that people can use and fills a desire they have, you are more than halfway there. Apple actually went the full mile, closing the last 50% by making what they delivered emotional. They then amplified those products with superior positioning and marketing.

But most of all, they never gave up. No matter how dark the investor and pundit predictions were, or how large and dominant Microsoft became, they came in everyday and worked at it. Admirable.

Remember when no one wanted to copy Apple? Now everyone covets and races to copy them. Was this in large part the work of Super Steve? You bet. But there is no way he did this alone. It takes a village, and he has built a really big one.

Tim Cook, now the leader, did some amazing things. He got Apple’s on hand inventory down from months to days and is credited with being the supply chain wizard that allowed the firm to bring out so many products so often and quickly. Does he have the vision of a Jobs? No, no one does. But he does have a vision, and Steve is not walking out the door. He will be around and he will have more ideas and the wise folks in Cupertino will listen. His fingerprints will be on things for quite some time. It’s quite possible that not being CEO will give him even more time to be creative. That could actually accelerate Apple’s momentum. Perhaps he should have resigned sooner.

Don’t write off Apple or Mr. Jobs.

E-Book – The Obvious Guide to Public Speaking

This post is a bit of a departure for me. Normally I stick to my knitting, but today I’m branching out, living life on the edge once again.

The topic is public speaking. I do it a lot and you probably do a fair bit of it as well. If not, you are going to. I firmly believe that being good (not necessarily great) at speaking before a group of people is a critical skill to hone. It opens doors to opportunity, promotions and financial rewards. When I say public speaking, it can mean to a small group of senior managers as you present your business case, or an auditorium full of people who have paid money to hear what you have to say.

I’ve done my share of speaking over the years and kept a notebook of what went right and what went wrong. Then one day last month it occurred to me that I could offer my notes to the crowd. It’s written for the beginner to intermediate speaker. Someone who has done it a bit, but does not have a formula or enough confidence to shine through. But even if you are experienced at public speaking, I think you just might find a nugget or two here.

Here are a couple of excerpts from the E-Book.

Download the PDF here.  The Obvious Guide to Public Speaking

The Agency of Record is Dead – Long Live the Agency

Have you noticed that things are getting complicated? The first 15 years of going digital for firms was a breeze compared to the second 15 years. We used to build for desktop browsers and worried about navigation, labeling, dynamic presentation of data and then moved on to interactive marketing. Now it’s devices, social, always on connection and the disappearance of the web into the cloud. Enough to make anyone’s head spin.

Companies hire agencies to help them excel in areas beyond their core. A good agency delivered good work on time and within budget. A great agency delivered great work on time and within budget and the work drove business results. It looked more like a partnership than a vendor / client transaction.

Today there’s way too many things for any one agency to be able to master. Having multiple agencies is commonplace; the norm now for big brands. I have had some agencies say they can be an IOR, integrator of record. I’m skeptical. Integrator is definitely a needed function, but it is probably best handled by people inside the firm, not another agency.

The challenge will be to identify the competencies of each agency in the pool and challenge them to perform flawlessly in their core. Actually go beyond perform into the territory of innovate their competency. This will keep them focused. Another challenge will be to clearly define the roles and goals of each. We have traditional web (wow, that sounded wild) mobile and social. BTW, I hate the term mobile and am working on a new way to talk about that. Stay tuned.

The point is no one agency can do it all. Actually, they never could, but they were able to make it work. There are too many levels today to even entertain that thought.

As the client / brand, you’re the integrator. So integrate.

A Good Customer Experience is a Positive Company Outcome

Customer experience can have numerous meanings, mostly likely driven by where you work in a company. I have been polling people for a while now about what Good Customer Experience means, the other kind doesn’t much matter, and have distilled those replies into the following definition.

Good Customer Experience:  An engaging, differentiating, experience with the best possible outcome for the customer and the company that leads to repeat use and loyalty.

It’s not perfect, nothing ever is, but I think it gets at something that’s often missing when the discussion turns to customer experience. That’s the juxtaposition of customer and company in the same sentence, and the inclusion of best possible outcome. Let me stress that it’s not a balance between experience and profit. You can have both in the long run. Some transactions / interactions favor the customer, some favor the business. If you always leave out the customer you will not have as many of them as you want, and will lose them much faster. If you never include the company you won’t have enough profits to reinvest in your business. It’s lose / lose or as we called it in the ’90’s, zero-sum game. The trick is to always include both the customer and the company every time. If you begin using this lens, you will open up new ways of thinking and unlock approaches on how you might design products, services and interactions in the future.

I constructed this simple chart which took a life of it’s own and reminded me of what a daunting task it is to provide a good customer experience consistently.

It goes without saying that there are very few firms able to deliver in bristol fashion across the board. My experience is most do very well in some areas and very poorly in others with the balance being extremely unremarkable. If you tried to tackle all this at once you would probably be very frustrated. “Don’t boil the ocean” as the saying goes, but I highly recommend you be a steeping pot on the verge of boiling over, complete with a rattling top and an annoying whistle.

You will need to be a change agent. Find the places where your company is not as strong in the customer experience and be the catalyst for change.

It’s not what you do, it’s what you change that makes you successful.

It’s important to remember that you can’t change everything, but you don’t need to. Work with what you have. Change what’s changeable. Find like-minded people in your company and form a strong alliance. Above all, track and measure your results. The only way senior managers will buy in is if it will move the business. It will.

Say Goodbye to the Call Center

Earlier this week I attended the Customer Response Summit in Hollywood, Florida. It’s an In The Know event, a company that stays on the forefront of how corporations are dealing with customer care and customer experience in this rapidly evolving digital landscape. We used to call it Web 2.0, but that doesn’t capture what’s happening today. Now it’s mobile, social, video and audio. Consumers adopt new technologies quickly. Certainly not everyone is on the cutting edge, but the numbers  of people grow with each new cycle. They are the ones that demand firms adopt these new channels and they can no longer be ignored.

I was a speaker at the event and my topic was How to Turn Social Chaos into Valuable Brand Engagement. I shared my experiences, successes, and challenges of using Social Media to reach, engage and service customers. We operate using a very simple framework for social. Don’t over complicate it. Align it to your current business objectives, translate the tribal language into something more familiar, and prove it’s value.

I was impressed with the speaker lineup that included executives from FedEx, Time Warner Cable, General Motors, Disney, GoDaddy, ConAgra and others. I gleaned a number of takeaways:

  • Corporations are all working hard on how to improve the customer experience
  • Social Media and Mobile are moving much faster than corporate America
  • New customer care technologies will need to be considered and installed if firms wish to keep up with customers
  • There is no silver bullet; time to focus on weapons not ammunition
  • Everything you know is transferrable, but it will need to be re-interpreted
  • Data is still overwhelming insights
  • New silos have emerged (Great, more silos)
  • People are beginning to get it, proving value and taking steps
  • The call center of tomorrow will look very, very different (Think internal targeting, fewer phones, more direct contact with consumers on the web)
  • Consumers are gaining more and more power (That’s fine, just be gentle guys)
  • Embrace change, or risk being irrelevant some time soon
  • Call center managers are starting to shift their thinking from controlling cost to creating value
  • It’s very, very difficult to move away from “average handle time” (AHT) for hard core call center types
  • One of the most frequently asked questions for Disney is, “When time does the 3:00 parade start?”

What i’m seeing is the way we service customers is rapidly changing. Consumers operate in real time while firms operate in batch. There is a serious need for a centralized customer database that’s agile and can be easily shared by any of the marketing and service channels/departments that exist inside as well as outside a company.

Partnering is becoming even more important. If your company has an “It’s built better here” mentality, you are already falling dangerously behind. No one firm can keep up with what’s going on out there. Truth be told, they never could, but the pace of change was slow enough in the past to not be too damaging. Today that pace can cause fatalities.

The call center will evolve into a contact command center. More consumers will self-service through progressively easier to use interfaces and devices. Agents that answer the phone today will be transformed into agents that use their web browser to connect with consumers. Information will be pushed to their desktops by sophisticated listening devices constantly spidering the ether for immediate response. Proactive not reactive. Pre-service, like pre-crime from Minority Report. The agents of tomorrow will be more aligned with the business and more empowered than ever. This in turn will empower consumers and leave us all more time to focus on what’s really important.

The networking was the most valuable aspect of the event for me. I met some outstanding professionals and had some great conversations that I hope will continue. View some of the event videos here.

Blackberry Playbook Has Promise

The guys from Blackberry were in the office today showing off the new Playbook. Like most companies we carry Blackberry devices for corporate email, so we chat with our friends from RIM from time to time. I got to play on it for about 20 minutes. Here are my first impressions.

  • It’s nicely sized and easy to operate with one hand
  • Has some nice heft, but won’t fatigue your arms
  • Right thickness
  • Rubberized back casing makes it less cool looking than an iPad
  • The viewable screen is surrounded by a fairly large black bezel
  • This Bezel is important as it is the starting point for swipe gestures that activate the keyboard and change tablet modes
  • It’s very, very fast
  • Only comes in WiFi, but I don’t see that as an issue
  • No native email, but it has a pretty slick bridge (Bluetooth) to the Blackberry I already carry. They claim it’s a security thing
  • When you cut off the bridge function none of your firm’s data, or documents stays on the tablet. Big plus.
  • It does Flash
  • You can connect to a projector for presentations or directly to HDMI
  • Video is 1080p and very crisp
  • You can have programs running simultaneously and simply swipe from one to another and they continue to run
  • Runs versions of Word, PowerPoint and Excel without the issues one sees on the iPad
  • Priced at $499, $599 and $699 based solely on storage capacity
  • No simple program like iTunes to help manage getting content from your hard drive to the Playbook

It’s not an iPad killer, but it will turn some corporate heads and probably increase their dominance in this important market. It will serve as a choice for consumers, as the iPad is not for everyone. All in all I think it’s a great opening shot for Blackberry.

Facebook is a Tough Place for Brands to Call Home

There’s no denying that Facebook is becoming a major channel for brands on the planet. I spend quite a bit of time there and likely you do as well. Brands are investing significant amounts of thought, human capital and money in hopes of garnering customer engagement and eventually revenue. But Facebook doesn’t make it easy.

We create content around the Facebook page design and try to understand how their technology works. We sift through the countless companies who claim to know how things work on Facebook, and just when you think things are getting there, Facebook makes a major change to the design, or code, or interface and suddenly much of what you have made is now broken, or will no longer be useful to you. It’s frustrating, and should cause all brands to take a step back and re-evaluate the role external social networks should play in their company strategy.

Facebook is great at helping us understand their ad platforms and targeting, but don’t seem to be as focused on trying to understand where pain points are for brands who place their intellectual property on Faceboook. Or, in providing ample notice when major changes are about to occur. It would be wonderful to have a technology roadmap, or at the very least an outline of what might be coming. This would help brands plan their investments. It’s hard to argue that with Facebook’s size and large head start that they need to keep everything close to the vest.

Research done by Forrester, indicates that consumers trust the information they find at a company web site (30%) at higher rates than email, TV ads and direct mail. Company blogs (12%), online banner ads (9%) and mobile ads (6%) are at the bottom of the trust list. This means that your earned media, in particular your web site, is where most of your resources should be placed. Brands control the content, design and the technology of their own internet properties, making planning and tracking much easier than in the paid and earned media spaces.

Facebook offers significant access to consumers as well as a platform that is truly social, and this means you can’t leave them out of your social framework. How much you include them and in what way depends somewhat on your brand and how valuable consumers find your web site. The more your customers visit your site, the lighter your integration efforts in the social networks should be. If you have trouble getting people to your site, then Facebook might be a richer platform for you.

Other considerations are who owns the data and how much can you track or attribute back to the networks you work in. By all means I think Facebook is valuable for brands, but like anything, the value will evolve over time. The majority of your investment should be on your own web site.

eMetrics Marketing Summit 2011 – Data Storytelling

SF Museum of Modern Art

This was my first eMetrics Summit, and I must say I was quite impressed all around. I was asked to present and sit on a panel about social media metrics and so I arranged my schedule to specifically attend that Monday session. Fly in late Sunday and back out early Tuesday. I soon discovered that was a mistake as I would miss two more days of great content, speakers and networking opportunities. Lesson learned.

If you are a metrics enthusiast, and who isn’t, this is the place to be. They cover technology, strategy, practice and case studies. Everyone there is focused on one thing; doing metrics better. It’s a never ending topic of debate. How much data is too much? How do you divine insights from the data? What is important vs. noise? How can it be made more actionable? I picked up some nuggets of knowledge and met some very interesting professionals who are solving real world business problems with the data they uncover.

The opening keynote was given by Jim Sterne, Founder of the eMetrics Summit 10 years ago. He reminded us to not be so seduced by the puzzle of the data that we forget to tell the story we find inside that puzzle. He said, “Data=Calculation while Story=Empathy.” Most C level execs and everyday business partners want to hear a story. Granted they prefer non-fiction to fiction, but everyone loves a good story. Tell one. Mr. Sterne kept bringing his message back to how one would use it on the job. Extremely practical. Another presentation I caught in it’s entirety was given by Larry Freed, President and CEO of Foresee Results. He spoke nonstop for 30 minutes about consumers, channels and information. His key takeaways:

  • Consumers are multi-channel and your metrics need to be multi-channel
  • Success should be looked at through the eyes of the Consumer
  • Often metrics are misunderstood, misinterpreted and misleading
  • Satisfaction drives loyalty, retention and word of mouth, which drive financial success
  • You cannot manage what you do not measure

I sent emails out to my analytics partners back at the home office during the summit to encourage them to put the next summit on their calendars.

My session was entitled Social Media Metrics Management. Myself, John Lovett of Web Analytics Demystified and Scott Calise of MTV Networks each presented about 10 minutes on varying perspectives of how we approach social media metrics. The moderator Michele Honojosa got the audience engaged with questions. The questions were great and some very tough to answer, making us think hard. As I went back through the Tweets of the session afterwards I found that it was a grateful but tough crowd. Some comments and questions were still rolling in and I was responding to them via Twitter the next day. Whenever I do these things I am always amazed at how we all struggle with the same things, but each one of has solved a different problem better than the rest of us. Some problems never go away while new ones pop-up all the time. The panel compared notes closely, picked-up tips and learned more best practices. My brief talk focused on building stakeholder alignment around social media in the organization.

Despite all those approving words, I still came away empty handed on my quest to find the perfect web analytics tool. That would be a tool that could capture granular data for the geeks, but also had a web site form factor display with the data masquerading as the user. It would be a tool for the analysts, web designers, information architects and business partners looking to solve a problem. It would be fast, near time, have a user-friendly interface and didn’t require world of site tags to enable it. If you come across that, let me know.

My Oscar Picks for 2011

This Sunday, February 27, 2011 will be the 83rd annual Oscar awards presentation. An art form with a storied past, and I believe a bright future. Although India churns out many more pictures than the U.S. each year, the art of the film and the studio are uniquely American. I’m still getting used to having 10 films in the Best Picture category, and was somewhat upset when they went to that format. But I’ve grown to understand that this change was a good one.

Despite my yearning for the past decades of real film, I mean no CGI, there does seem to be more pictures worthy of the Best Picture nomination. The expansion has allowed smaller, independent films to have their time in the sun, as well as animated efforts, which are becoming quite good. I thoroughly enjoyed Toy Story 3, the past year’s box office leader with over $415 million in ticket sales, as well as How to Train Your Dragon. Overall 2010 was flat for ticket sales compared to 2009, which might sound good given the economic climate. But Hollywood pumped a lot more into production thanks to 3D, which requires a hefty premium on ticket price. The verdict is still out on 3D on two fronts, is it a viable new economic model and does it add to the artistic value. All that aside, we can sit back and enjoy the broadcast. Here are my picks in the most followed categories.

Best Picture: It’s a dead heat between The King’s Speech and True Grit. The Social Network, despite all the buzz, is out because it’s too trendy and beyond the world most of us live in. Black Swan is dark and undefined, and the others are not substantial enough. My heart wants True Grit to win (see why here), but I believe The King’s Speech will triumph. Read my review of it here.

Best Actor: There are three levels of acting maturity in this category in 2010. Experienced in Jeff Bridges and Colin Firth. Up and coming with Jesse Eisenberg and James Franco and established in Javier Bardem. Bridges won last year and the Academy doesn’t repeat lightly. The winner will be Colin Firth for his stunning portrayal of King George VI.

Best Actress: These women are all amazing and star in smaller, more niche films. A dark horse in the race is Jennifer Lawrence from Winter’s Bone, but I have to go with Natalie Portman. The early part of her career found her in strong roles, then she drifted into softer, more animated parts. Now she’s back in a serious role. One in which she had to alter her body type to make it work. The Oscar crew loves that.

Adapted Screenplay: All of the nominated writers are deserving of recognition. Since The Social Network will not take many statues home on Sunday, I believe the Academy will award the Oscar to Aaron Sorkin for crafting this story in a manner that allows it to play as a documentary or a drama. Very difficult to pull off.

Original Screenplay: The winner here will be David Seidler for The King’s Speech. The Academy likes to recognize behind the scenes stories that places the powerful and the ordinary on equal footing. Plus, it’s a fantastic piece of writing and pairs nicely with it’s Best Picture win.

Direction: This one is tough because of the wide variety of pictures this year. Each one required a unique approach and style to bring them to life. But in this instance form follows function and so the Oscar will go to Tom Hooper for his brilliant work as director of The King’s Speech.

I’m looking forward to the broadcast. Visit the official Oscar site here. The Oscar iPhone app is a great idea, but guys, simplify the interface. Too much tapping. Not a bad first attempt though.

Three Years on Twitter, or How I Spent 10.2 Days of my Life in the Stream

Today, February 23, 2011 marks the third anniversary of my first Tweet. Honestly, I don’t remember what I Tweeted. It would be great to say it was something memorable like, “Watson (the IBM Watson), come here I need you.” But alas it probably wasn’t that profound. During those three years I have Tweeted 7,665 times. It takes me about 13 seconds to craft a Tweet, so here’s how it stacks up.

13 seconds x 7,665 Tweets = 99,645 seconds = 1,660 minutes = 27.7 hours = 1.2 days

Doesn’t seem too bad spread over 3 years. That’s the publishing part. Now for the incoming. I spend roughly 25 minutes per day reading (more like scanning) the river of Tweets. I do it on an array of devices; desktop computer, iPhone, iPad, and occasionally my TV screen, but that’s pretty much a pain in the butt, so I don’t do it often. My scan time is spread throughout the day at breakfast to mid-day, and late afternoon, with a break in the early evening so I can spend time with my son. Then comes my favorite time. Twitter After Dark. The night owls are out and many of them are under the influence. I make no judgements. It’s more fun and interesting, but not as professionally insightful. Out of 365 days a year, I’ll say that I check it 95% of the time, so that’s 347 days.

347 days x 3 years = 1,041 days x 25 minutes per day = 26,025 minutes = 433.75 hours = 18 days

Now to be fair, I’m scanning Twitter while doing something else, like surfing the web, participating in a webinar, attending a boring meeting, waiting in various lines and of course the all time favorite, driving (just kidding on that last one). So it’s not like I’m setting aside dedicated time for Twitter When I adjust for multi-tasking it comes out to.

18 days absorbing Tweets – 50% multi-task benefit = 9 days

Total days on Twitter over the past 3 years = 10.2

Ten point two days of my life over the past 1,095, is .9% of my time. Sleeping has taken up 365 days of my life over the same span of time, which works out to 33% of my life! Note to self. Next killer app wil enable me to Tweet while sleeping. Warren Zevon was definitely on to something.

What do I have to show for this? Well there’s my Twitter Grade, 98 out of 100. So I got that going for me, and that’s nice.

And of course my Twitter mosaic. Couldn’t have one of these unless I was on Twitter. Do you see yourself in this snippet?

But I digress.

Am I smarter for being on Twitter? I wouldn’t say smarter. But I am better informed and learn about things sooner than people who are not engaged with Twitter. How much is that worth? Impossible to calculate. But here are some things I’ve done on Twitter over the last 3 years. The point is not to call out what I’ve done, but to point out that without Twitter I would not have known about these opportunities, facts or stories. Twitter is a distribution medium. Here is a sample of activities.

  • Assisted at least 9 people in their commitment to walk to cure cancer
  • Donated 4 times to help families who have lost their homes due to disaster
  • Connected people who are looking for jobs with people who have jobs available
  • Celebrated the personal accomplishments of my friends
  • Recognized co-workers for their tireless efforts
  • Forwarded over 100 articles or stories to co-workers
  • Met interesting people who have helped me solve problems

What’s next for Twitter?

The search world is giving way to the app and networked world. Twitter is a lubricant. It helps remove some of the friction and complexity that exists with connecting people wherever they are. They focus on distribution and their 140 characters is snack-sized and a huge advantage, allowing them to worm their way through even the smallest of pipes. They seem to be angling to deliver more than just random thoughts. They could deliver alerts, photos, videos and more. One of their challenges will be to deliver the stream in other forms. Sort by relevance vs. time is potentially a huge opportunity. Trends are their first step towards this. Lastly, there might be a commerce play on the roadmap. As I referenced above, Twitter is sometimes a catalyst for transactions. Why not bake it into the service?

On November 19, 2008 I published a blog post entitled Why I’m on Twitter and How I use it. I provided my perspective and insight into Twitter and how I put it to use.  Here is that content, unedited. It’s surprising to me how well it holds up.

Here’s my perspective. Twitter…

  1. Serves as a window into what’s going on in someone’s mind. These can run the emotional gambit from joy, disappointment and challenge, to triumph or simply stating a pet peeve. You are there with them as they experience it.
  2. Allows you to visualize what someone is doing at that moment, and one step further, what’s most meaningful to them about that moment. For instance, when someone Tweets that they are in a familiar restaurant enjoying a fine red wine and chatting with their spouse. It’s a rich picture that comes alive, especially when you know the couple and the restaurant.
  3. Can become the catalyst for later conversations. What were you guys talking about over dinner? What did you have? The wine? Etc.
  4. Provides the cadence of someone’s daily life. If they Tweet with regularity it’s a GPS of their thoughts as they navigate their day. They are turning left… right… now on a long straight track. You can sometimes watch them go off road.
  5. Is a rich digital network. In my unscientific study I have observed that Tweeple are generally early technology adopters, tend to be influencers, have fascinating jobs at leading companies and brands and generally love what they do. Of course some are just bored, which is to be expected with a media service with over 3 million channels. Surf past the noise.
  6. Keeps you in the know. Twitterers are constantly scanning the Internet for interesting and insightful ideas; including breaking news. Their Tweets are littered with tiny urls that lead you to a treasure trove of information and value hidden in the cloud. Great for impressing your friends and neighbors.
  7. Accelerates your knowledge. Tweets flow freely from user to user within the ever-growing social graph. Re-Tweeting, forwarding someone else’s Tweet, acts as an afterburner, further propelling that knowledge. A convergence of channels.
  8. Gets right to the point. After all you have to with only 140 characters. Short, sharp observations. Haven’t seen much Haiku though.
  9. Is entertaining. Some people broadcast on comedy central.

This is how I use Twitter

  1. Share my knowledge and experience I’ve collected over the years. I love solving problems and helping people solve problems. If I can give them a nugget or spark that advances their lives I’m thrilled. No great thought exists in a vacuum. If it’s a good idea then several people have it as well. If it’s a revolutionary idea then hundreds probably have it. It’s the universe’s way of improving the odds that great things reach the real world. Doing the work is much harder than having the idea, so share freely. when you share you get it back in large degrees.
  2. Learn from others much smarter than me. Of course not all smart people are on Twitter, and Twitter does not have only smart people. But it’s full of ideas and insights.
  3. Expand my network. All successful people are well connected. Who you know is critical. The smarter your connections the more power you have.

No Regrets

Do I wish for that 10.2 days back? Since it’s not possible right now to recapture time, it’s a non-question. I will say that I have found a place for Twitter in my life. Could I live with out it. Well of course. Bottom line, it keeps me pointed forward and that’s just fine, because for me it’s usually about what’s next.

The King’s Speech – Film Review

British drama is the ultimate tautological. They are forever and permanently linked. And despite the discomfort this has caused millions of Brits over the centuries, it has yielded some extremely good works of cinema for us to enjoy and examine. So all is not for naught.

This year we are given a rare gift in The King’s Speech, directed with immense skill by Tom Hooper, who is clearly the poster child for all that’s right about Masterpiece Theatre. It’s a true story of George VI who became an accidental King when his brother suddenly stepped down to be with the woman he loved. One small problem. George has a horrible stutter and even worse case of stage fright. Bad combination. The King’s wife, played solidly by Helena Bonham Carter, finds a speech therapist who learned his craft in a non-traditional manner by working with shell-shocked soldiers in an Australian war. That success allowed him to parlay his experience into a living in London. The screenplay (download  here) was penned by David Seidler. Mr. Seidler fills his pages with the crisis and spectacle of the royal family, but cleverly reveals it little by little through one-on-one conversations between this true blue blood and an Australian sans credentials. This device is carried off masterfully and molds our emotional responses throughout the full running time.

The team of Merchant and Ivory, Howard’s End, Remains of the Day and others had a lock on this genre. Their works were powerful and classic, and hold up to repeated viewings even today. But over time other films came along; Atonement and more recently The Queen. These looked more contemporary and in the case of The Queen, a current event. They were perfect portents for this picture. A fresh, new era of British cinema.

A beautifully constructed script is a work half realized. It’s the actors who must breathe in life, and this picture has two thespians putting on a clinic on how it’s done. Colin Firth as King George VI delivers a tortured portrayal of a man destined for the throne, but deathly afraid to speak. Mr. Firth plays the stutter to perfection, which causes him to be lost to the fact that everyone around him knows he can do it and is pulling for him to succeed. Geoffrey Rush is Lionel Logue, the Aussie who takes up the task to cure the King’s annoyance. Only an outsider could succeed at this. Being removed from the requirement to fawn over royalty is a key ingredient to allowing him to stick to his proven methods. When the King pulls rank on how things will go, Lionel counters with, “My castle, my rules.”

Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush

At first the King is put off by Lionel’s approach, but is eventually drawn back to him. Yes, certainly for the feeling that he can help, but more so to experience a unique friendship with an ordinary man who is not bound by blood and duty. This interplay makes the film.

Mr. Firth is incredible, but I very much appreciated Mr. Rush’s performance. Lionel Logue is a frustrated actor and likes to clown around; a court jester. He is playful and gets excited easy. His two boys are quite the opposite. They are focused and serious and give their dad permission to act like a kid from time to time. A very different family dynamic going on here.

The soundtrack by Alexander Desplat has two or three themes that are arranged and weaved onto the visuals in an effective, but somewhat expected manner. It’s entirely appropriate and doesn’t overpower the performances. The music makers were able to obtain five of the original microphones used by King George V and VI to have present at the recordings. Much of the mixing utilized these microphones in a significant manner.

The cinematography, set design and costumes are all first rate, and if there was an academy award for best fog in a motion picture, this would win hands down.

Highly recommended and jolly good. The official web site can be found here, but like so many of these studio sites, it’s unremarkable.

Images © 2010 The Weinstein Company

Can Customer Experience Drive Business Decisions?

Companies are getting more serious about delivering a better customer experience. Thanks to research firms, passionate consultants and champions inside company walls, senior executives are more aware of CX and willing to support staff and programs to improve it. So how far will they go? Right now it’s about making business decisions and then trying to wrap a better customer experience around how that decision plays out. This is a good start, but probably won’t be enough long term. More on this later.

Why the hesitation? Pretty simple. Senior execs are comfortable with the notion that a good customer experience will mean a positive brand experience in most cases, and they will even extend that thought to believing that this will cause a customer to be more loyal. But the data to support that is slippery. Not necessarily because it’s not there, but because it’s more difficult to track and prove. All of us need help here.

I respect and closely follow Bruce Temkin. He is a real customer experience transformist (his word) having spent time at Forrester Research and is now out on his own. He seems to have devoted his entire life to defining and championing great customer experience. In 2008 he set forth a collection of fundamental truths (according to him) about how customer experience operates. Here are his 6 Laws of CXP:

  1. Every interaction creates a personal reaction
  2. People are instinctively self-centered
  3. Customer familiarity breeds alignment
  4. Unengaged employees don’t create engaged customers
  5. Employees do what is measured, incented, and celebrated
  6. You can’t fake it

I would encourage you to read his blog, Customer Experience Matters on a regular basis to get first hand observations, research reports and opinions from a true professional in the CX space. There is no doubt that he has a guaranteed spot in CX Heaven, if there is such a place.

Back to the corporate world. Yes we must.

Some big companies are beginning to appoint a customer experience leader, give her authority, a budget and the ear of a very senior exec so there is bite to the bark. This is great, but it cannot be the “flavor of the month” or a “one year program.” Employees see right through this. They will play along, but will not seriously internalize it into their daily routine. You either make it part of what you do and how you do it, or not, long term. It’s that basic.

A great customer experience can be difficult to define, but everyone recognizes it when they see it. This is the core of CX and why data is so hard to come by. It’s at the whim of human interpretation. But it’s important to recognize that it’s not magic and not always emotional. It’s what’s right and people know when it’s right. I’m frequently tempted to say Human Experience, not Customer Experience. You heard it here first. People design the systems, functionality, rules, policies, and basic standards that a company creates on a daily basis. Empower your people to create what’s right and you will be well on your way.

How will you know when you are making progress? When you CEO or President or CMO comes to you and says something like, “I want to make business decisions based on how we can deliver a great customer experience.” The best strategy could be faxed to your arch rival and it would be useless to them because they either wouldn’t know what it meant or couldn’t possibly execute it themselves. Right now, today, if you had a real customer experience strategy you could fax it to  your competitor. That is if you could fax it.

Graphic courtesy of

The Beginning of the End for the PC? Not Exactly.

Pundits aplenty have been predicting that smartphones will be the predominant device for accessing the web in the near future. That future may be accelerating. IDC, the International Data Corporation, has reported that smartphones have now out shipped personal computers.

Source: IDC

Smartphone shipments have tripled, while PCs shipments are growing at less than 50%. In the past you had to buy a new PC every 3 years or so to keep up with innovation and performance (I’m including Apple in there). But the innovation curve belongs to smartphones now. PCs are fast enough and feature rich enough for the majority of people. Consumers can do things on their smartphone that, in the past, had to be done on their PC. New features, functionality and performance are now dominated by the smartphone. Consumers can do more with their phone than their PC and it’s completely mobile.

So is the PC dead? Absolutely not. The reality is that PCs are becoming closer to a television; mature and ubiquitous, and used for very specific activities. They will be replaced at a much slower pace than in years past, and if you have young children, they will buy less than half the number of PCs you have owned, but purchase three or four times more smartphones than you ever did.

This is what has made Apple so strong over the past three and a half years. They saw this shift coming and created the technology to enable it. Their MacPro heavy aluminum tower computers are losing sales ground to the all in one iMac model because there is less need for that purebred desktop computer. The acceleration of tablet sales will put even more pressure on PC shipments.

Brands need to be designing their experiences and business models to adapt to this technology landscape shift, or risk being relocated to the basement with the old folks, while the young, cool, hip people are tapping on the handheld device at the coolest party in town.

Assessing the Value of Research and Thought Leadership

On Friday, January 21, 2011, I had a distinct honor. I sat on a panel before the entire global sales team of Forrester Research in Boston to discuss how firms measure the value of research, as well as what I like most and least about Forrester. It’s one of those things that you wish all your partners would do more of. Listen hard to what their customers are saying. The panel included myself, Jeff Reid, AVP at The Hartford Insurance Company, Neil Clemmons, President of Critical Mass, and Susan DiManno, Research Director at The Boston Globe.

Full Disclosure: I’ve been a client of Forrester since 1997, and sit on one of their Leadership Councils. This blog post represents my personal thoughts, and does not include comments from any other panelist.

The question came up about how I think about and measure the ROI of research firms like Forrester. It’s of course a great question. Certainly in business one must manage spend and revenue, and everything a company undertakes should be reviewed for it’s value back to the firm. But I would posit that not everything has to be about ROI, at least not in the strictest sense. Just because you can measure something doesn’t mean you should. You can’t measure everything unless you have endless analytical resources, and if you try, you’ll probably miss out on key insights because you are too busy measuring. The entire doctrine of driving insight adoption is built on knowing when you have enough information to move forward. Carpenters have a saying, “Measure twice, cut once.” It’s not measure over and over and over. Not if you want to actually finish that house.

I value research and thought leadership the way I value education, knowledge and experience; highly. Do you ask yourself, “Should I hire smart, talented people? Do I need to train and coach them?” There is no way a digital professional can be consistently successful without these tools in their toolkit. Once you have acquired them you need to take full advantage. That’s where research and thought leadership comes into play. They act as finishing stones to hone these tools. To keep them razor sharp. This edge can be the difference between making a good decision or a bad one. It can help you build your business case and be more effective socializing your ideas across the broad cross-functional landscape of your firm. They make you better informed. Here is how I bucket this resource.


I’ll frequently turn to Forrester to to validate my current thinking or approach. No matter how smart you are, it’s always helpful to ensure you’re not blindly drinking your own kool-aid. The greatest writers had even smarter editors.

Cross-Vertical Learning

Many of the best lessons are learned by observing someone that’s accomplished in another realm. Forrester gets to peek under the covers of hundreds of companies and publish a combined, fully informed research paper. It’s a place I can’t go (probably better off most times, bed bugs, etc.).


I am constantly assessing new technologies and tools to help automate processes and in general help me do my job smarter. Frequently Forrester will usually have a Wave report that can help me narrow the field of who would be good candidates to invite into that so well loved RFP process.

Company Education

Not everyone in your firm thinks about things they way you do. We invite Forrester analysts to add their voice to our own inside the company, helping to educate and spark ideas and activity.


There is no such thing as a fully reliable crystal ball. But if you want to lead, not necessarily bleed, you will need to make some calculated bets on what might happen. Firms like Forrester sometimes make bold, provocative predictions that bridge data with their brains. True, one is left to divine their own future from this, but the value is in breaking the tunnel thinking we can so easily fall into.

Certainly Forrester is not without their opportunities to improve. A potential white space is to partner with the execution agency resources that are employed by their clients. This could serve as connective tissue between desired outcomes and deliverables that achieve them. Over the past 15 years I have gained a lot personally from my interaction with Forrester, and that has clearly translated into value back to my company. The research is great, but in the end it comes down to people. I thank my account manager at Forrester, Michelle Beaudreau, for working tirelessly at making me more successful everyday.

If you are still a stickler for that ROI, then have at it. I’ll spend my time getting smarter thank  you.

Think + Action = Results

Today we honor Martin Luther King, Jr. He was a man who obviously thought long and hard about important things and how to change them so more people could have equal opportunity to pursue their dreams. Dr. King knew his actions were putting him in danger, but he calculated that risk and determined pursuit of this particular cause warranted such action. Thought alone is never enough. Action without thought will not reliably yield desirable results. Pairing thought and action is what moves mountains.

Many firms have set aside Dr. King’s birthday as an official company holiday. I’m proud to say my company falls in that category. As I awoke this morning I casually checked my Twitter stream; nothing unusual about that. But today it seemed to be positively on fire. Maybe it was just me, but it seemed the volume was higher than normal and the quality and deepness of the created and linked-to content was on an elevated level.

I began to wonder about that. Perhaps it was the day itself. MLK day sneaks up on you. Just two weeks after the long holiday break, we get a surprise day off. We have fewer professional responsibilities. And it’s a Monday at that! Much better than a Friday. There is no family gathering expectation, so no spending time prepping, cooking, entertaining or refereeing family conversations. Instead we can relax and reflect. It’s truly a bonus day. Thank you Dr. King for giving us this gift. Perhaps it was the significance of this day that triggered more in depth speculation over what I would have normally seen everyday.

Which brings me back to my theme today. Think; absolutely. Take Action; required. Things will then begin to move.

I purposely left out speech. It could just as easily have been think, speak, then act. The voice is definitely powerful, but one can speak without much thought. Yes, Dr. King moved us to tears many times with his oratory gifts. But as he once said,

A superior man is modest in his speech, but exceeds in his actions.

Here’s one of my favorite Tweets of the day and it has nothing to do with business or social media or frameworks, roadmaps, predictions about the next iPad or anything else that is of marginal value when measured against the backdrop of Dr. King’s accomplishments. Instead, someone thought, took action, then Tweeted. Something is going to happen.

Working in the New Digital Design Landscape

You can pretty much break the web down into three phases. The first was Read, the second saw the emergence of Distribution & Commerce, with the third being Communication. Phase is not really the right word, dissolves may be better choice. The Internet has taken everything it was from the prior phase and brought it along into the next one, layering on new and exciting technologies and features. People who worked in interactive in the 1990’s through roughly 2003 essentially built one thing, web sites. Those sites evolved and became rich experiences, but despite the speed of those changes, we kept up pretty well because the content was well contained, neatly boxed-in by the browser, mounted on a stationary computer. Laptops certainly travel, but that’s about taking a smaller version of your stationary computer with you, as the browser, keyboard, and hard drive are identical to their desktop counterparts.

Certainly browser resolution, cookies, javascript, flash, etc. needed to be taken into consideration, but that was child’s play compared to what we have to think about today when designing digital experiences. Today content and experiences can be accessed on multiple devices (no standards) and in any situation, especially driving. And it’s not just point and click. It’s much more complicated. For example.








There’s endless discussion about how to prioritize projects and with them the designs and development of content. Designers today need to think harder about their customer and personas and consult the data more than ever before to avoid letting the shiny object get all the attention. Could be the wrong shiny object. I’ve put together this chart, which really helps me when planning work and making decisions about interfaces, devices and communications channels.

One of the most heated debates is whether tablets, like iPads, are desktops or mobile devices. I have drawn them in as overlaps, as I believe they need to be considered as both, at least for now. When I approach a project, I take out this chart and sketch out the entirety of the experience.