What Twitter Is For

Instagram by @andjelicaaa

There’s probably a million blog posts about how useful Twitter is: for sharing, communicating; for businesses, for brands, for people. I started using Twitter about 3 years ago because I felt I needed to understand it. But for the first six months I didn’t know what it was for. But I kept with it. And I learned how to use it, for me.

Last night I learned again the true power of Twitter. At least for me.

In the last 5 months, I’ve moved to New York City. Big change: new job, new responsibilities, new city. An exciting opportunity. But now, most of my friends and family are on the other side of the country. Like millions of other people, I was riding out Hurricane Sandy in my new home in Brooklyn last night. Our internet and cable went out about 8 pm. Without a radio, it was hard to know what was happening with the ever evolving storm. Twitter became my real-time media.

I probably spent from 9 pm until after midnight on Twitter. Sharing safety tips from @NYCMayorsOffice and @FDNY. Passing on rumors and then the truth of those rumors. (Here’s a nice piece on how Twitter operates as a truth catcher.) Retweeting calls for a generator to help someone in lower Manhattan with a ventilator with no power. Thanking the emergency responders. Communicating real-time with my family in the Midwest and in the Bay Area. Sharing the facts about my neighborhood with folks who though I don’t personally know, were asking if anyone had any information about conditions in Cobble Hill. And staying abreast of what was happening in my new city…through tweets, videos, pictures all coming in live and real-time. Some of it scary. Some of it sadly beautiful. All through my mobile phone, not my plasma screen TV.

Trite, perhaps. In the grand scheme of things, my experience last night was uniquely personal and maybe not as profound as I make it out to be. But it is the reality today. I turn to Twitter now instead of the TV to find out what’s going on. And connect. And share. And now I have a better example when I have to explain to people who don’t use it “What Twitter is for.”

EDIT: 10/31 NYT had a nice post regarding Twitter and Hurricane Sandy. Find it here.

Posted in Experience, Personal Life, photos | Leave a comment

What JCPenney Learned from Apple…and The Gap

Image: Flickr user Michael Goodin

JCPenney has been in the news a lot lately. Although still a beloved brand with millions of Americans, it’s a brand that has become a little dusty and tired. In fashion, it seems like all the brand love and energy these days is for specialty retailers like J Crew and H&M, while department stores struggle to define their unique difference and their relevance to consumers.

Last year, JCPenney hired Ron Johnson, who previously had help transform Target into an ‘affordably chic’ retailer, as well as defined Apple’s retail experience (while redefining retail for many). As CEO, he’s recently spoken about the changes that are coming from JCPenney. And although the recently communications have involved the creation and launch of a new visual identity for JCPenney, the change plans for the brand are much broader than that. His plan for change has made it clear he’s brought with him several lessons from Apple as well as learned a few lessons from watching other retailers struggle. Here are three lessons JCPenney seems to have gotten right from Apple…and one learning from Gap’s failure last year.

1. It’s More than Just A Marketing Change

JCPenney is talking about a full-scale transformation of the experience of shopping, changing their strategy for regular sales (eliminating most of them), simplifying their pricing structure (into three tiers), transforming the in-store experience, adding services to their mix of product offers, upgrading or enhancing their merchandise and what seems to be a new more consumer-centric philosophy about making shopping simpler and more enjoyable. Clearly Johnson understands that transformation doesn’t start on the surface with communication. It starts inside with a simple point of view and a change to everything (operations, experience, merchandising, pricing, communications) based on that point of view.

2. The Experience IS The Brand

In his most recent announcements, Johnson has talked about how he wants consumers to feel when they shop. How he wants JCPenney to be a place shoppers like to come and hang out (knowing full well that hanging out will most likely lead to browsing and then buying). Although to some it may be counter intuitive to not push products on consumers as fast and hard as possible, and not stuff the store with as much merchandise as it could hold. But with its clean, inviting low-stress stores, Apple has certainly been successful at creating an in-store experience that is welcoming and exciting to be a part of, whether you’re in the market to buy something or not.

3. You Must Manage The Company You Keep

Brands today are not just defined by what they stand for or what they offer, but by the company they keep. J Crew sells Red Wing Boots. Target has a relationship with Paul Frank. Brands get some of their energy and excitement from ‘hanging out’ with other energetic and exciting brands. JCPenney is following suit. Relationships with Martha Stewart, the Olsen Twins, Charlotte Ronson, Nicole Miller and Nanette Lepore have been announced. And JCPenney’s success with their Sephora ‘store-within-a-store’ concept is being embraced, as they transform into a one-stop series of in-store boutiques.

4. It Isn’t Just A Logo Change

The one lesson JCPenney has clearly learned was one that left Gap in hot water last year. Although JCPenney has announced a new red, white and blue logo, the focus of the communication about the ‘new’ JCPenney hasn’t been about the logo. Instead, it’s been about everything else…all the things that are represented by that logo. In a marketing environment where brands are defined by the actions they take, not just the promises they make, JCPenney and Mr. Johnson have put first things first, defining how JCPenney is going to be different, not just look different. With the markets and some observers skeptical, it will be exciting to see if Mr. Johnson can pull off the transformation of another storied and well-loved brand.

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What Experience Designers Can Learn From Improv

Image from Flickr user: michael.poley

Brand perceptions are built on reactions to experiences with a brand. As such, changing the experience is a powerful way of changing brand perceptions and behaviors. Although the phrase “experience design” has traditionally been applied to digital experiences, the practice can be applied much more broadly. Somewhat still in its infancy, designing experiences can be a daunting undertaking as it can encompass so much. Many don’t know where to start and lack the framework to even think about how an experience can be better. A few basic “rules” of improv can help as a starting place for beginning experience designers.

Practicing improv is a great way to learn how to think on your feet, be flexible, work collaboratively with others–all practices critical to experience design. Some traditional “rules” of improv are useful in the context of designing compelling consumer experiences:

  1. Don’t Deny  In improv, this means don’t disregard premise, no matter how outrageous. If someone says “The sky is a crazy color of green today,” as a partner your goal is to build on that not shut it down by saying “No it’s not…it’s blue.” In experience design, you can’t start by denying what could be: “We can’t change the check-in process because…,” for instance. For a great new customer experience to come to life, it will have to break some of the conventions of the current experience. Make sure you’re open, especially at the beginning of a process, to accept what may be an outrageous premise or idea.
  2. Listen, Watch and Concentrate   Improv requires everyone to be paying attention to what’s said, what’s unsaid, how someone is standing or moving, what their expression is. Anything can be fodder for where to take the scene. It’s the same in experience design. Sitting back, watching, listening and concentrating on how people are presently experiencing the brand (while leaving yourself open to the outrageous) can identify moments where the experience could be improved. Thoughtful watching (combined with asking “Why?”) is perhaps the most powerful tool in experience design.
  3. Be Specific   In an improv scene, details are the building blocks for the continuing story. Saying “That’s a pretty dog” is less useful than saying “That’s a pretty Pit Bull. But why is he dressed like a pirate?” It’s easy to imagine how to react to the second statement because of its specificity. It’s the same with experience design. Greater specificity as to what exactly needs to be changed (based on your thoughtful watching) is the difference between “Make the check-out experience faster” and “Make the check-out experience faster by SMSing guests’ bills to their mobile phones.”
  4. Change, change, change   A powerful improv scene is all about change. Where the scene starts and where it ends is usually where the humor, tension, and interest come from. In experience design, there is always something to be improved. Saying “New and Improved!” without being new and improved is worse than doing nothing at all.
  5. Get It On Its Feet   Improv is not sitting around thinking up clever ideas…it’s about being on your feet actively discovering clever ideas. Experience design must move from the planning stage to the prototyping stage quickly. Rather than sitting in a conference room imaging how people will react to a redesigned customer experience, get out into the world and prototype it! Cobble it together with shoestrings and masking tape, ask real customers to participate and interact, then watch and learn.

Like improv, experience design is an action sport, best done by a committed and crazy band of folks who are purposefully creating the new. And like improv, experience design can be delightful for the creators and the audience when it’s done well. So get on your feet and get started on improving your brand’s experience.

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How Brands Can Use Instagram Better

Instagram is an app that allows users to take, adjust and share photos–pretty simple and straightforward. Despite (or maybe because of) its simplicity, Instagram has gotten a lot of traction in the time it’s been available, to the tune of 150 million photos uploaded(that’s 15 every second), all from a single platform–the Apple iPhone. The really powerful aspect of the app is the ability to share, like, and comment on other people’s photos. In other words, it’s another social network.

And just like Facebook and Twitter before it, various brands have discovered Instagram and are using it to connect. Some forward-thinking brands are already on Instagram: Starbucks, GE, Sharpie markers, Brisk Iced Tea, and Red Bull. All are exploring whether creating and posting pictures can build their relationship with customers, but some are doing it better than others. The best brands using Instagram have learned what’s true of success on any social network: It’s about being interesting, not about pushing products.

Some of the brands currently on Instagram are using it the way brands used the Internet in 1999, as a way of ‘digitalizing’ their marketing materials. Follow some brands and all you’ll see are picture after picture of their products and their brand materials. That old-school approach is no more interesting than listening to a person at a party yammer on and on about themselves and their job.

It’s probably not surprising that some of the brands using Instagram best are fashion brands: Bergdorfs, Burberry, Gucci, and Threadless–they’re all on Instagram and I follow all of them. Their photo streams are more than just product shots: interesting content (employees, old ads, fashion show backstage shots, bouncy castles, piles of t-shirts) captured with a point of view and an editorial eye.

For brands to be successful on Instagram, they have to get past their inherent interest in selling and instead get interested in:

  • Having a distinctive view of the world
  • Cultivating a unique visual sense
  • Capturing things that are interesting to the brand and to the core target customer
  • Training your eye for what makes for a great, provocative, engaging image
  • When in doubt, entrusting the work to someone in the organization that has the above!

By adopting these rules, brands will find that Instagram (and other social tools) will become powerful ways of attracting, growing, and engaging an increasingly visually sophisticated populace.

Posted in customer journey, photos, Social Media | 2 Comments

The Photo Revolution

In case you hadn’t noticed, we’re awash in photos. Whether it’s the number of new photos uploaded to Instagram (150 per second), the number of photos on Facebook (approx. 90 billion) or Flickr (approx. 6 billion), or the number of megapixels in the next iPhone camera, seems like everyone is talking about photos. And investing in the category – photosharing is one of the hottest categories for VC investment this year.

People are taking pictures of all kinds of things…pets, food, family, friends, everything and nothing. (Like my Instgram photo of the Bay Bridge in the rain on October 6, 2011 above). Virtually all are taken on digital cameras or mobile phones making their uploading and sharing much easier than photos taken in the more traditional way. Not only are there more, they’re created faster and cheaper. Compared to just 30 years ago, the relative time and cost of each photo has declined substantial. In fact, these days you could almost say the cost of a single photo has dropped to virtually zero.

This tidal wave of digital photos is also changing the very nature of what we use photos for. In the past (due to the time and cost),photos were for ‘special occasions’…birthdays, weddings, funerals, key events in our lives to be memorialized in permanent form. But these days, in addition to special occasions, we’re taking pictures of our everyday life. Instead of memorializing, we’re using photos to share and tell the stories of our lives – the day to day existence of lunches, and dog walks and cooking and babies. Add to that the phenomenon of “reality” television and you can see folks creating the documentary of their life through snapshots – and connecting with others in a social network of just pictures.

Posted in Apple, Experience, Personal Life, photos | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Google’s Embracing of People

It’s been almost two weeks since Google acquired Zagat, creator of those little burgundy guides to local restaurants, rated by actual customers. Since then, there’s been no end to the speculation regarding the acquisition: a good deal, a harebrained deal, a multi-faceted deal. Google seems pretty excited about it, as do the Zagats.

Who knows what Google has planned for Zagat. Maybe it becomes part of Google Places. Or Google+. Or the content gets folded in to the myriad of ways that Google serves up information for people. But what struck me about the Zagat’s acquisition (along with the relatively recent launch of Google+) is a seemingly growing appreciation on the part of Google that there is more information than can be assimilated into their algorithm – information that is created, shared and appreciated by humans, not machines.

To me, Google has always been the ultimate data wonk’s brand – the ‘Spock’ of the internet, relying on cool calculating logic to know what you want when you ask…and maybe even before. In fact, Eric Schmidt, Google’s former CEO, once claimed that Google could “know what you’re thinking about”. Which is impressive, cuz I’m not sure I can even make that claim for the majority of my waking hours.

But cool calculating logic can only get you so far. One only need look for a reliable local plumber to understand the limitations of a calculating algorithm. For many decisions, human’s look to other humans for advice. Which gets us back to Zagat. Quirky, idiosyncratic, (perhaps even a little unreliable compared to your own experiences), the kind of ‘data’ supplied by Zagat and other ratings based on human experiences must be a supplement to the fact-based logic of Google’s calculations. As with many things in life, the two together are more powerful than each separate.

My primary hope is that the Google brand learns how to be a little more human – to rely on the qualitative, opinion-based, individualized, extremely human information that Zagat has always provided and integrate that into it’s own brand…rather than try to ‘assimilate’ Zagat into the cool, calculating world of the Googlesphere.

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Sustainability That Lasts

This is a post I wrote for our Landor blog about 3 months ago. I’m reposting it here, because I believe it represents the sort of ‘actions’ brands can take not just to communicate their brand positioning but to live it.

I was at a sustainability conference this week, thinking about my boots. “Business casual” is interpreted very loosely in Silicon Valley. CEOs turn up for meetings in t-shirts. Ties are donned ironically. I was wearing my Red Wing boots as they’re durable, comfortable and, thanks to the recent hipster movement, suddenly fashionable, standing out in a sea of khakis and loafers.

The panelists talked about reducing carbon footprints and packaging, reducing product documentation, reducing energy and raw materials. There was talk about conflict minerals and NGO collaboration and consumer’s interest in recycled products. But there was no talk about reuse. One of the conflicts yet to be resolved is the fact that selling more items means a greater footprint, despite all efforts to the contrary. Making something last longer (thus using it longer) is often the best way to reduce your personal carbon footprint. Which is why I was thinking about my boots.

Red Wing boots are awesome. I’ve been in love with them since I was a child. My dad wore them so I wore them, long before they became trendy on the coasts. One of the best things about them is how long they last and how they improve with age. And as I sat in there in my hipster boots and my ironic tie, I wished everyone at the sustainability conference would watch this video about Red Wing boots. It’s called “Not the throw away society” and highlights Red Wing’s shoe repair business. Even the concept of “shoe repair” seems quaint, as we’ve become a society comfortable assuming that whatever we buy will soon be discarded.

The video is fantastic at showing a service (and a way of thinking about products) that every manufacturer should consider. It is also true to the Red Wing brand: honest, straightforward, simple and earnest–all characteristics of the Red Wing brand. Rather than touting their sustainability creds or the greenness of their shoes, Red Wing simply assumes that you’ll be wearing their boots for as long as you can. And as the maker of those shoes, it’s their job to help you do so—not to just sell you another pair when the first ones wear out.

This is a lesson that many brands must learn about sustainability—stop focusing on selling more and focus more on lasting longer.

Posted in Brand action, Sustainability | 1 Comment

Apple Starts the Countdown Clock

As a long-time Apple fan, I followed a live blog of Steve Job’s keynote speech at the Apple Developer’s Conference yesterday. By then, the world knew most of the Apple news: iCloud and a new operating system plus a few other shiny objects. In his set up to the iCloud announcement though, Mr. Job’s made another proclamation that struck me as profound.He reminded us that just 10 years ago, Apple had worked hard to position the desktop computer as the digital hub. But going forward, the iMac (and the PC) were destined to be relegated to being just another device – not the ‘one device to rule them all’ anymore.
Feel free to say what you want about Apple. Brilliant, controlling, freeing, restrictive – everyone has a point of view. But what struck me was how bold it was for a company that grew up revolutionizing the computing industry essentially starting the countdown clock on one of their core products.I think its rare for a company that has found great success at something being willing to start the discussion of sunseting that first core product, particularly if that core product as defined the company from the start. In fact, there are still other computing brands working hard to make it all about the computer – as the hub of digital life, home life, work life. So despite iMacs enjoying continued market share growth, Apple tells the world the computer isn’t ‘IT’ any more.
Of course, it’s easier to relegate the computer to ‘just another device’ when you have two of the hottest devices in the world, both which revolutionized a category just like the Macintosh did way back when. In fact, from a business standpoint, it’s probably smarter for Apple to focus consumers on iPads and iPhones and iTunes and iClouds as the margins are probably better. But I still think it’s an indication of how forwarding thinking Apple is to essentially say “That thing you thought was so cool 10 years ago? It’s not going to be very important in the future.” What it tells me is they must have great confidence in their ability to continue to create the next.

Posted in Apple, customer journey, Experience, Marketing, sales cycle | 1 Comment

Today’s Internet Lesson – #1 In A Series

It was quite the day on the Internet today. Sarah Palin’s supporters were caught editing Wikipedia to match her statements regarding Paul Revere. Representative Anthony Weiner admitted to sending out ‘junk shots’, including one accidentally sent to all his Twitter followers. And Steve Jobs announced Apple’s new iCloud service, offering simple syncing of user’s photos, music and other files. What’s the common thread? The reality everyone needs to grok: everything will eventually be found on the Internet. Let’s repeat that: everything will eventually be found on the Internet.

Celebrities, regular people, even brands continue to get caught with Old World expectations in the New World. E-mails, tweets, blog posts, false accounts, white lies, obfuscations, inflated credentials…by now, I’m shocked that anyone is shocked by any of this. It’s really no different from real life. In real life people take shortcuts, edit the fact, do inappropriate things in front of folks accidentally. Heck, people have been sharing racy photographs for as long as there’s been photography and long before that in what, today, is called ‘erotic art’ – not that I’m condoning any of the actions above. But we’ve gotten used to it in the real world.

There’s a lot of powerful changes that this relatively new phenomenon called the internet activates. As well as silly. But perhaps the most profound that we’re still just starting to come to grips with is the fact that everything will be on the internet. The profound and the not. There’s nowhere to hide. Brands are starting to realize this and getting used to, if not comfortable with, the flubs and missteps humans have had to become comfortable We put our foot in our mouth, do something inappropriate, embarrass ourselves. Most of these flubs are forgotten almost as quickly as they happen. Apologize and move on. The good news is that the river keeps moving and tomorrow or the day after there will be something else.

So when you’re looking at consumer reviews, or searching for the best price on a camera, or enjoying someone’s photo stream on Flickr, just assume anything you do or say or post on here will be seen by everybody you know. So that when it is, you’re not surprised.

Posted in Internet lesson, Marketing, Social Media | Leave a comment

Why Brands Need A Point of View

Diana Vreeland was a legendary figure in the fashion industry. But the vast majority of people probably have never heard of her. She was the managing director for Vogue magazine in the 60’s and was known for her distinctive taste and blunt way with words. With all the recent talk about curation on the web, Diana Vreeland came to my mind.

Curation, as it’s being used these days in reference to web content, is the act of selecting, editing and organizing content. In a world overwhelmed with stuff, ‘curation’ is the means by which we get some order to all the chaos. It’s one of the latest topics among the Social Media™ elite. But in discussions regarding curation, what’s often missing is what Diana Vreeland represents: A point of view.

Every industry has its own lingo. In the fashion industry, successful folks have ‘a point of view’. What that means is a unique perspective: on who the customer is, what the customer wants, what beauty is, what makes for compelling clothes, what’s hot now, what’s classic, what’s in, what’s out, just about everything. A point of view encompasses so much it’s often short hand for what a designer stands for or represents –Armani is easy elegance. Ralph Lauren is aristocratic heritage, Prada is revolutionary creativity.

Diana Vreeland , undoubtedly in her well-known imperious tone, once said: “Most people haven’t got a point of view; they need to have it given to them-and what’s more, they expect it from you.” She was talking about fashion. Turns out, she could have just as easily been talking about brands. Because brands need to have a point of view as well.

A point of view is more than just a positioning statement or a tagline. It’s how the brand sees the world; what it thinks is important; what it thinks its role is in the world. The best brands have a point of view so clear it becomes synonymous with the brand: think of Apple, Nike, Virgin: you can easily see the world through their eyes. You know what amenities would be included with the Apple Airline, the Nike Hotel, the Virgin Spa.

Curation then becomes a function of that point of view. When brands have a strong point of view, they can begin currating the content in the world, selecting, organizing and displaying it in a way that tells a story, the brand story, rather than just being a jumbled mess. Think about the difference between a collage created by a great artist (Robert Rauschenberg, for instance) and a collage created by a child. Not only are the component parts important, but how they’re assembled, combined, juxtaposed tells a richer story. That’s what can happen when brands get curation right.

What brands decide to display, share, highlight, support, encourage, create for their customers all become part of the brand narrative. And in doing so, they need to hear Diana Vreeland’s voice ringing out: “They (your customers) expect it of you.“

Does your brand have a point of view? Is it clear enough to stand up to great fashion brands like Armani, Prada, Polo? Are you thinking about the collage you’re creating with your brand or simply slapping down pictures?

Posted in curation, Experience, Marketing | Tagged , , | 5 Comments