Pandora on iPhone 2.0 Applications

Like millions of others, I was browsing the iPhone 2.0 applications on iTunes last Friday. I got my iPhone on June 30th, 2007, the first day it was available. I have been giddy over it ever since, but am comfortably encased in my talk and data plan, and don’t see enough of a benefit to switch to the 3G, at least not at this time. I spend more time on SMS, talking to people (yes you can do that on a phone), managing my calendar and contacts and using the applications than surfing the web. The extra speed would be nice, but not the additional expense.

While on the iTunes applications site I came across the Pandora application. I’m a big fan of Pandora as you can read in a previous post here. I have spent some time setting up stations so I can listen to them through my G5 Mac as well as on my Sonos music system. The Pandora iTunes application is seamlessly integrated with your web settings, and allows you to log in and gain access to all the stations you have set up through your computer. So now I can access the Music Genome Project where ever I go. Love it. The Pandora application is free. Get it, use it. It rules.

Forrester Finance Forum 2008 – First of Three

Great Customer Experience: Easy to Say, Hard to Do.

Just returned from the Forrester Research Finance Forum held in New York June 23rd and 24th. Forrester is a research company that does an excellent job at spotting trends, doing deep dive research, and providing companies with helpful insights. I have been a client of Forrester since 1999 and this is my 15th Forrester event. Time does indeed fly.

Photo Credit: Steve A Furman

The theme was How to Deliver Great Customer Experiences. A pretty broad topic, but the Forresterites did a yeoman’s job of spinning an anthem into a coherent, actionable program. Their format combines Forrester speakers, keynote talks given by high level execs from big companies, and smaller breakout tracks geared to a specific skill or practice.

I’m totally sold on the notion of providing a great customer experience as a building block of growth, and quite frankly am astounded that there are senior execs at major brands who still don’t get it. But such is corporate life. There are many factors at play for why people end up with the big jobs, but that’s fodder for a completely different blog.

Day one began with Research Director Benjamin Ensor giving a talk called Building Differentiated Customer Experiences. He invoked the Forrester Experience Based Differentiation tenant by saying that differentiation is more important than ever because:

  • The Internet fuels transparency (one click comparison shopping)
  • Consumers can’t see how financial firms are different (jargon, products are now commodities)
  • Trying to be the price leader is dead (introductory rates turn into unaffordable rates)
  • Product differentiation is difficult to sustain (easily copied)
One of the few things left to do is differentiate through superior customer experience. Agreed. But what happens when/if everyone, or your biggest competitors, all deliver great customer experiences? Perhaps that could be a topic for a future forum. I guess we have a ways to go before we need that therapy session. In the meantime Forrester urges companies to:
  • Systematically build loyalty through design and delivery of differentiated customer experiences
  • Obsess about customer needs (not just product features)
  • Reinforce brands with every interaction (not just marketing communications)
  • Treat customer experience as a competence (not a function)
At the core was a strong call to develop a culture, process, skills and structure to deliver on these ideal experiences. Benjamin held up Jyske Bank in Denmark as an financial institution that’s getting it right. The execs at Jyske Bank created lifestyle branches. They installed foosball tables and coffee bars that got their customers to stop worrying and start thinking about their financial lives. A simple, but powerful concept. They packaged their normally stale products as dynamic lifestyle products. Consumers were drawn to them, opened them, could see what appealed and then interact through scanners and videos. The results are impressive, doubling their acquisition rates since putting these new experiences into play.

Photo Credit: Forrester Research (Jyske Bank)

Other examples were also used. Fidelity’s human, innovative, empowering approach (mash-ups and podcasts) and Credit Suisse’s immersion program (requiring financial advisors to fill out their own product applications). But the Jyske Bank case study was the most creative and apparently the most effective in delivering business results.

As I was listening to Benjamin speak I had an aha moment. A brief glimpse into a way to actually orchestrate a great customer experience. Involvement of course. But there is a requirement to have shared involvement. It does no good to involve customers in your products unless you are committed to getting involved in the consumer experience. If you can do both, then you’re on to how to create a great customer experience.

Mr. Ensor said something I believe provides insight into a question that’s been nagging me for years. “Why do all the cool technologies show up in places other than financial services?” The answer is because Silicon Valley is attracted to more exciting areas vs. the low interest categories. Probably only partly true, but as someone who works in the FI space, I can tell you that the technology is rock solid and scalable, but not sexy.

Time for a quote from Confucius.

If you tell me, I will forget; If you show me, I will remember; if you involve me, I will understand.

He closed with this set of recommendations.

  • Don’t leave your customer experiences to chance
  • Nurture a customer-centric culture that focuses employees on needs of the customer
  • Reorganize to break down product and channel silos
  • Build processes and technologies that help deliver consistency
  • Align metrics and incentives with your overall strategy

More to come on the Forrester Finance Forum.

In a Taxi? You Just Might Be On Camera

San Francisco is on of my favorite cities. What’s not to like? It’s scenic, progressive, and has so many landmarks; Golden Gate Bridge, Coit Tower, the Embarcadero, Alcatraz. While traveling to the airport from the downtown district by taxi the other day, I noticed something I haven’t seen before. The cab had a small camera positioned above the driver’s inside rear view mirror pointed at the back seat (circled in red below). A passenger notice was posted on the driver’s side rear window that read, “You are on camera.” The service was labeled FairView™. Also on the sign was a reference to Silent Witness®, a maker of video surveillance equipment (acquired by Honeywell in 2003).

My search on the City of San Francisco official web site did not yield any information about FairView™. I’m assuming the system was installed to monitor activities taking place in cabs in an attempt to reduce crime. The driver did mention anything about it, so if I hadn’t seen the sign and camera I wouldn’t have known.

While I personally don’t have an issue with this practice, some will feel this is yet another invasion of personal privacy. Leads to some questions. Are the images being stored? How long are they kept? How secure is the feed and storage? Who has access to the content? Is audio being recorded as well? Who pays for it?

If the system is effective in reducing crime or improving the safety record of cabs, we will probably be seeing a lot more of this?

Photos by Steve A. Furman


Video Self-Portrait From SFMOMA

I had an extra hour this week between sessions while attending a board of advisors meeting in San Francisco, so I walked two blocks to the Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA). I really love this structure and was here while it was under construction, then came back a couple of times after it opened. The finished product is an appropriate space for a modern art collection. It’s constructed in perfectly even layers of black, gray, white, brown and blue. The modern interpretation of geologic strata found naturally in rocks of the west. Mostly straight lines and crisp angles, with curves sprinkled in to soften the experience and direct your eyes back into the main space of the building. None of the art can be seen without taking sharp turns. It’s the opposite of the Guggenheim in NY, where the art can be viewed from almost anywhere, as if one was surveying the landscape. An oval eye is proped up on top of the structure, evoking a communications dish poised to collect radio waves from the cosmos.

There was a fascinating media art installation on the third floor entitled, Opposing Mirrors and Video Monitors on Time Delay. The artist is Dan Graham, and it was composed of two black and white television monitors, two video cameras and two large mirrors positioned on opposite sides of a wide gallery. As you approach, the camera records you, but holds it for a few seconds before feeding the video to a small TV screen. The result is a bit jarring. You move inquisitively toward the television screen expecting to see yourself but you don’t. Suddenly you appear as you were a few seconds earlier, giving you an opportunity to study yourself in motion. It takes a while to notice what’s going on, but once you get it, the brain lights up.

It’s like that old trick where you are looking into what you believe to be a mirror, but in fact it’s an opening, and someone else is facing you (your identical twin), pretending to be your reflection. That person mimics your body movements and facial expressions exactly, hoping to keep up the illusion. You then try to outsmart the reflection by making sudden, unexpected movements. In the trick it works, but in this installation, it’s always you. I snapped this photo of me inside the monitor with my iPhone.

Eventually you start performing, to see what you look like. You move in for a close up and make faces. Travel from one side of the gallery to the other and do it all over again. The mirrors keep the image moving and changes the point of view, so you can see both your front and back. Kind of a reality show on yourself, but without the personal humiliation or prize money. Everyone that passed by was instantly engaged. This is the power of modern art; the viewer participates and the common perspectives are challenged.

Unfortunately I didn’t have time to see much of anything else, but captured a few more images on the way back to the summit.


Photos by Steve A. Furman


Understanding Customer Engagement

I attended the Forrester Marketing Forum in Los Angeles (April 7-9), where over 850 marketers from many of the world’s best known brands gathered to discuss customer engagement. I know customer engagement is not a new concept. We throw it around the office all the time. But what does it mean? How do you measure it? Better yet, how do you create more of it among your customers? Asking these kinds of questions, then providing guidance on how marketers can answer them for their own business is what Forrester Research does very well.

Brian Haven, Senior Analyst at Forrester, presented a framework entited, Engagement: A New Approach to Understanding Your Customers. He recounted the true story of Jen, who is super passionate about Ikea. She lives in Cincinnati and would travel hundreds of miles to shop at Ikea because there wasn’t one in her city. Jen started a blog four years ago in hopes of getting the Ikea execs to build a store in Cincinnati. Ikea corporate was well aware of Jen and her blog. They eventually decided to build Cincinnati, and when Jen applied for a job, they didn’t even give her a call back. Wait, it gets better (or worse). They also asked her to relinquish her domain ( because when execs searched Google Jen’s site got top billing (another consumer blow to the evil empire). Ikea also made her post a disclaimer on her blog. Why would they do these things? Jen doesn’t write bad things about Ikea or any of their products on her blog. In fact it is quite the opposite, see for yourself.

This is a common reaction among execs of big brands when consumers take control. They just don’t know what to do with these super consumers. There is so much inertia built up around wanting to maintain control, “Our brand must be controlled by us, protect the brand.” What a missed opportunity! Ikea had a fanatically engaged customer spending her own time and money to advocate for the brand, and they wouldn’t even let her work in the store.

Marketers want more customer engagement, but are we ready for it? The web has flattened the world. Are we ready to deal with excessive customers like Jen? They aren’t about to go away, and if we’re not careful, it will be the super customers’ sites that rise to the top of the Google search result page. And since consumers trust consumers more than companies, guess who will get the clicks. So if you’re ready, here’s what Brian has outlined.

A simple 4 i’s framework for thinking about customer engagement. First ut all this on paper.

  • Involvement – The presence of a person at a touchpoint.
  • Interaction- The action a person takes at the touchpoint.
  • Intimacy – The affection a person holds for the brand.
  • Influence – The likelihood of a person to advocate on behalf of the brand.

Everyone wants the magic bullet metric, but there isn’t one. Customer engagement is human engagement, not physics. Brian then laid out three exercises steps to help get started on building an engagement strategy. Next, define all these.

  1. Define engagement – Establish your own benchmarks for engagement. In other words define what is excessive use (Jen) or non use and what is average. Remember to include context (what channel). Establish engagement personas and an engagement hierarchy.
  2. Measure engagement – Pull together your existing measurement sources and data. Get data from all channels. Supplement from outside sources to fill in the gaps. Be sure you can track the excessive use or non use benchmarks.
  3. Encourage engagement – Once you have tied all these points together, it’s time to take action. Provide more content in the appropriate context (touchpoint). Offer more tools to help the customer. Ask for more information from your customers, but be sure to give something in return.

Being the good analyst, he placed the 4 i’s in a quadrant. I couldn’t couldn’t keep up with the slides, so this sketch is a little well, a little sketchy. But I think you get the basic idea. Next, place your specific business metrics inside the appropriate quadrant (from the 1, 2, 3 exercise above) and you get a the beginnings of a roadmap.

Keep these following tips top of mind as you go through the exercise.

  • Think life-cycle, not just point in time. Getting customers to more deeply engage with your brand requires we establish a fundamentally different relationship with customers than we are used to.
  • Think like a media company. The raditional media channels are weakening. Control is in the hands of the consumer. Create content and tools, publish cross channels, unlock your content and information.
  • Put your product devleopment hat back on. Products for the people. Solve a customer problem. Keep it simple. Iterate.

Here are some of my personal experience tips. I’m pretty old and have been around the block a few times.

  • Always validate your numbers with the finance department.
  • Involve your public relations and legal teams. They will be afraid, very afraid, so you have got to reassure them.
  • Be sure you have senior management buy in once you create the framework.
  • Start small, measure, learn and then inch forward.
  • Include all channels in order to have the greatest impact.
  • Once you have begun and people see that the sun still rises they will feel more comfortable.

This was the first presentation of the forum, and Brian did a great job of setting the stage for what was to follow.

Participation, Power and Social Influence Marketing

So much talk about social media. It can’t be ignored by firms who want to find more effective ways to market. Everywhere pundits are saying that advertising, as we know it, is dead. That social is the next thing. If we create an environment or community where customers can help each other and in the end your product, you will save money and get great ideas. Win, win. But how?

Senior executives of companies are understandably shy about going all in on this social thing. They see it as a potential loss of control. As a strategy that could easily backfire. Customers may say bad things about their products or company that just aren’t true. In some cases the customers may have an irrational grievance, or just didn’t understand something. Happens all the time. It’s happening right now in social networks everywhere. That’s the point. It happens and we don’t pay attention.

It’s dead simple. Firms that don’t participate will fall behind the ones that do.

I came across Ross Mayfield’s Weblog the other day. It’s really good. He posits a concept called the Power Law of Participation, and illustrates it nicely in this graphic.

Graphic Credit
: Ross Mayfield

The tail defines the low threshold activities and represents the network’s Collective Intelligence. The community identifies their likes and interests. Some of this is tracked by web analytics tools inside companies, or on broader site-spanning networks, while others manifest themselves in the communities at large in the form of links, videos, posts and subscriptions. Once an individual or ideally individuals (and lots of them) reaches collaboration, moderation, and leadership, they are in the high engagement category of Collaborative Intelligence. They process what the low engagement citizens are doing, sharing, and subscribing to, then take it up several levels. Potentially all the way to the point of producing content, even product ideas. This principle maps nicely to Forrester Research’s Ladder of Participation concept of Internet users.

We know that Google allows their engineers to spend 20% of their company time on pet projects to help foster innovation. Now that is a scary thing for mainstream company executives. And it has been said that Google is the best beta company ever, but they need to finish some things in order to grow up. There is certainly proof they have done both. Eric Schmidt, Google’s CEO has said.

Virtually everything new seems to come from the 20 percent of their time engineers here are expected to spend on side projects. They certainly don’t come out of the management team.

This gives us a different way to think about social networks. As an equivalent to the 20% Google grants it’s employees, except much better. Firms should start off by working the tail of Mr. Mayfield’s Law of Participation, by leveraging content they already have, or can aggregate without much effort. This will pull consumers to their site. Further up the curve it will be necessary to create influencer marketing programs that will push vs. pull. No one can say for sure where it will go, so trying to have a 5 year strategy doesn’t make any sense. Most companies don’t have the skills in house right now anyway.

By developing strategies and campaigns for each phase of this curve, companies can begin to shape and measure the practice of Social Influence Marketing.

It’s a convergence of publishing, product development and service in a social network of prospects and customers. More to come.