Influencers – Who and why are they?

This is an excellent brilliant 13-minute documentary called the INFLUENCERS, How trends and creativity become contagious, produced by R&I Creative and directed by Paul Rojanathara and Davis Johnson. This film is interesting because of the content and interviews that have a good rhythm. It is wonderfully produced with a polaroid look & feel, a great soundtrack, and spliced in quotes.

The people interviewed include a slew of diverse and articulate people, not least of which is the inanimate representation of Anthony Gormley, an English sculptor, whose statue is the leitmotif of the film.

INFLUENCERS TRAILER from R+I creative on Vimeo.

Who is an influencer? (quotes from the speakers)

  • “Someone who has a certain type of confidence…that they know they’re doing is the right thing, because they are comfortable in it.”
  • Someone who has a different way of thinking and expressing themselves…
  • There’s a group of people that are early adopters
  • Those are the people that everyone ends up paying attention to, … because they can recognize what the next thing is and are able to popularize it early.
  • “…is a person who can take an idea, brand, a concept that is not the mainstream consciousness and can bring it into the mainstream consciousness”

And my favorite description of an influencer:

  • “Somebody that other people listen to and react to….they have a certain amount of trust to what they say and they react to it…” In other words, they move people to act.

Another tidbit from the film: The great meetings are where people assemble by passion, such as SWSX, Glastonbury, Bonaroo, TED… Need more of those in our lives, don’t you think!

At the end of the video, the different speakers reveal who inspires them. This is one of my favorite questions for my podcast interviewees: who is your role model? Would that we all took real inspiration from some role models and acted accordingly every day!

Model Jet RC SR71 Blackbird

Sehr schön! This is a 7-minute video of the flight of a model RC SR71 USAF jet plane (the “Blackbird”) made, it seems, by a German engineer.  The video has nearly 2 million views as we sit today. Proof that a great innovative product can get attention still!  Worth taking a look at… especially if you like gadgets.  Comes with twin jet engines and retractable gear.

ATM or Computer Screen Readability in the Sunlight

Here’s a business opportunity for an enterprising individual: create a screen that can be read despite the sunshine.  I was in Naples last week and, braving the 40C degree heat, I attempted to draw some money from an ATM (pictured below).  With the direct sunlight, the instructions on the screen were absolutely impossible to make out, regardless of the shading I tried to provide.  You would think that bank managers with ATM machines in sun-drenched locations would have contemplated this need already.  Anyway, I thought I might put this one out there to try to inspire some keen engineer… Surely, for those of us working on the beach (laptop, iphone, etc.), we’d also benefit from the innovation that would allow for a screen to be readable in the sunlight.

ATM Screen blinded by Sunlight

I got my share of sunny money all the same.

Convergence – In search of the Uber Consolidation

Convergence logoAre you like me, Seeking the Consolidation & Convergence of all Applications, Tools and Electrical Wires?

I enjoyed this article from Engadget “What Apple could learn from Palm Web OS” and it spurred me to consider my state of un-convergence, with the multiplicity of electronics that I lug around, different coloured USB keys to swap files, portable disk drives for backups, Apples and Dells, iPod and Blackberry, camera and video, work and home, Freebox and AppleTV, avi and wmv… The list of interdependent yet not connected items continues to gall me. When can we have the uber-converged mother-of-all tool?

Specifically, I dream of consolidating all my address book information whereby all my snail mail and email addresses and telephone numbers are simultaneously updated and accessible across every platform — think Plaxo on drugs. I think of centralizing all my digital communications so that, instead of jumping from Facebook to LinkedIn to twine to twitter to Hotmail and gmail, etc., I just have one email site to open and one preferred functionality to use — think universal netvibes. I wonder if it is time for me to abandon a fixed line at home (like 1 in 5 US households apparently) to concentrate on one mobile phone (nix one for work and one for personal use) so that I have just one telephone number to give out and have one less bill to pay (albeit the fixed home telephone is embedded in an internet and television subscription here in France). I am confounded by the number of different electric chargers that I must carry with me to support my blackberry, my iPod, laptop and earphone, etc. — much less when I travel abroad with all the different plug adaptors. I puzzle at the stash of USB connector chords that I have by my computer to connect the various apparatus with non-standard fixtures to my main computer (thank goodness for the USB hubs). And, if all that were not enough, I just want my laptop, desktop, television, iPod and mobile phone all to be the same. On this latter point, aside from the large keyboard, one can sniff that an economically viable answer is around the corner.

Convergence Mobility Telephone & Computers

Somehow, despite my fast typing and reading skills, I still feel like I am near to being submerged by the burgeoning number of sites and applications to which I have signed up. Is my webiquity catching up with me? On the application front, among the solutions that are out there and that are truly helping, there is hellotxt that creates“what am I doing” microblog messages for a wide variety of twittery applications — and can be updated now via the mobile. There is the aforementioned netvibes (est 8 million users) or pageflakes for storing a good portion of different applications such as Facebook, gmail and/or hotmail (albeit you still need to switch to the individual applications to read and write). Still, there is no full coverage system. Proprietary applications and stonewalling is clearly stopping the creation of the mega-consolidator. One thing is for sure; I am not alone in my desire, even in France. There was a study done by Accenture in France about the desire for telephonic convergence in France (no longer available on line).

Palm Pre TelephoneI gather that Palm has come up with a new palm PRE (coming soon, pictured right) all-in-one product. See here at Engadget and here on Mobiledia for more details. A friend at Nokia has reliably told me that the Nokia E71 “connected freedom” is a good alternative with the bonus of being available already. And, there’s the Touch screen qwerty Nokia N97 coming soon. Could it be that a hardware company can come up with the wherewithal to centralize all the different applications?

But, as urgent and (de-)pressing as the need for convergence is, the world of the web is expanding like the universe…to appear and operate on many different media…well beyond phones… on buses, tables, buildings, all electronic appliances… And newer still appliances and applications are sprouting up like mushroom so that, just when you think you have it all together and think you can converge onto one new glorious, unifying ubermetaplatform, you are going to be faced with the mobile book reader (Sony’s PRS-700BC or Amazon’s Kindle); the to do list consolidator that wirelessly feeds the “shopping list” on the kitchen fridge into your uber-PDA todo list; or a digital pen that magically transforms letters on a page into a typed document.

Just think about it. There are a billion people connected to the net now via their computers. The next billion internet connections will come on mobile platforms… Ready for mobile phone banking and mobi-creditcards (try wizzit which won the top prize at the NetExplorateur 2009)? On-demand shopping assistance, advice and ratings on your uber personal mobile device (try Big In Japan – Biggu – T-Mobile G1 on YouTube coming soon to Europe)? The third billion one has to imagine will have internet literally at, if not, in our fingertips. Everything will be wired.

Of course, there’s another topic brewing here regarding the convergence of branding, entertainment, advertising and consumption and how best to tackle the convergence from a marketing standpoint. But, better save that for another post.

What are your thoughts about convergence? What are your favourite tools? Or do you feel that it is just an interminable rat race and a way to get us to spend more money (think Vinyl-DAT-CD-mp3-mp4…)?

Parking Red Light Innovation at Parking Lot in Aix-en-Provence

Little inventions that make the world go round…

Ever driven around and around in a parking lot looking for a free place? Some parking lots mark on a digital board outside that there are X number of free spaces on certain levels and sometimes, judging by hard it is to find a free spot, you would have thought there was a zero too many. Aside from the waste in petrol and time, as you swing down yet another crammed aisle, you have the growing frustration and the intake of additional toxic air in underground locations. Well, I found an answer to that pain below. This is a small little innovation that just tickled my fancy and I felt merited a post.

Aix-en-Provence parking lot
This underground parking lot in Aix-en-Provence [pictured above] installed a small lighting system, whereby when the spaces are taken, there is a red light above each spot in the alley and, if there’s a free place, a green light indicates its location. Ironically, there was no dearth of free spaces in this parking lot… but love the idea.

Since coming across this system in Aix, I have found out, of course, that Aix was not the first city to have such a system…. There are many other parking lots that have been similarly equipped many years ago: Barcelona via Pogue’s Post, LAX and in Baltimore’s BWI Airport among others.

Have noticed it yourself and thought, wow, that’s a great idea! What about commenting on any other small little innovations that help improve our daily existence?

Emirates Airline: Superlatives for flight to Dubai

Emirates Airline Lovemark?Emirates Airline Customer ServiceWow! I felt like I actually rediscovered the pleasure of traveling yesterday. And, ironically, I did so going on holidays in the economy class of Emirates Airline, on a brand new Boeing 777-300ER. Expectations were totally outpaced. I was left utterly and positively surprised, almost regretting the fact the flight was ONLY seven hours long… That sums up what I have to say about my very first Emirates Airline flight, EK074 from Paris to Dubai.

Ensconced in row 21 with the family, I can only shake my head at the extent of the superior performance that Emirates Airline (EK) provided. If I were a competitor of theirs, I would be worried. From a business standpoint, when you take efforts to know what the ‘competition’ is doing or offering, you can get a wicked surprise. I suspect that if American Airlines (United Airlines has a best-in-class partner in Singapore Airlines) or Air France (which generally I enjoy very much) have fully checked out the state of advancement of Emirates Airline, they should be scurrying to invest. The boom in oil prices and the economies in the Middle East are obviously helping EK. In 2007, according to the Gulf News (Apr 20, 2008 article by Abel Ali), Middle East passenger traffic was +11.7%, and up a record +19.2% in December. EK’s ability to invest in state-of-the-art planes (just to absorb rising demand), as well as their efforts on customer service (and the training that goes behind it) will create a significant competitive advantage due to the life cycles of planes and the difficulty to change a corporate culture (not to mention a hideous industry climate?). In the case of EK, according to their website, they have been growing at 20% annually and have recorded every year since its 3rd year of conception (it was started in 1985).

In any event, this type of gap in performance will make a difference in my next booking. I have to believe that a superior Emirates Airline product will contribute to the success of Dubai, benefiting from its opportunistic location as a hub. [The airport works 24/7 and was absolutely bustling with activity when we landed at 1 a.m.]

EEmirates Airlines ICE Entertainment Systemvery economy class seat on this new Emirates Airline plane offers:
* A complete on-demand set of films (multiple categories), games, sitcoms and news… (As good as any good Business Class). Called ICE, the entertainment system has a digital wide screen option.
* A USB socket (never saw that in any business class before) — that anticipates a usage of the personal console as a personal computer.
* Electrical outlet (which is far from a gimme in business)
* A slick multi-size cup holder
* Coat hook on the side (so the jacket doesn’t hang between your legs). Smart.

Among the multiple surprises, we were allowed to fire up the videos while on the ground (I therefore didn’t even notice that we took off 30 minutes late). And we were able to watch the video throughout takeoff and landing. Unheard of, normally.

The kids were offered a whole kit of goodies — hand puppets, teddy bear, crayons, books and more… Between the goodies and the personal entertainment system, the kids felt like they were in Disney…

The kids also got a special dinner, including a Mars bar and a toothbrush…

The main screen featured the viewing from a camera attached to the airplane nose. It was not the first time I have seen this, but I say it is part of best practices. For the remainder of the flight there was a simulated following of the flight over the various geographies.

At the same time as Alexandra said she liked the crackers, I mentioned to the flight attendant that the Shiraz wine was good. Both of us were promptly re-served without even asking. Another surprise.

Even dinner was a result. With a choice between lamb and chicken, Yendi and I both chose the lamb stew (“tender cooked pieces of lamb served in a rich coriander jus”) which turned out to be a wonderfully zesty (and spicy) dish. I suspect that unadventurous palettes might have stumbled.

As I went past the business class seats, I noticed that they featured the same poorly located headphone socket as the one on the KLM flight I took a couple of weeks ago (prior blog post). So, not everything is perfect…

Moral of the story:
* innovation works (in different forms)
* great training of the staff is visible (and great recruitment, too, on YouTube)
* better to keep an eye on the competition

I will report back after the 3 other flights that we have on EK to see how consistent the service is (knowing that Dubai-Nairobi is surely an inferior route). Will see if it deserves lovemark status!

Anyway, here’s to making travel a childish pleasure. Anyone else know of an airline that can surprise thus?

Do you know about any other company taking an industry by storm?

Review: Join the Conversation by Joseph Jaffe

Join the Conversation JaffejuiceI am officially Joining the Conversation, starting with this review of Joseph Jaffe’s latest book, Join the Conversation (JTC). In full disclosure mode, I am writing this review as part of Joe’s experiment UNM2PNM (how to use new media to prove new marketing).

Written in a very conversational style with a slew of real world corporate examples (typically of how NOT to proceed), JTC features Joe’s characteristic verve and bold statements that are bound to entice a few reactions from the world without. For the most part, I could only agree with Joe’s assessments and recommendations. Here are some of the points that I believe deserve highlighting:

  • Chapter 10: Why are you so afraid of Conversation? This wiki-chapter is a walk-the-talk (literally) example of new age collaborative writing. Via a wiki, people were invited to contribute and cross-edit freely, ending up with articles from sixteen marketeers giving their spin as to why people (and companies) don’t liberally join in the conversation. I was pleased to gain the autograph of Mitch Joel for his section, The New Power of the Individual (p 115).
  • In Chapter 15, Conversation through Community, I cite the Cluetrain Manifesto that defines community as “a group of people who care about each other more than they should.” That’s a valhalla concept for a brand to achieve. But, getting that to happen means figuring out how to get to the bottom of CARE. As Joe says later, “[b]rands have to know their role and place in conversation. Truthfully, it an extremely loose, amorphous, and situational role that not only changes from case to case but indeed may evolve and shift within a single conversation.” (p 187). Not a piece of cake, but that’s what it will take to do successful marketing in the new age.
  • The Dell Case, where John Cass (Research Fellow) describes the rules of engagement: “You have to be transparent. You have to be fact-based. You must be conversational. And you have to be rapid with your response…” (p 286). As Joe says, the art of conversation (and humour for that matter) is in the timing. But, I was curious how that holds true when, on the following page, Joe says that “it is never too late to join the conversation.”
  • The RFiD grid (page 203, 205) felt a little forced. It’s a catchy moniker; but, specifically, I found recency a little confusing (if not contrived) when used to describe time elapsed between visits. Recency is all about the last time someone visited, which relates to the “newness.” That said, the notion of the shortness of gaps between visits is a novel, if unproven measurement of satisfaction.
  • In characteristic Jaffe-ness, in chapter 18, bouncing off author Seth Godin’s post, Joe elaborates a Manifesto for Experimentation. Here is the key: “To be successful, marketing organizations will need to foster and adopt an aggressive and intensive culture of experimentation, risk-taking, change management (for communications), and creativity.”
  • Wasn’t totally enamoured with the expression “transformational change” (page 262), but I subscribe to the notion of the “spiraling” line in terms of the process of innovation in a company. And, yes, failure is a vital ingredient… just like falling is an important part of learning how to ski. Besides which, if you don’t fall, typically, you are not skiing hard enough.
  • We know that prosumer is quickly becoming mainstream when it is wikipedia; but give credit where it is due…the term was coined by Alvin Toffler back in 1980 (in his book, The Third Wave).

Meanwhile, how ironic that the 2K bloggers — the face of the blogosphere, the blog of bloggers blogging — that were part of the creation of the JTC book are in the throes of converting their own website from a blog to a forum… 2k forumers doesn’t sound quite as good.

I have not read yet the JTC alter-ego, The Age of Conversation which just did a rather similar campaign of an Amazon bumrush (was the week of March 29)… I get the feeling that bumrushing is part of the age of new marketing, too. This book, edited by Gavin Heaton and Drew McLellan, is a compilation of 400-word essays by 100 bloggers on the topic of conversation. Taking Joe’s Chapter 10 concept all the way, it is obviously a 100% collaborative effort. Anyway, you can order The Age of Conversation here or at Amazon.

In any event, Join the Conversation is a must read for any new media marketiers (marketing + frontier mashup) out there — and hopefully for the old-world marketers as well.

It’s not exactly like me to promote anything to do with cigarettes, but this 1960′s ad by Newport seemed to strike a chord (if not a match, made in heaven). The conversation per se is only symbolic, but this ad does speak to the limitation of television’s one-way communication.

Very enterprising and forward thinking work, no? What do you think? (Joe, u2!) No doubt there are other examples that I’d love to hear about from you. And let me know your feedback on JTC or just this post on JTC.

Customer Service is Dead?

Customer Service is Dead?Is customer service dead? asks Tom Asacker at Brand Strategy Insider. I do believe that the nature of customer and service have both changed — but neither is dead. A little different from Mr Asacker’s final point in his incisive post on the demise of customer service, I would posit, dare I say a little pedantically, that it is CONSUMER (as in he/she who consumes) service that is dead. All the while, I would agree with Mr Asacker and say that what counts is customer EXPERIENCE.

Here is the nuance: the customer is a person before he/she is a consumer. And the experience (whether it is a good or service) for the consumer must be converted to an experience that feels more customized.

The experience naturally differs according to the category of good (or service) purchased. To the extent, for example, the good is consumable and non-durable, notions such as zero default,Service right on target? accurate promises (say what you will do) and POS are vital parameters for the successful experience. For a luxury good or service, excellence & innovation in product, emotion and putting the Very in VIP come to mind as absolutely vital. Of course, you might say that every notion cited above is important for every category. I am suggesting, however, that these notions need to be prioritized according to the category.

In an ever changing, fickle world, there is a quirky relationship between great quality, long-lasting products and the ability for a company to create profits. There are surely instances where a company has (perhaps mistakenly?) created the perfect product. Take the tungsten light bulb. Or the concept of everlasting (not to be mixed up with everready) batteries. [While I am on the topic of imperfect products, did you know that for an anti-virus program to be truly effective, it needs to be updated every few minutes? Grounds for insecurity.]

A product without repeat purchase potential is a product with either a very high gross margin or represents a business that could efficiently run itself out of business if it is not careful.

On the other hand, in our massive consumeritis, a company like H&M purposefully providesH&M - In Fashion not in hock fashionable items without concern for customer service, nor for criteria like product durability or whether it remains in-stock. H&M makes accessible the ability to be ‘in fashion’ but not ‘in hock.’ The new consumer service is in full throttle: faster, cheaper, person-less. The consumer experience is soulless. The consumer’s consumerism is bereft of deeper lasting values. A “consumer”, as Mr Asacker’s father found out, values more the few pennies saved over the love of a greater service [in this case, at the gas station, formerly known as service station].

Mr Asacker suggests that a product that needs no customer interface is a product with great customer service. I would argue that a lack of a customer interface is a trouble of another sort = reduced engagement.

Whether automated answering machines, self-service counters or even a flawless product, the human interface remains critical for the long term health of the brand. The key is to have the RIGHT experiences and to make sure those moments occur at the right time. A good example is a proactive (post sale) telephone call or handwritten card.

As I said above, I agree with Mr Asacker that it all does come down to the experience and that, why not, it is preferable to have reliable, if not the best, products. Nonetheless, as he states, it is about knowing what the customer is accustomed to having and what he/she wants. To this end, especially in the luxury end of the market, the human touch and personalized service remains at a premium.

And, more emphatically, like our yin and yang, we all have our moments when we are the basic consumer (coveting price over experience) and others when we seek the personalized, human (customer) experience. It would seem that as the emptiness ofYin and Yang pure consumerism becomes more apparent–exacerbated by the threat of living on borrowed money–the intertwining roles of the customer (as the living, breathing person), the brand (as the object of desire, with a veritable personality) and service (as the full experience) will lead to new market forces. In this context, aided by technology, it is no wonder that we have the brand’s customer as contributor and the arrival of consumer generated content. The best service will be the one that fulfills the self, rather than the self service that fills my cupboards and seeds my garage sale. The way technology plays an impactful role in (i.e. bringing emotion to) the customer experience is still in its infancy. The key word with technology is “surprise.”

In Paris, when one goes down to visit the small, local shops and the shopkeeper recognizes you, offers the children a little extra and helps you out with the laden bags, customer service and the experience is alive and kicking. With the credo “life is short,” I am happy to be one who is, on most occasions, prepared to pay for that little extra.

The challenge for many brands will be ensuring that experience and emotion consistently throughout the distribution chain, including most emphatically after-sales service.

The mantra of Connection

After the Economist’s special section on the "A world of Connections" (April 28), I was glad to receive a link from a new (connected) acquaintance, Vincent, on Connected Marketing:  http://www.connectedmarketing.org/surveys/.  Connection is in the air. 

The ten predictions made by Justin Kirby in 2005 are a testament to how fast the marketing world is changing.  None of the predictions seem particularly novel, nor even a gamble in June 2007.  The question seems to be more a case of WHEN they come true, and when companies and/or brands manage the change. 

One prediction (7) caught my eye.  "Techniques developed in connected marketing initiatives will be adopted for change management and internal communication." In some respects, companies (or more specifically brands) that treat internal communications with great attention will likely also help increase a sense of belonging as well as create a culture of "connected marketing."

One prediction that I might have added to the landswell of change is the relationship between marketer and agency.  Between advertising, web or communications agencies, or even going straight to the consumer, the choice of "supplier" is wider than ever before.  I believe the winners will be whichever are the best consultant.  The most important action is bringing (finding) meaning in the brand that resonates with and to consumers via all forms of media. 

The biggest service the supplier can provide is a panoramic understanding of the brand and, therefore, a most suitable (and dynamic) communication package.  Execution (1/2 of Kirby’s Prediction 1) will play second fiddle in the true search for connection.  Innovation will be important, but meaningfulness will take the prize. 

Serious games – innovations in France

You may have heard of the notion of “serious games”… edutainment in its latest form. You play, and you don’t even see the time pass as you learn. Have a few examples of positively interesting games, in part courtesy of Le Monde article yesterday. (the examples are all in French, sorry!)

1) France has a game helping to learn about how to manage France’s national budget! Cyber Budget I am most impressed… for such a dull, yet important topic. Lots of fun interactive games sprinkled throughout…some of which are based on classic video games. Watch out for the press!

2) In a less constructive way (from McD’s corporate POV), there is McDonald’s video game… try it (in French)! You will learn what you don’t want to know every time you go to Mickey D’s–from a hacker’s pov. Try to spur the sales and profitability of McD’s.

It’s great to see France pioneering in this field (obviously many other countries have examples… which would love to hear about!).