Put Down the #Hashtag Campaign

McDonald’s recently had to endure the ignominy of a Twitter hashtag campaign that was hijacked for the purpose of highlighting what people don’t like about the Golden Arches. The #McDStories campaign blew up and even after McDonald’s tried to shut it down the hashtag lived on for days.

Today we have RIM, the company that can do no right… #BeBold is proving to be yet another lesson in why your company should not try to co-opt Twitter in an organized fashion unless you are absolutely certain that people love your brand.

RIM has denied that this is an ad campaign in a blog post that features a string of less than encouraging comments… which will be my next blog post, titled “turn off commenting if people don’t love your brand and you don’t care”.

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Link Post (weekly)

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Gadgets – Cuisinart Soup Maker and Blender

Despite having a well documented affection for the kitchen, and being a geek at heart, I do not have much of a gadget streak when it comes to kitchen appliances. In fact, it’s safe to say that I am a skeptic when it comes to kitchen appliances and have a pretty high bar to overcome in order for something to show up in my kitchen.

I have had the same blender for about 15 years and decided it was time to retire it while upgrading my capabilities. I wanted something with more capacity primarily and when I took my wife shopping yesterday I made a trip into Bloomingdale’s appliance section, finding a pretty nifty blender and soup maker… basically it is a blender with a heating element built into it. Very clever.

First question I had was about clean up because a lot of appliances are great to use but a pain in the ass to clean up and stow. I think juicers pretty much all fall into this category… with food processors and blenders not far behind. The heating element on the Cuisinart is a sealed unit that is embedded in the jar, it achieves a connection with 3 sealed pins that mate with a receptacle in the motor base.

Today I used it to make some roasted red pepper soup and the results were nothing short of great. I heated olive oil in the mixer jar, adding diced garlic and shallots to achieve a saute in about 6 minutes. The heating element is very powerful and it preheated the oil in less than a minute. Next I added roasted red pepper and thyme, cooking it in the blender jar for 15 minutes, then simmering for another 3o. When finished I blended it for 3 minutes and what came out was a perfectly pureed red pepper soup steaming hot.

Combining a blender with a heating element is highly logical, I’m surprised that it hasn’t been done (in the mass market) before. I give high marks to the appliance and look forward to using it again… I have some acorn squash that I think will work nicely in a soup with sweet potato and curry.

PS- The glass of wine in the background is a 2008 Karcher Gewürztraminer that paired perfectly with this soup.

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The Creeping Utility of Camera Phones

I remember the first time I saw someone take a picture of a whiteboard, thinking at the time how clever it was but also how it rendered the expensive whiteboard printing devices we had utterly useless by comparison. Over the years the creeping utility of the camera phone has permeated so many aspects of my day to day life that it’s hard to imagine life without one.

Tonight I was involved in an accident, the driver of the other car ran into me at a stoplight, while I was stopped, and did some pretty significant damage to my vehicle. Almost immediately I began snapping off pictures of the 2 cars and location, and when it came time to swap information I took images of his drivers license and insurance information.

When I arrived home I took a couple of minutes to capture a Google Maps image of where the accident occurred, and I sent my images straight from my camera to my insurance agent, with a bullet point list of what/when/where/how details.

The entire process was so different than if I had been in a similar situation even just a few years ago, and for bonus points I used the flashlight application on my Samsung Galaxy S II to inspect the damage before attempting to drive home…

Flash Sale Sites On a Roll in Retail

Gilt Groupe was one of the pioneers… the concept is simple, create scarcity for highly desirable merchandise in a time or unit limited online sale that relied on social channels for promotion. Wham. Slam dunk. It’s been all the rage in online retail and shows no sign of abating.

Gilt has expanded into multiple categories…

HauteLook quickly followed (and then got acquired).

Amazon launched their MyHabit site with sales starting at 9am PST every day and quickly selling out of the most popular sizes.

American Express launched VentePrivee, which is probably better described as a joint venture between Amex and VentePrivee.

Bluefly recently launched Belle & Clive, which is interesting because of what it isn’t… exclusively devoted to high volume fashion brands densely packed in pixel packed pages, instead focusing on streamlined design in the Gilt template that included mainstream brands but also high end fashion brands, so if you want to buy your significant other an Hermes angora robe coat for $3,300, this is your site.

Ideeli.com is another popular flash sale site, as is RueLaLa.com.

I’m surprised that Net-a-Porter.com, a high end fashion retailer with a mens focused site called MrPorter.com, hasn’t launched a flash sale site, although they do have a site called OutNet.com that mimics many of the attributes of a flash sale site.

Look for retail sites in all categories to get in on this, and what is interesting is that these sites are not necessarily the lowest price options available online. If you look at the positioning closely what you find is merchandise selection, private sale exclusivity (brick and mortar retail has used the notion of private and pre-sale for years, this is not a new thing), shipping and return convenience, and yes, good prices all forming the differentiating factors that separate flash sale from traditional online retail.


When Fraud Detection Hinders Rather Than Helps

I’ve had a long relationship with Patelco Credit Union, they were the first financial services company I became a customer of when I first entered the work force and even though my needs have exceeded the services they offer I do rely on them for a credit card that I use almost exclusively. I like the idea of community banks and have tried to support them over the years.

A few months ago I started having problems with my credit card where transactions were being declined and only after calling the bank did I learn that a fraud block had been placed on my credit card. After having this happen a handful of times, with vendors that have repeat transactions in my history and therefore should not have triggered any alerts, I asked the customer service agent what was going on. I learned that Patelco had replaced their existing fraud detection service with a new vendor, almost precisely when I started having problems.

Here’s the thing about fraud detection on credit cards… it doesn’t protect you as a consumer, it protects the credit card issuer. Fraudulent transactions on anyone’s credit card can be disputed and reversed by the card holder, therefore fraud detection services are designed to protect the bank from excessive exposure as a result of disputes that are unrecoverable from merchants who are as much a victim of fraud as the cardholder.

After having experienced, if I recall correctly, the 8th incident this morning (weekend purchases seem to be the culprit) I have had enough. Patelco needs to work with their vendor to fix what are some obvious weaknesses in their system because I my patience is at it’s limit and my relationship with this institution will end if improvements are not made.

To add insult to injury, the most ironic aspect of this running saga is that I recently was the victim of real credit card fraud and it was me, not Patelco, that discovered it… so their track record is 8 false positives, zero legitimate alerts, and 4 missed actual fraud events. This is not a record they should be proud of.

Bizarre World

I was stopped at a traffic light tonight and saw police lights a few intersections down the road, tending to an accident. I commented to my wife that this was the third fender bender I had seen just today.

As soon as the words left my mouth a Prius rear ended a new Rolls Royce in the intersection immediately in front of us. That alone was amusing enough, little did I know we would soon be witness to an edition of Bizarre World unfolding in technicolor glory.

The Rolls Royce started to pull away and while the car was moving the passenger door opened and a shirtless man with a mullet rolled out gesturing wildly at the Prius. The Prius stooped and a rather bewildered driver stepped out… Keep in mind that this is on a busy 3 lane road filled with traffic moving at 40 mph… and the guy in the Rolls left his door wide open.

After moments of wild gesturing that I was certain would lead to a fist fight, the tone shifted to semi backslapping and the Prius guy gets in his car and drives away leaving shirtless mullet Rolls guy in the middle of the road with a damaged rear bumper.

I can only imagine Rolls guy preferred to not have any legal entanglements… only in Florida, maybe Los Angeles.


Just One Thing Management Dynamics

I have a unique background among small company (I’m loath to write “startup”, Get Satisfaction is more substantial than that) executives in that I have venture capital, and very large company to very small company experience. I don’t think this makes me more or less prepared for the daily challenges, it just gives me a different perspective than most people and it’s something I have been reflecting on over the New Year break (I’m still on it with my family).

There are few overnight successes in this industry, which sees the rare success among a sea of failures as a result of a thousand incremental developments and course corrections. The worst thing, I am convinced, that any executive can say to the market or his/her team is “if we just do this” because a single product feature or customer win or positive review or key hire will not make a company.

The long hard slog to a product that can deliver compelling customer value and withstand competitive attack is what successful companies are made from, and while it sounds a whimsical and naive when you consider all of the shitty products that are commercially successful for reasons that have nothing to do with customers, I’ll still take it.

Coming from a big, very big, company I always resented the fight against inertia that resulted in all but certain late arrival with the next new thing. Big companies are slow because of the number of people that have to be brought into alignment to do anything… an abundance of resources that are already committed to other things which would likely be affected by something new and different.

Another asset and liability for large companies is the large customer bases that they already have, customers which generally dislike disruptive changes to things that are perceived to already work. Sure you have all those captive customers to sell to but what you end up selling them is a compromise controlled by what you would like to abandon in the quest for new and better.

Ironically, small companies have a similar inertia problem but it is the reverse image with the same effect… instead of having an abundance of resources that are unavailable and a customer base that resists change, you have to fight an abundance of resources that are unavailable because of company focus and capital constraints, and a customer base that, generally, demands more progress than you can deliver.

This is where the “just one thing” argument comes into play. The Run Like Hell startup management culture creates a really complex dynamic where you are constantly balancing multiple outcomes and all too often the desire for singular focus as an antidote to complexity results in people saying “if we just do this” when in fact the one thing they are proposing just leads to a new “just one thing”.

Complexity is the other demon that small companies fight but it’s misguided to thing that stripping away complexity will result in something that is inherently more appealing. Things are not complex because someone set out to make it that way, complexity is quite often the result of things just being, well, complex; stripping away of things that are not considered “core” or “on model” may sound great in a powerpoint presentation but for the people who are facing customers and prospective customers every day this often results is something that is a lot less compelling and appeals to a much smaller audience.

As I go into 2012 I am striving to take on new challenges with a holistic attitude. If I start with putting what is best for customers first, team stability and accomplishment second, and avoid saying “if we just do this one thing…” then I think I will be able to close out 2012 with a sense of success that I can feel proud of.

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