The Consumer Matters is the blog of Leslie Grandy, aka Gearhead Gal.  My passion is creating and delivering compelling products that delight customers through simple and elegant user experience design.

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Wednesday
Nov032010

A Few Of My Favorite Tweets

RT@punchcut 5 considerations for  UI: "Not a Phone, Not a PC: Why Tablets Must Be Different"   

RT@: If You Are a Startup Founder, You Need To See This 

RT@ Denying the existence of Android fragmentation is the technological equivalent of being a Global Warming unbeliever.

RT@ webinar w/Berkeley's Hank Chesbrough, the world's leading expert on "open innovation." (Nov 11)

Thursday
Oct282010

US Army Soldiers Blog And Tell - And The Brass Encourages It!

This post first appeared on Technorati.com

As part of a campaign in the mid 1940’s to educate soldiers and their families on the perils of too much information sharing during wartime, the military issued communication guidelines for writing letters home, while public service ads proclaimed, “Loose Lips Sink Ships.”

With the reputation for non-disclosure that the US military has, it’s somewhat unexpected that the US Army represented one of the biggest brands exhibiting at BlogWorld & New Media Expo this month. But the US Army appears to have leap-frogged many familiar brands in corporate America by embracing user-generated content as a way to connect with and convert potential customers.
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How did it come to be that the US Army designed a blog, Armystrongstories.com, to actually encourage soldiers to tell their stories? According to Lieutenant Colonel Andre Dean, Chief of Strategic Communications for the US Army Accessions Command, which is responsible for recruitment, it was possible because of the vision of one very savvy Lieutenant General who knows a little something about taking risks.

General Freakley serves as the Commanding General for the U.S. Army Accessions Command and Senior Commander of Fort Knox. The General has served the Army for almost 35 years at every level of command from platoon leader through division commander. He has led Soldiers in combat three times, serving in Operation Desert Storm, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan). So, what kind of risk could conversational media present to a guy like this?

General Freakley did have to get an exception to Department of Defense policy to enable his team to launch the blog nearly three years ago. Lieutenant Colonel Dean pointed out the same need exists today as there was during World War 2 to keep the US military efforts confidential so soldiers in the field are safe. "Our troops don't want to jeopardize operations or put anyone in harm's way. Very few people have time or access to blog from the battlefield."

On leave, or when they are back at base-camp, soldiers may go online and share stories about their experiences. And Army Strong Stories is not limited to just Active Duty soldiers, and welcomes contributions from Reservists, National Guard members and cadets. Indeed, many of the top bloggers are not actively facing or writing about combat. Popular occupations for Army bloggers are public affairs, human resources and the Army band. The most prolific blogger is a Major in the Army Medical Department.

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One frequent blogger is Major Benjamin Grimes of the Judge Advocate General, who is based in Tacoma, Washington. Major Grimes says he writes because “I really like what I do.” Struck by the transparency the blog provides, Major Grimes jumped at the opportunity to share both the good and bad about daily Army life. He is able to write about his disappointment in leadership and the responsibility that he feels to teach subordinate soldiers how to make tough choices. “Not every day is full of unicorns and rainbows,” he said. “By writing with Army Strong Stories, I help to give life and depth to many people’s image of a faceless, soulless Army.”

With over 1400 posts from more than 400 bloggers, and an additional 1300 comments to publish, you might imagine that the Army would have their hands full editing and fact-checking content, not to mention training soldiers fresh out of high school how to communicate effectively on behalf of the brand. But Lieutenant Colonel Dean says editorial work is limited to removing occasional content that doesn't comply with the site guidelines. "The biggest surprise has been that we have had to do very little of that. When we discover a story that is false we'll remove it, but for the most part the community polices itself."

Despite evidence that the site drives traffic to GoArmy.com and brings fans to Facebook, it has yet to ignite a social media fire across other branches of the military. Lieutenant Colonel Dean says the Accessions Command team recognizes the blog isn't only about the conversion metrics for recruits and is committed for the long term. "When the war began seven years ago, there was a lot of positive press about what our troops were doing." But with media coverage focusing on the economic battles US citizens face back at home, soldiers' stories are simply not being told as often. Soldier bloggers fill that void, and help maintain top-of-mind awareness for the Army brand.

Sunday
Oct172010

Why Aren't Big Blogs Well Represented At BlogWorld?

Do you think of TechCrunch as a blog? What about Engadget? As a technology product marketer responsible for press relations, you’re probably being counseled to include online publishers like these in your media strategy for product launches.  Yet, surprisingly, very few of the blogs you likely follow were represented at this year’s Blogworld and New Media Expo in Las Vegas, which bills itself as the World's Largest New Media Expo. I've been pondering why that might be, especially given my own publishing partner, Technorati, who publishes the State of the Blogosphere annually and claims to be the "Blog Authority," was not a sponsor or an exhibitor either. 

Sure, when you are as widely known as ReadWriteWeb or Gizmodo, you don’t need to get a booth and show your wares to attract advertisers or writers, but what's the reason that the publishers of those sites are not giving back to the blogging community, helping aspiring writers and participating in the conversation around blogging as business. 

I mean, once you’ve sold your blog to a major portal or media company, I guess you can say you are no longer a blogger, and perhaps that prompts folks to want to forget their humble roots.  Or maybe the pressure to perform at that point is so great you can’t make the time to mentor the next guy or gal, and pass along any lessons you’ve learned.

And then there’s your new boss who thinks because they’ve purchased your blog, they no longer need to represent themselves in panels or sponsorships, showing they are supportive of or empathetic to the blogging community.  AOL, Yahoo, and Microsoft all have their picks of the most popular kids in the blogosphere when they pull their checkbooks out, but none of them were a presence at BlogWorld.

In my conversation with BlogWorld co-founder Rick Calvert, I learned that the show helps brand marketers understand how to use blogs in their media strategy. So why don't the successful bloggers and blog networks socialize theirs brands better to the marketers trying to understand the blogging community and help others learn more about what readers want? 

Who wouldn't benefit from more people engaging in this conversation around new media content creation?

Sunday
Oct172010

Lessons From BlogWorld: What Goes On In Vegas Shouldn't Stay There

So you couldn't make it to BlogWorld and New Media Expo this weekend? Don't worry, though, because I had a Technorati press pass and headed to Vegas to get a little taste of the South Pacific...Ballroom, that is. The Mandalay Bay Hotel Convention Center served as host for the event, and while hotel guests toured the Shark Aquarium a couple of hundred yards from the conference, bloggers and digital marketers dove into the deep end of the social media pool. Corporate exhibitors like the U.S. Army, Ford, Southwest Airlines and Kodak shared space with Co-Tweet, Radian, Rackspace and Tungle,to participate in the business of conversational media.

Interview with BlogWorld Co-Founder Rick Calvert

If you search for job openings with the keywords “community manager,” LinkedIn will return over one thousand results. According to Rick Calvert, co-founder of Blogworld and New Media Expo, the popularity of job listings on sites like Linkedin or Monster is an indicator of how bright the future is for social media in corporate America.

“Companies know they need Community Managers,” Calvert says, “because they know they need to engage with their customers in a range of ways through social media, even though they are still learning how to manage those conversations.”

Education remains a primary goal for Calvert and his Blogworld team. “These attendees reach a global audience of over 250 million people.” he pointed out. “Their influence is undeniable.” In an interview conducted halfway through this year’s Blogworld event, held in Las Vegas at the Mandalay Bay Hotel Conference Center, Calvert indicated that attendance has doubled in the last three years of the conference, but at 3000 attendees, what’s billed as the World’s Largest New Media Conference, is still pretty small given the nearly 200 million blogs that have been created worldwide.

Calvert acknowledged that it is hard for corporate marketers to know what technology platforms will stick with consumers; Calvert admitted even he “missed the point of Twitter at first. I wasn’t sure if it had real value or would turn into FriendFeed.”

Education is why he says he is committed to growing the conference over time.  Read more...

And more about my experience at BlogWorld on
Technorati.com 

 

Tuesday
Oct122010

Marketing To Communities Of Interest

Fellow ex-Visio marketer, and Chief Innovation Officer at r2i, Holly Brown presented at the Social Media Breakfast on the challenges for marketers in a peer to peer world. Authentically engaging in relevant, real time conversations is job #1.

 

 

Tuesday
Oct122010

Quirky & Make - DIY Meets The Science Guy

When I was a kid, I loved to pass the crummy Philadelphia winters making things. From Rube Goldberg-style contraptions to pinhole cameras, our attic was filled with my "inventions."  Professionally, while I eventually channeled this urge to create into filmmaking and then product design, a few of those ideas still rattle around in my head as I lie awake at night. 

But now, thanks to Quirky and MakeProjects, I have two new sites to scratch that creative itch.  MakeProjects is a "collaborative resource for people who like to make things," and there are some clever, wacky, and creative projects already highlighted on the site to spur the inventor in you. The site also has a companion magazine, and this month's issue focuses on - wait for it - GADGETS! One of my favorite highlights is "the Most Useless Machine," a tautological invention if there ever was one.

 

Quirky is a social product development site which combines crowdsourcing and commerce together and enables would-be inventors access to a community of designers and consumers who help bring the idea to fruition. Quirky provides ideas a home to be nurtured, refined and built, and then offers those winning ideas to the public on their website.  Quirky's staff builds prototypes and based on forecasted popularity (that is pre-sales), Quirky will take the product to production.  If there is a community who'd love your product, but you don't have the resources to get it into the market, then Quirky is your answer.

Thanks to online creative communities like Quirky and MakeProjects, you needn't be a borrower or find a lender to realize being an inventor any more.

 

 

 

Saturday
Oct022010

Be The Publisher Of Your Own Online 'Newspaper'

I already write this blog, so I never entertained the idea that I might need to take on the added responsibility of publishing my own newspaper with a branded masthead. But paper.li reduces journalism to the act of editorial curation, a thought that no doubt would give my mother, a retired journalism professor, heartburn. You can see what I mean by clicking here to read  The Gearheadgal Daily. The site merchandises that "paper.li organizes links shared on Twitter into an easy to read newspaper-style format. Newspapers can be created for any Twitter user, list or #tag." 

A new category of mobile and web applications is being built off the premise that consumers need a better user experience to harness and manage the flood of real time information rushing at them from Twitter or Facebook (Look at Flipboard, and Frequency.com, for example.)

paper.li believes that with a newspaper-style columnar layout and several more characters than 140 it will be more enjoyable to scan for relevant content. Not surprisingly, you can subscribe to other "daily newspapers". But after the creating the second one from a Twitter list, I felt as overwhelmed by the influx of information as I had before. 

I do appreciate how paper.li creates media sections for photos and videos. They are easier to scan parsed from the Tweets, and lay out nicely on the page. The editable newspaper headline is also great, if you want to mail the link as a marketing tool, for your brand which may be different than the Twitter ID.

The product is in alpha. 

Saturday
Oct022010

Favorite Tweets of The Day - Weekend Edition

RT @robertgorell: "Socializing on the Internet is to socializing as reality TV is to reality." ~Aaron Sorkin

RT @karaswisher: If George Lucas Directed “The Social Network” http://mee.bo/9lYj1L

Wednesday
Sep152010

The Four Steps To The Epiphany

One of my favorite new books is The Four Steps To The Epiphany, written by serial entrepreneur Steven Blank. In the book he outlines a model for "Customer Development" which he maintains is the key to success for other budding business creators. 

"In startups, the emphasis is on 'get it done, and get it done fast," Blank writes. Opting to lean into the advice of experts - VCs, seasoned executives - entrepreneurs rely heavily on past experience instead of learning and discovery from "earlyvangelists". In some cases, Blank references, the visionary behind the startup may feel that their innovation requires them to forge a new path or disabuse the market of a prevailing myth, creating a sense that any customer insight would be irrelevant. 

Blank recommends that companies understand that until there are active and engaged customers, who both value the startup's solution and will accept the risk of interacting with a nascent or untested business, there is a risk of premature scaling or unrealistic expectations. "'Build it and the customers will come,' is not a succesful strategy."

You can find The Four Steps to the Epiphany on Amazon. Or you can download a .pdf of several chapters to get a sample of it before you buy, by clicking here.

 

Tuesday
Sep072010

Good Things Come In Small Packages

Thanks to my friend, Mark Hall for pointing this out to us. The simplicity of the interaction model belies some very creative thinking. Hang around for the whole video to see the amazingly cool applications these little cookie-sized tiles enable.  An advancement beyond touch screens, these interactive squares are actually calculating and reacting to the motion around them. 

Sunday
Sep052010

A House Made Entirely of Legos

If you choose to live in a house made of Legos it may not be soft and cushy, but what you sacrifice in comfort you make up for with VERY flexible design. It gives new meaning to the word "remodel."

Sunday
Sep052010

The Creative Process Is Just A Matter of Time

Check out this preview of an interesting video I discovered on the Ideas & Art Frequency. So, tell me, what do you do to come up with a good idea?

Saturday
Aug282010

Navigating Your Airport Experience

With fewer direct flights, weather delays, and long security lines, there are more chances than ever that you’ll find yourself with time to kill in an unfamiliar airport. The boredom of waiting will inevitably lead you to twiddle your thumbs on your smartphone. If you're not texting—or triaging your inboxyou could be using the new FLYsmart app for Android and iPhone to look for the closest newsstand, restroom, souvenir shop or ATM.

FLYsmart is the result of a partnership between outdoor advertising giant ClearChannel Outdoor, and Geodelic (a client of Waldo Finn, a company which employees this author), a mobile, location-specific media platform powered by a network of informative and relevant guides to local attractions, businesses and services.

FLYsmart customers will also be able to linger in a bar or bookstore longer - and with less stress - because they can check arrival and departure times right from their smartphones, instead of running out to the concourse to check the displays.

"By combining Clear Channel's enormous airport footprint with the simplicity of Geodelic's mobile experience, we can provide consumers with a new level of convenience that comes from having personalized and relevant location-specific information at your fingertips," said Rahul Sonnad, founder and CEO of Geodelic. Sonnad says the app will be available for Blackberry in the near future, as well.

Location-based marketing is a growing category for businesses looking to maintain traffic into physical locations, like retail stores, restaurants, and tourist attractions. Companies like Gowalla and Foursquare have popularized "check ins", while social networking behemoth Facebook has just launched Places, a feature for connecting  with friends based on their location.

 The FLYsmart application takes a different approach, providing location-specific services and information to improve a transient customer's experience through an airport terminal.

“Airports are always looking to improve the traveler experience and find new ways to garner the attention of transient passengers in promoting food, retail and advertising sales,” commented Toby Sturek, President of Clear Channel Airports. “FLYsmart will do all that in the most relevant, convenient and contemporary way.”

The FLYsmart app will initially be launched in ten of North America’s largest airports including Atlanta, Boston, Chicago O’Hare, Dallas Fort Worth, Denver, Detroit, Philadelphia, Phoenix San Francisco and Seattle. New airports will be added each week.

I used the app the first day it launched, on my travels from Seattle to Los Angeles. The app was very helpful in keeping me informed about flight departure times for my home airport. Although the Los Angeles Airport guide hadn't yet launched, I could still see relevant local information for my stay in Los Angeles through the Geodelic national directory, that comes with every FLYSmart app.

Thursday
Aug192010

Who Writes Write The Company?

I ran across Write The Company on Twitter through a shared interest in how companies engage with consumers. (And, as you can tell, I am a sucker for a great writer of alliterations.) Here's a brief description of this talented writer, who "covers" an area close to my heart with the humor and irony it deserves.

"A candid collection of crazy correspondence containing comments, complaints, criticisms, critiques and confessions that categorically captures and conveys the confusion, complications, curiosities, compliments and consequences consumers and customers constructively confront, creatively contemplate and/or continuously consider. Comprende?"

I asked the author of this creative, anonymous blog to come out from behind the curtain, and share a little insight about what type of consumer he is. In a nod to my Vanity Fair subscription, what follows is my personal hybrid version of the Proust and George Wayne interview with Write The Company.

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?

Uncertainty. Like when my mom said she’d like to have me DNA tested.

What is your favorite place to shop?

  The Red Light District in Amsterdam, but my wife only lets me window shop.

What is your idea of earthly happiness?

Co-ed mud wrestling.

What consistent faults do you see in companies to whom you feel compelled to write?

Companies need to stop referring to consumers and customers as their “Target Market.” Targets are things you fire at, attack, hit and try to destroy. That alone makes me want to take aim at them.

Who are your favorite heroes of fiction?

Hester Prynne definitely tops the list. I’ve written hundreds of letters and she was able to take one single Scarlet Letter and turn it into a book and movie deal.

Who are your favorite characters in history?

Groucho, Chico, Harpo and sometimes Karl.

What phrase do you most hate to hear from a customer service representative?

“That’s our policy.” To me, that translates to: Nah-nah nah-nah-nah!

The quality you most admire in the person who replies for the company?

That he or she passed a background check and drug testing. You always want your inquiries handled by people with no rap sheet or traces of drugs in their urine.

What do you value most from the companies that respond?

The fact that they did respond. Too many don’t. Maybe they’re afraid some lunatic is going to post what they say online. 

What is your favorite kind of product to complain about?

Any product that comes with a technical support number. I consider it a pre-warning. As soon as I see it I assign a speed dial number.

If you weren’t using all your free time writing to companies, what would you be doing in your spare time?

Free time isn’t productive so I don’t believe in it. Even with the time I spend writing letters I invoice myself and then question the charges. Too much of my time is already devoted to banging uncooperative electronic equipment repeatedly with a Ball Pein Hammer. Any spare time beyond that is spent doing stuff like flossing and catching up on which celebrities and athletes are heading to rehab or jail.

Saturday
Aug072010

More Mashup Momentum

The trend in mashups only seems to have picked up steam. Got this tip on  one of my favorites from Cool Hunting: Kanye West has close to a half million followers on Twitter, hanging onto every ridiculous Tweet. Inspired by his words, musical comedic group Paul and Storm had the idea to mash-up Kanye's Tweets with classic New Yorker cartoons, resulting in a genius collection of newfangled cartoons found on the website #kanyenewyorkertweets.

Via Coolhunting.com

Saturday
Aug072010

Private Beta Invitation For Gearhead Gal's Friends

Get an invite-only first look at a cool mobile location app!

My friends at Geodelic are launching the private beta of their GeoGuide product and you can help out by creating your very own personal city guide. And by participating in this beta, you can also enter to win a new iPad. I have already created mine, Gearheadgal's Diners & Dives, my homage to Guy's Triple D on the Food Network. No doubt you'll have your own ideas! Got favorite places to take your dogs for a hike? Know the finest flea markets? Have fun finding your inspiration, but hurry, the contest ends in a few weeks.  Click here now and submit your idea so you can build a guide that might win you your very own new iPad!

Saturday
Aug072010

Rickrolling and The You Tube Phenomenon

Online Schools
Via: Online School

Saturday
Jul242010

Materials, Meaning, and Mistura

 

Mistura watches are made with materials that derive from the South American tropics. But they also send a message of meaning about sustainability and craftsmanship.  Created from Bamboo, Macana, Coconut skin, Carreto, Guayacan and Nazarene woods, these watches first require each designer to use a specific technique of preservation and a way of cutting the material that reminds the wearer how valuable time is. Mistura Designs

One of the founders, Daniel Schemel, whom I met at an arts festival, described how woods like Bamboo and Macana must be cut after 5:00 pm and before 5:00 am on moon’s last quarter night making sure that the circulating liquids in the main tree limbs are resting down in the roots. Using this particular night to cut the wood, he claims, helps to void cracks during the drying process that takes exactly 6 months. It's only then, his story goes, that designers start their creations.

The watches are made with a soft leather band, punched with large holes, which make it easy to use the oversized wooden clasp to secure them comfortably. The combinations of wood - teak and purple heart, for example - set against turquoise and white crackled straps are eye-catching. And the Japanese watch movement the artists use helps keeps them affordable. Ironically, the natural materials make them even more susceptible to the elements, especially heat and humidity that can change the shape and color of the wood and leather. Every piece merges art and nature as part of its lifecycle.

I have often said that every product has a story, and the man from Mistura surely had an interesting one to tell. You can buy these watches directly from their website http://www.misturadesigns.com/ or you can follow them on Facebook to find the next summer arts festival where they are appearing.

Monday
Jul192010

A New Breed Of Customer Experience "Hosts"

When service is your product, customer loyalty can be a direct function of your employees' satisfaction with their job. Every employee knows that feeling empowered to do the "right thing" is not always as easy as it sounds. Management teams often post policies to organize and coordinate the activities of front line service employees who operate in the field and interact directly with customers. Believing that one rotten barrel can destroy the whole bunch, executives will bias towards reducing the amount of decision-making a service representative has to do in order to ensure a consistent "experience" for all customers with their brand.

But what happens when employees understand that service IS the product because management gives them tools and decision rights to actually solve customer problems and, in fact, prevent them? Employees of two service brands, The Morgan Hotels Group and Virgin America, represent the new paradigm of customer experience owners, employees who feel more like "hosts" not "agents."

The Free Online Dictionary defines a host as "one who receives or entertains guests in a social or official capacity." In personal social activities, we have no problem seeing hosts as people who treat visitors graciously and are aware of their guests' needs, making sure that they are comfortable and feel welcomed, not just when it comes time to say "please come again."

Flight attendants on Virgin America are called "teammates" and flyers are "guests." That mental model informs each employee how to treat a visitor who enters via the jetway and spends time in their day traveling via the airline. For Morgan Hotels, guests who take the time to complete a marketing survey after the visit are rewarded by a personal note from a Customer Experience Manager who addresses the guest's specific feedback, if the guest opts to invite the hotel to contact them. That person is prepared to continue the dialogue with the guest to ensure the guest feels appreciated for providing the insight on their own time about their interactions and stay with the hotel.

Social graces seemed to have disappeared with the appearance of the socially acceptable practice of anonymously posting nasty comments about online content or marketing material. It's always been easy to criticize the host who doesn't get it right - who makes us feel unwanted and underappreciated. But those are also usually the people who don't treat us as if they are entertaining or engaging us either personally and professionally as a host.

 

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