What’s your iPhone name?

No, I am not talking the name you might give your iPhone. I am refering to the way your name gets changed automatically thanks to the spellchecker in iOS. The most common name for me is “Mintal” rather than “Minter.”  Do you have an iOS name?

Re-definition of who you are

Not knowing what or who is Mintal, I checked and was quite relieved to find, in the Urban Dictionary, the following definition:

Mintal Definition, The Myndset Digital Marketing and Brand Strategy

MINTAL – adjective: to describe an item or act that pleases the viewer whilst evoking emotions of craziness. A hybrid of mint and mental.

I was particularly happy to see the reference to mint.

Marketing or poor customer service?

That said, the point of the article was not to gloat over the inspirational definition.  The point was to say that iPhone and the iOS has a crazy way of seeping into our lives.  And, Apple stubbornly does not let its users go in and adjust the automatic speller.  For the amount of times we use the iPhone, iPad, etc, you would have thought that this irritation would have swollen enough to get their attention.  We all have certain words that just don’t compute.  Granted, the iOS does learn… but, sometimes, you feel it would be even better if you were allowed to suggest words or override how it automatically corrects.

What’s your thinking?  Are they doing a good job not letting us in?

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) – 2 examples, one good, one bad.

We received, this week, two digital messages that grabbed my attention in the way of customer relationship management (CRM).
The first example came from our children’s dentist, based in Neuilly (outskirts of Paris).  Partly because their telephone answering service is so poor, we suspect, this dentist has invested in a service to send SMS reminders to us about our upcoming rendez-vous.  The text message states the patient (my son in this case), the time of the rendez-vous along with a reminder of the address.  Easy to copy and paste into your agenda.  Great idea.  A value-added service as far as the customer is concerned and a way to limit the number of late or no-shows.  It’s truly a wonder that all restaurants do not do the same.  If a dentist office is able to do this, I suspect that all businesses with a reservation system (hairdressers included) should also be doing so… slowly moving into the 21st century.  It simply takes capturing your client’s mobile numbers systematically and paying for a service which automatically sends out the messages.  The investment is absolutely worth it as far as I am concerned.
A second message I received (jpg below) was a “personal invitation” from Lancôme.  The email was quite surprising in that the personal invitation didn’t even include my name.  The invitation was as impersonal as could be.

Lancome Personal Invitation

I don’t mean to pick on Lancôme as I have received other similar “blanket” messages from other companies; but, I have to believe that mass companies are going to need to get better at interfacing with — and attracting — their customers.  If a dentist is able to send me a personalised message, the larger ‘impersonal’ companies should take stock and hone in on a proper CRM strategy, especially since the message can so easily be personalised with a little bit of client database management.

In the interim, I vote by unsubscribing.

The MSM Media Challenge — Some more ideas of improvement

Here are some more ideas for the mainstream media (MSM) to kick into high gear with their online community.

With media titles dying or falling fallow on a daily basis, the MSM crisis seems just now to be hitting full stride. The number of recent closures has been drastic. In August, Condé Nast closed Portfolio, followed in October by the announced closure of Gourmet, Modern Bride and Elegant Bride, as well as a parenting magazine called Cookie. As reported by WSJ, “Ad pages at 14 of Conde Nast’s 23 print publications fell by more than the industry average of 29.5% in the second quarter, according to the Publishers Information Bureau.” Of course, the more startling statistic is the -29.5% for the industry…

But Condé Nast is only amplifying a trend that started with Hearst and Time Warner. And as Strategy and Business suggested in their recent article, “McGraw-Hill is said to be close to a sale — or closure — of Business Week.

So, as mainstream media continue to tackle the issue of the right internet model, below are three thoughts that complement and/or update my other posts on the topic (see here: Mainstream Media: Recommendation from a reader’s perspective and The Future of MSM).

Hyperlink Finger Icon1/ Cross-referencing with links. How is that online media (newspapers, magazines. etc.) rarely, if ever, link out to help readers understand the references in their articles? Not even a site like Wired!

Take this BBC’s article randomly taken from today’s news about how Russia’s economy will decline by 7.5% in 2009. As is their custom, they wrote the entire article on line without any links whatsoever.

“Russia’s economy will shrink by 7.5% in 2009, President Dmitry Medvedev has said – but claimed Kremlin intervention had prevented a worse decline.

Russia, which is heavily reliant on oil exports, has been hit by the sharp fall in energy prices. Mr Medvedev said the decline was “very serious” and admitted the government had been surprised at how severely Russia had been hit by the crisis.

However the predicted slide in GDP was less than earlier predictions. “The real damage to our economy was far greater than anything predicted by ourselves, the World Bank and other expert organisations,” Mr Medvedev told Russian television.”

I have re-contextualized these first three paragraphs for how they might have done it differently:

“Russia‘s economy will shrink by 7.5% in 2009, President Dmitry Medvedev has said – but claimed Kremlin intervention had prevented a worse decline.

Russia, which is heavily reliant on oil exports, has been hit by the sharp fall in energy prices. Mr Medvedev said the decline was “very serious” and admitted the government had been surprised at how severely Russia had been hit by the crisis.

However the predicted slide in GDP was less than earlier predictions. “The real damage to our economy was far greater than anything predicted by ourselves, the World Bank and other expert organisations,” Mr Medvedev told Russian television.”

The links I have chosen for these few paragraphs are sourced from a variety of sites, including Wikipedia and Google Maps, of course. By choosing certain words to hyperlink and the source of the new link, there is a new form of editor to invent. Naturally, such hyperlinking takes more time, but in this research for links, two things are going to happen. First, the very act of researching the links to make sure the content is viable is a form of value-added research for the reader/consumer. Secondly, the outgoing links will create synergies and link-love, bringing in more readers over time.

2/ Get more knowledge of your reader, gaining trust and, therefore, more opportunities for engagement. Too often, when you read and/or sign up for a news site, there is no effort to exchange in a give-and-get (i.e. a win/win) approach. News organisations need to find ways to have readers impart their personal information which can be used to enhance the reader’s experience. For example, they should view their readers as word-of-bloggers… begat from the word-of-mouth era. This is being done by the New York Times rather well with the “which articles are being blogged about” section.

Just as Amazon has a section of “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought…”, so readers of an article could have “Customers who read this article also read …” Better yet, as the newspapers ramp up their database management system and get to learn who their clients are (intelligent CRM), they can refine the recommendation and suggest even more aligned follow-on articles to read. I would like to see some adaptation of the iTunes Genius or the brand new Genius Mix, for example, which could provide an intelligent ‘playlist’ of articles to read.

Text to Speech

3/ Add the text-to-speech function… Every morning, I read the news online as I am surfing. Sometimes, I listen to podcasts or videocasts which allows me simul
taneously to continue doing my online morning activities. As per the Readspeaker service I have included in this blog, there are several — and fast improving — read out loud services which can help, not just the visually impaired, but also the ordinary iJoe… to provide an easier experience for reading on the computer screen for us all. A few examples of available services: ReadSpeaker (the one I use), Natural Reader, Ultra Hal and Talkr.

What do you think? What should online media be doing to improve the readers’ experience?

And does Murdoch have a chance with his pay-for news scheme (read this great November 2009 article in Vanity Fair by Michael Wolff)?

I love brands … at a major discount?

I Love Brands, Oxford Street, LondonI love brands… Yes, I do; but, it would seem that, especially over the span of the latest economic crisis, the “consumer” has become decidedly less enchanted with brands, per se. On the one hand, the crisis has accentuated the need for consumers (and companies) to cut back on expenses and be more budget conscious — helped by the transparency offered via price comparison sites. On the other hand, in a world of hyper-consumerism and a return to good sense and more reasonable values, consumers are also looking for greater authenticity and meaning in their purchases and their relationship with the goods and services they consume.

A study by the BBDO ad agency in May 2009, showed that 48% of people in France seek to consume more intelligently, to avoid unnecessary waste and sophistication. Staying with France, a TNS Sofres study released this summer said that 7 of every 10 French people believe that consumer product brands attempt to “deceive” them. Eight out of ten consumers in France do not trust consumer brands. But this is not unique to France–far from it. To cite just Australia, a similar study showed that the Australian consumer doesn’t feel respected by the brands. According to the TNS survey in Australia, 58% of the Australian public feels indifferent to brands. The major brands have seen the pleasure associated with the purchase act drop (from 2007 to 2008) by 7 points to 60% and the confidence barometer fall 6 points to 59%. (Source Chef d’Entreprises). Presumably, if I dug around the stats in the US, UK and other western countries, the same type of trend would be observable.

The net, net, (not to mention the ‘net) is that the consumer is no longer prepared to buy a brand blindly. The brand capital [aka equity] for brands which fail to ‘give back’ enough value and meaning are undoubtedly taking it on the chin and it will be difficult to catch back lost ground on the other side of the recession [RIP]. However, it may yet be too early to see the effects on the ‘losing’ brands in terms of sales since some portion of the failure may be masked by [overly] aggressive marketing; which would mean that looking at the net price per unit and brand profitability.

Maintaining the perceived value in the realised price is strategic to the long term survival of brands, in order to help them invest in R&D (and innovation in general), but also in the appropriate distribution channels, education and, even, in society and/or the community. A shop on Oxford Street (London), called I Love Brands, captured for me the essence of many brands today as far as the post-recession consumer is or will be concerned: I Love Brands [that have no meaning or values] Only at a Major Discount… The list of brands blaring out on this shop front window included Dior, Valentino, Bottega, Versace, Fendi…. Proof also that it is important to manage carefully one’s distribution outlet(s) to have partners in BUILDING your brands with you.

I Love Brands 70% off, Shop front, Oxford Street, London

And the bottom of the barrell, although I enjoyed the (certainly unintended) play on words, the shop had a nice little rack on the right side of the doorway on the pavement, from £20, 70% OFF:
Closing Down Sale Mens Shoes Upstairs

Men's Shoes Marked Down Upstairs, 70% off


So, what are brands to do? To start with, they need to make sure that the higher prices are justified, not just by innovation and great product performance, but superior customer service, a sense of meaning, greater values, and a healthy dose of customer listening and interactivity. But, above all, they need to regain their customer’s trust and confidence, something which seems to be cruelly missing for so many brands.

In terms of the interactive/emotional connection, I have a few good examples (credit: Branchannel) of brands investing in getting people together, to foster the community/good feeling:

Is there Good News in the Swine Flu?

Swine Flue Cartoon
Swine Flu: Some bad news, some profiteers, and perhaps some good new habits!

 

As the world awaits for the onslaught of the swine flu [porcine flu, aka A(H1N1)], there are going to be evident winners and losers. The losers? Basically all of us: consumers, society at large and business (especially with poor cash flow), if the epidemic does come home to roost. There will also be profiteers. While hospitals and pharmacies risk a deluge, the pharmaceutical companies with anti-flu medicine are bound to benefit enormously and, some say, they are behind the summer media frenzy. In the likely panic and fear-mongering that will lead up to the ‘Flu Fall, consumers will surge to buy extra tissues, hygienic towelettes (wet wipes), alcohol-based gels or sanitizers and face masks. BTW I note that Fushi-Protective has bought premium space on Google and advertises in broken English (Chinese company): “specializing in face mask prevent from swine flu.” Frankly, improving people’s personal hygiene — even making acceptable in the Western world the wearing of a face mask as we see in Asia — will be a win for society. Cleaning our hands more regularly would be a good habit to inculcate. Buying internal filtering systems that “clean” up the air inside is another interesting avenue, albeit one that provides also provides a long-term benefit (a player in this area I have come across is called AirSur, which can provide allergy-free air at home).

Distance Learning eLearning

But, beyond the health-related plays, the one area for which the swine flu could be a super boon is distance learning. Imagine the situation: schools being closed down for long stretches, for example 12 weeks, as France’s Education Minister, Luc Chatel, has just announced as a possible measure for the upcoming bout with the potential epidemic. Schools should be getting themselves prepared to turn their courses into proper distance learning or eLearning — not just a rebroadcast of filmed lectures, but up-to-date e-pedagogy based on the exceptional possibilities that internet provides. This is a great opportunity to modernize, if not revolutionize, the education institutions — especially those that have been reluctant to move forward with technologies. The students we know will be willing. The question is whether the schools — and their teachers — will be nimble enough to react.
Distance Learning Mouse & Academic Cap
In the same vein, but only because I happened to be based in Paris this year, I think of distance learning as a great way to get around strikes and scam manifestations such as we experienced in several higher institutions in France (e.g. Sorbonne Paris IV, Toulouse-II Le Mirail, Aix-Marseille-I, Amiens,  Caen, Nancy-II and Reims…). For the teachers and students who were forced to stay at home by a small contingent of indignant ‘revolting’ students, courses should have been available over the ‘net.

Lastly, the trend of reducing business travel (budget cuts under the guise of green fingers) and “congregation” meetings may also continue, since such meetings will only promote further contagion. Another area that is bound to benefit is thus video-conferencing and distance meetings and webinars.

So, the swine flu may be a nightmare about to happen, but I see that there may yet be positive results in the long-term, including improving our hygiene habits, reducing carbon footprints and, possibly, generalising the practice of eLearning.

Your reactions are welcome!

Emotional Food Rau – Restaurant in Naples‏ with interesting concept

Emotional Food Rau NaplesRaù, a trendy ‘Mediterranean’ restaurant in the heart of Naples, boasts a fairly novel concept: “Emotional Food.” While we did not get a chance to try the place and experience the food, I was struck by how ‘on trend’ the concept was and thought it worth sharing. I found a few snapshots of Rau food taken Emotional Food Rauby others; however, they don’t overflow with emotion, per se. That said, I am sure that the concept could be rendered true in the right hands… Here is a writeup on QYPE.

If you are ever in Naples, here is the address to go and report back on!

Starter Emotional Food Rau

Raù Emotional Food, Vc. Satriano 8/C, Chiaia, 80121 Napoli, Tel +39-81-245-5057
email: info@rauemotionalfod.com

Laduree – A Royal Tourist Trap in Paris

Laduree Store, Rue Royale, 75008 Paris
A long line formed outside Ladurée, rue Royale, Paris

I have long worked right next to the Ladurée, the famed French patisserie, on rue Royale, the site of the company’s very first store at its founding in 1862.  If there is one place which incarnates Paris in its best and its worst, this may be it.  It is a site loaded with history on a luxurious street.  With its headliner double-decker macaron (invented by Ladurée), the quality of the pastries is certainly above par (as is the price: (3.40 for a big macaron, 1.35 for the bite size).  And, on the service side, this site is particularly exemplary for Paris.   The reception area is cramped and often very confused in that the doorway and the reception space basically sit on top of one another.  Secondly, the servers are practised in the art of frowning, rolling the eyes and muttering under their breath.  I would go so far as to say that, in order to become a server at Ladurée, there is a very serious hazing process that scrutinizes one’s dark side.  And, even on days when there is no queue of tourists formed outside — stuck like flies moths in a flame — the service is abominably slow.  In any event, Ladurée is worth visiting if you want to know what the worst of the Parisian service feels like.  And, of course, the Royale service is included in the regal price.

In short, I can think of many other better place to go to… where quality need not rhyme with incivility.

Prada creates “temporary” store in Paris 8e (92 rue Faubourg St Honore)

Ariane Dandois rue St Honore 75008 ParisWhile Prada renovates its flagship store on rue Faubourg St Honoré, they have created a temporary storefront at 92 rue Faubourg St Honoré, Paris 75008, (previously it was the chic Ariane Dandois art gallery, pictured right courtesy of Google Maps).  Even if this is merely a temporary move, PRADA has decorated it in a way which I must classify as startlingly attractive.  Mixed in with the existing architecture, the store has a lovely trompe l’oeil overlay all around the outside of the building, replete with a faux bridge structure, street lamps, railing and statues.

Prada temporary store on rue Faubourg St Honoré
View from the front of the store (just 100 metres from the Elysées Palace)
Prada Store Front Faubourg St Honore, Paris 
View of the store from the side, rue Saussaies, 75008

Makes for quite a strong impact, and considering the large number of tourists that come to oogle at the entrance of Elysées, I dare say the store should gain some good foot traffic.  Meanwhile, this is how they have left the scene further down the road at their flagship store, where they explain that if you mozy on down some 500 metres, you can find the Prada goodies.  Not bad planning, I say, even if I am not a fan of their brand.

Copa and Continental Airlines: Copa Copycat

Copa Airlines and Continental Airlines Logo
Notice any similarities?

Looking up at this message board at CDG airport the other day, I could not help but notice the similarity in the logos of Copa Airlines and Continental Airlines. Dating back to a 1998 strategic alliance between these two companies (about which I previously knew nothing), it would seem that one of the cost-savings that they considered was merging the marketing departments? If Copa is well known in Panama, however, it remains a rather minuscule player versus Continental. The question that comes to mind is how on earth they came up with the idea to “mirror” each other’s brand logos? The logos are so similar, enough to provoke confusion, yet by being different they create massive duplication. Another missed opportunity is on their websites: they have not synergised their website platforms either… curious no?

Continental Airlines Website Screen Save

Yes, the airline industry has other things to worry about (profitability, volume and customer satisfaction…), but it would seem the marketing department has been asleep in the cockpit here.

Frightful packaging waste with Canon printer ink cartridges

There are a number of marketing concepts which capture the consumer with a proprietary and branded system that requires regular replenishment of equally proprietary and costly refills. There are two “handcuff” systems with which I am confronted on a regular basis: my Gillette Mach 3 razor and my bluetooth Canon printer. In both cases, the price of the “refill” is absolutely stunning.

Yesterday, for my Canon Pixma MP470 printer, I purchased a replacement black (PG40) and colour (PG41) ink cartridge at the local Ternes FNAC. The price for the two cartridges was 47 euros — and I certainly do not get the feeling that they are long lasting. The challenge that I have with this particular ‘system’ is the incredible amount of packaging that goes along with the cartridges… as if the amount of packaging justified the price? Below, I detail what embalms each ink cartridge.

First stop, the outer packaging. A large plastic container, with some paper inserts for on-shelf communication purposes.

Canon Ink PG Black Outer Packaging

Next step, a cardboard inner box, which is visible from the outside in the open space in the bottom of the outer. This packaging even comes with a slot to “hang” on a rack — proof that it can live alone.

Canon Ink PG40 Packaging

Once you have opened up this cardboard box, you get to packaging layer #3. A plastic tub, with a film over the top, presumably to keep the ink cartridge “fresh”. In addition, you also get paper foldout multilingual instructions. And, of course, before you insert the ink cartridge, you have the final little orange plastic strip to remove (to “enable” the ink).

Canon Ink Cartridge PG40 Packaging

The scale of the waste is quite impressive merely on the micro level. However, in the US alone, according to Ink Guides, “[o]ver 375 million empty toner cartridges and ink cartridges are thrown into the trash every year in the US… [meaning] roughly 11 cartridges being disposed of every second.” In a surprising statement, in the US, apparently 30% of all ink cartridges and 50% of all toner cartridges are being recycled. I am not aware of the circuit for such recycling in France, but I would doubt that Europe reaches those still-low levels.

To this end, I believe it would be fully appropriate for Canon to provide documentation on how to recycle their ink cartridges and all the superfluous waste. There are now a growing number of opportunites and ways to recycle or even refurbish ink cartridges. Here is Cartridge Fundraising, a friendly site with advice and ways to recycle. [And herewith an interesting site for further reading on the topic: Ink Guides.]

As I mentioned at the outset of this post, the prices of these refills is quite outrageous compared to the “hardware” cost. Looking across a few ecommerce sites, the variation in pricing of these ink cartridges would lead me to speculate about how much “profit” is being drawn. The list price for the PG40 black ink cartridge is stated in the US as being $39. Amazon is currently selling them at a massive 50% discount at $18; but you can also buy “new” ones at $14 on Amazon. Incredibly, used ones are also going for $14. Refurbished cartridges are going for $13. Another option is the generic cartridge. Here is one for Canon ink cartridges: Castle Ink — where the generic version is being sold for $18.