Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Does mediocrity exist?

Here’s the question I’m pondering today – does mediocrity exist? You’re probably thinking, of course it does. But, if it’s all around us and tolerated by the masses does it really exist. Or more importantly, how is it defined? What’s mediocre to me might be fantastic to you. And conversely what’s mediocre to you might be the exact thing that meets my needs to perfection. So, if mediocrity can’t be defined, how does it exist?

Some recent experiences have led me to this question. I placed an order through Apple for some photo books and unknown to me my address was never completed in my .mac account. It read Valerie Conyngham at Valerie Conyngham, Boston MA. Apple’s system is so automated, as is FedEx’s that the mistake was never caught. My books were shipped to the incomplete address, marked as undeliverable and sent back to Apple to be discarded with the rest of the undeliverable orders. Certainly an incomplete address could have been caught and addressed (pun intended) by Apple if only there were a human involved in the process.

And more recently my Dyson has become mediocre to me. A piece of the space age plastic has broken off; its becoming hard to properly connect the canister to the vacuum base and the bottom of the canister (the part that holds the dirt in) often spills open before the release button is pressed.

These examples represent two companies that until recently didn’t even approach mediocrity to me. But both failed my expectations, more so Dyson than Apple because Dyson’s product failed me. Apple’s only guilt is its (failed) attempt at absolute efficiency. However, I’m sure there are countless thousands who have never had a problem with either company or product and would argue that neither is mediocre; I’ve just had two bad experiences. And does a bad experience constitute mediocrity? It all leads back to the question – does mediocrity exist and if it does what’s the definition? What’s your opinion?

Image by flickr user Dia

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Why Works Sucks and How to Fix It

A few weeks ago I wrote a post on Best Buy. As a result of that post I met Cali and Jody of Best Buy's ROWE (Results Only Work Environment) fame. They've just published a book Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It and I was lucky enough to get an advance copy (thank you). I hope, if only for my own selfish reasons, that every manager and HR person pick up this book and become inspired to start moving to a ROWE environment in their departments and/or companies. With Best Buy's reported productivity increases (41 percent) and reduced turnover results (as much as 90 percent) it's hard not to be inspired.

ROWE could also be the thing to help employers win over and retain the Millennials now entering the workplace. A generation according to 60 minutes who unlike their parents, demands a better work/life balance.

Interested in hearing more - Timothy Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Workweek has an exclusive first interview with Cali and Jody on his blog.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Report any joyous activity

The above Report Any Joyous Activity sign appeared on a fence in Central Square (Cambridge, MA) earlier this week. If it's tied to a brand (perhaps RoseArt) it represents a great example of guerilla marketing. Really, I'm not sure where it came from, who put it there, or if any brand is involved. What I do know is it's fun and light and makes people smile. And that's why I wanted to share it with you.

Friday, May 16, 2008

The Apple Store, Architects and creative energy in Boston

The streets of Boston's Back Bay were alive with creative energy last night. I'm not sure if it was more to do with the grand opening of the country's largest Apple store or the crowds of architects walking the streets and taking in al fresco dining after a day of education and camaraderie at the American Institute of Architects annual conference. Perhaps it was the perfect culmination of the two, but whatever it was it made Boston a better, livelier place for it.

And about that Apple store - I'm not sure what was the better photo op, the one I caputured of the crowd still waiting to get in the doors, already two hours past opening, or the one I missed of the crowd of people across the street all capturing the same scene using their iPhones.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

A call for better giveaways

Yesterday my husband attended a meeting that celebrated the users of a particular software program that his company sells. He came home with the usual array of branded giveaways, most of them functional, but none of them relevant to the product. It made me think of all the other branded giveaways both of us have brought home over the years, only to make their way to the trash can. It’s a waste, I think marketers know it’s a waste, yet we keep on coming up with the same old stuff. I understand the need of the giveaway, but I’m suggesting we could come up with something more creative.

Here’s an idea for the company who sponsored the meeting yesterday and acted as the inspiration for this post. If the purpose of the meeting was to celebrate users, why not create a portfolio book of thier work. Something nice that they could display in their offices, share with their colleagues and at the same time promote your software. With the array of on-line book publishing tools available today it’s an easy and affordable project. Check out Blurb for inspiration.

Image from flickr, created by calcock

Monday, May 12, 2008

Traditional media, online and charity come together on How I Met Your Mother

Traditional media, online and charity came together in this week's episode of How I Met Your Mother. The show used the story line to help drive traffic to an online charity auction. The episode goes something like this - to raise money to help combat financial woes, Lily and Marshall start selling their stuff online. Then Lily tries to sell her paintings instead to try to keep her clothing from hitting the auction block. At the end of the episode Lily and Marshall tell the audience that they really are selling some of "their stuff" online at to help raise money for Children's Hospital Los Angeles.

The tie-in was great. The execution was not. Charity Folks, the hosting site for the auction couldn't bear the traffic. It was over an hour and a half before I finally got in. And the only reason I persisted was because I was interested in seeing it from a marketing standpoint. Once in, I got kicked off when I wanted to view all the items up for auction. Had I been a regular browser I would have given up after receiving the first yellow triangle of exclamation. After finally getting to see all of the items I was met with disappointment with the lack of inventory (a mere 24 items).

My point in all of this? One of the most important aspects of any online promotion is to make sure you estimate traffic ahead of time, bump up that estimate and be prepared with extra web hosting capacity. There's nothing more frustrating to a potential customer than to be met with the error loading page.

Image taken from and adapted with a yellow triangle of exclamation.

Apple store in Boston opening soon

This is an update to my Apple goes hyperlocal with Boston store wrap post. Apple has announced its opening day and it's this Thursday at 6PM. The above image is from an email sent to me by Apple. Though the store wrap remains unchanged (disappointing), it's nice to see Apple is continuing its Green Monster theme with its email campaign. I didn't sign up for email updates on this store, but I'm assuming I received it based on my .mac account, my zip code and my agreement to receive "occasional emails of interest to me." I'm beyond excited that an Apple store is coming to my neighborhood, but Apple could (and should) have gone one step further by offering existing customers an added incentive to visit - I'm thinking priority entrance on opening night.

Friday, May 9, 2008

The future of tying health into social networks

I just finished reading a report compiled by the California Health Foundation titled The Wisdom of Patients: Health Care Meets Online Social Media and it got me thinking about the future of tying health into social networks.

The United States is aging, rapidly. The country’s largest demographic segment, the boomers are beginning to enter their 60s. In 2003 12% of the US population was aged 65+, in 2030 that number increases to 20% (a jump from 35.9 million people to 72 million people). 80% of this age cohort has at least one chronic condition while 50% have at least two. Couple this with Hitwise’s recent report that shows share of traffic to social networking & forum sites by those aged 55+ has increased from 6% in 2006 to 11% in 2008 and you’re (or at least I) thinking that taking a closer look at tying in targeted health content with social networking could be lucrative., a social networking site for boomers claims the #4 spot in Time Spent on Social Networks by US Internet Users (again brought to us by Hitwise). That tells us the largest demographic population is spending a lot of time engaging in social networks. The challenge is to encourage more boomers to participate in the space. But to some degree we’ll be able to rely on the technology adoption curve to boost the numbers.

There are already some early players, Diabetesmine, Wego Health, and Patientslikeme to name a few (read more about them in The Wisdom of Patients), but there’s certainly room in the Long Tail for more players.

If you’re interested in pursuing this space I would suggest defining a target audience (ex., women boomers who are single, have professional careers and are 10 years from retirement) and researching what the most common chronic disease is among that target. Be careful to define a niche that’s large enough where only a small percentage of people will need to engage with your site to make it meaningful, but large enough that the community grows organically over time and becomes a vibrant on-line community. You may want to define a niche that is not currently being spoken to or one that isn’t being spoken to well. Engage with individuals that make up your niche and build a relationship so that your final end product (and it can morph along the way) becomes community minded and community built. These are just some recommendations; you’re likely to have more. Add them to the comments and help to define a better working list.

image credit: Social Network Mangement System by Aristocrat on Flickr

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Apple goes hyperlocal with Boston store wrap

Apple has gone hyperlocal with its new Boston store wrap. Apple's flagship store in Boston's Back Bay is set to open soon. To help build excitement (as if the store weren't excitement enough) Apple has ditched its previous white plastic covering for some local flavor. Green Monster flavor that is. Just blocks away from Fenway, the Apple store is capitalizing on Boston's love of the Red Sox and the famed Green Monster by emulating a score board that boasts Opening Day Coming Soon.

Image taken with my iPhone (what else).

Best Buy, Blueshirtnation and CultureRX

The Minneapolis, St. Paul Business Journal ran a great article this past Friday on Best Buy’s employee social networking site It’s one more example of Best Buy’s visionary approach to HR. By using technology to creatively solve HR pain points Best Buy has become a thought leader in employee relations.

Another example of Best Buy’s forethought is its Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE) experiment where employees set their own schedules and work where they want. That venture was successful enough to result in a spin-off – CultureRX.

Perhaps we’ll soon see a spin-off from the creators of At the very least, let Best Buy inspire you to create a new solution to solve a work environment pain point. Then rethink the out-of-organization potential your idea might hold.

Image credit: Ian Muttoo

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Inspiration from a pencil and W.S. Merwin

Last night I came across the poem The Unwritten by W.S Merwin. I found the following lines inspirational. I hope you will too.

Inside this pencil
crouch words that have never been written
never been spoken
never been taught
they’re hiding

maybe there aren’t many
it could be that there’s only one word
and it’s all we need
it’s here in this pencil

every pencil in the world
is like this

You can read the poem in its entirety here.

Image credit: hownowdesign

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Borders makes coupons easier

I'm an avid reader and not a big fan of Amazon (they're free shipping takes too long for me) so I buy most of my books from Borders and Barnes and Noble. Visiting the bookstore is also a much more pleasant experience for me than ordering on-line. There's something about grabbing a cup of coffee, browsing the titles and lounging around while deciding which to buy. However, I still want a good deal on the books I purchase so I have rewards card for both bookstore.

Each week I receive an email from Borders with that week's coupon. While I appreciate the weekly coupons I don't appreciate having to print them out. I've often wondered why Borders doesn't incorporate the coupon with its rewards card, it would be easier on the consumer (me) and less wasteful for the environment.

Borders still hasn't incorporated its coupons into its rewards card. But still, my paper coupon frustration came to an end this week. Earlier in the week when I clicked through Border's email message to me to print my weekly coupon I was given the option to receive future coupons via text message. I always have my phone with me so I jumped at the offer. I'm not sure how long Borders has been offering this feature as the company didn't have the foresight to proactively tell me about it. But I'm happy it's a feature nonetheless. And Borders should be happy too; it gave me an incentive to visit its store today and pick up a copy of The Omnivore's Dilemma. I showed the cashier my text message and viola I received 30 percent off my purchase. And now that the coupons are more convenient for me I'll probably be spending a little more time (and money) at Borders.