Sunday, 27 December 2009

C's Best Expression

My friend C has some wonderful catchphrases that, more than anyone else I've ever come across, summarise her personality and worldview.

A sample:
- "Off the hook" (surpassing expectations)
- "Superchill"
- "Supersmart"
- "Supersolid" (a dependable person of good judgement)
- "I'm a yes" (I am open-minded and non-judgemental; I am open to new experiences)
- "Bring it"
- He/she has "got skills"
- "Awesome"
- "Right on" (often used to show support of anothers' position or actions)
- Edgy
- Into that

A few more suggestion from C herself:
- On point
- What's your damage?
- "Tight situation"; as in: 'Eating at that Indian restaurant Rasa was a tight situation' or 'That girl's dress is a tasty situation'
- Rock it, bite it, suck it,
- Drop into it
- Radical maneuver...

Monday, 21 December 2009

Car Accident iPhone App

Innovative US insurer Nationwide now has an iPhone app available whether you are a customer or not.

It talks you through what to do after an accident, from calling emergency services to taking photos.

More here.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Problems with Future Predictions

Future trend predictions are rarely accurate because, according to the Wall Street Journal:

1. Present trends almost never continue. Straight-line extrapolation, perhaps the most common form of prediction, may also be the worst method. Extrapolations have variously foretold the end of all oil supplies etc. In reality, trends almost always generate their own countertrends. Societies are unbelievably adept at adapting. People are incredibly good at learning. And everything changes, including rates of change.
2. Every prediction suffers from situational bias, i.e. predictions are influenced by the time period in which they are made. The futurists of the 1950s could easily imagine astronauts working on the moon, but not their own wives working outside the home.
3. We are influenced by commercial and politics interests. Those who came closest to the mark about the year 2000 were detached professional futurists.
4. The future begins in the present. It is not a detached leap.

But however outlandish, fallacious and inaccurate the exercise, predicting the future widens our horizons and deepens our capacity to imagine.

Source: Adapted from Wall Street Journal,

Friday, 20 November 2009

Wal-Mart's Personal Sustainability Project for employees

Wal-Mart asked all employees to adopt a pledge to improve their bodies, their families or their planet. $30m commitment to help with this.


Friday, 13 November 2009

Signing a form affects your honesty

An automobile insurer discovered that most people, when filling out forms that ask how many miles they've driven in a year, claimed that they drove less than they actually had.

Building on the discovery that people are less inclined to cheat after being reminded of their own ethical standards, the company moved the signature line to the top of the form. Applicants who signed the form at the top of the reported driving an average of 2,700 more miles a year than those who signed at the end.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Co-Creation: Lego Factory & Cuusco

Lego Factory is a simple piece of software that leds you build Lego kits and then order the parts to make them. In 2008, average of 28,000 submissions were made to the website every month.

In Japan, a similar user-generated innovation platform - Lego Cuusco - is being piloted. But when over 1,000 votes are received for a model Lego will consider sending it to production and giving the designer a share of revenue.

Source: Contagious magazine, Q4 2008

Lean Consumption - Car Repairs

Nice explanation of how Portugese car dealer GFS changed its process for repairing cars to both save itself money and its customers time. Along with 2 good diagrams of 'before' and 'after' lean processes. E.g.:

Source: 'Lean Consumption', Womack and Jones, HBR 2006. All copyrights acknowledged.

3 Key Customer Experience Questions

From Forrester’s Scenario Design:

No experience is inherently good or bad; it can only be judged by looking at how well it helps customers achieve their goals.

Constantly ask:
- Who are your target users?
- What are their goals?
- How can you help them accomplish their goals?


Monday, 9 November 2009

Haier & Target set up air conditioning pop-up store in Times Square

In July 2004 Haier was trying to build awareness of a new line of air conditioners in the US. It teamed up with Target to set up a temporary store filled only will Haier products in Times Square and offered custoemrs free delivery and other promo incentives.

Haier sold 7,000 air conditioners in 7 hours - generating media coverage and web chatter.

HBR, March 09

When Should a Process Be Art, Not Science?

Excellent article. In organisations:
- some processes should be tightly controlled a precise 'science': the same every time
- other processes, like customer service, are 'art': always unique
- it's important not to mingle the two. Different metrics etc.

E.g. A Steinway piano voicer needs parts that are exactly the same (science), but use their skill autonomously to made unique pianos (art)

'When Should a Process Be Art, Not Science?', Hall & Johnson, HBR, Mar 09

Petrobas: role modelling the important of safety

At Petrobas the CEO and other top managers "have joined the auditing teams that check the HSE compliance of our business and service units and new projects. Senior, executive, and general managers have participated in more than 1,000 audits, going on field trips to refineries, offshore platforms, and pipelines." [...]

"When I [CEO] step off the helicopter an at offshore platform, it's sort of like the general showing up at the barracks for the morning bed check. But employees know that I'm there because I are about what they're doing, not to catch some indiscretion. This is part of an important formal and informal trickling-down process that drives the cultural change into day-to-day operations."

'The Greening of Petrobras', Jose Sergio Gabrielli de Azevedo [CEO], HBR Mar 09

Performance metrics at Clifford Chance

Law firm Clifford Chance replaced its single metric of billable hours with 7 criteria on which to base bonuses:
  • Respect and mentoring
  • Quality of work
  • Excellence in client service
  • Integrity
  • Contribution to the community
  • Commitment to diversity
  • Contribution to the firm as an institution

In 2002 a leaked memo from the firm contended that pressure to deliver billable hours had encouraged padding of billed hours and senior associates doing work that could be done by cheaper junior ones.

'The Five Traps of Performance Measurement', A Likierman, HBR Oct 09

Using CAPTCHAs for free transcription

Luis von Ahn and colleagues at Carnegie Mellon University are using CAPTCHAs to decipher words that have stumped optical readers trying to digitise old books.

Now transcribing 10m words a day, equivalent of 150,000 books a year, equivalent to 37,500 full-time workers.

'The Power of Unwitting Workers', HBR Oct 09

Friday, 23 October 2009

Companies think their customer experience is better than it is

According to Bain survey covering 362 companies
8% of customer described their experience as "superior"
80% of the companies believed the experience they provide is superior

Source: quoted in Understand Customer Experience, Meyer & Schwager, HBR, 2007

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Idea for gathering consumer insight

"Shopper critique - Have a consumer follow you around a store while you shop for them. Afterward they critique you and tell you what you did wrong."


Yokmok - customer co-creation of holidays

"A Spanish travel agency called Yokmok develops adventure trip ideas by first holding a beta-version exploratory trip at a reduced price. A group of their customers participate in the trip to help build the idea. This in turn builds loyalty though a key group of brand enthusiasts."


'The Local' blogs from New York Times

Seems like a good ideas: NY Times enters local news market by bringing together relevant bloggers etc.

Looks a bit dull in practise, but then so much local news is.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Ritz-Carlton - empowering employees to give good service

After decades of demanding that employees strictly adhere to a 20-point list of customer service basics, the company's management realised that the specific routines weren't adequately addressing the widely ranging expectations of the luxury chain's customers, who had become younger, more diverse, more tech savvy, and more likely to travel with family.

The company's leaders also saw that expanding the list to address every possible situation that an employee might encounter would be futile. As a result, they shifted to a simpler 12-point set of values that allowed employees to use their judgement and improvise.

Tightly defined process dictums (like "always carry a guest's luggage", "escort guests rather than point our directions to another area of the hotel", and "use words like good morning, certainly, I'd be happy to, an it's my pleasure") sometimes felt stuffy and out of place. Management replaced them with loser value statements (such as "I build strong relationships and create Ritz-Carlton guests for life" and "I am empowered to create unique, memorable, and personal experiences for our guests"). The change encouraged employees to sense customers' needs and act accordingly. Customer satisfaction improved.

Source: "When Should a Process Be Art, Not Science?", J.M. Hall & M.E. Johnson, HBR, Mar '09.

From my time at What If ( I also know that they backed up these values statements with actions that let people know they were really meant, like giving employees discretion to spend up to $2k to put right problems without prior authorisation. And they used stories of how other staff around the world put the values into practise by sharing stories at the daily 'line-up'.

Friday, 18 September 2009

Perfume spritzing at Hollister flagship store, New York

We've all gotten over being shocked by Abercrombie & Fitch stores by now. The Hollister flagship in SoHo, New York pulls most of the same tricks. Half-naked models, loud music, clothes in no discernible order. Yet somehow it's still an amazing, intense experience.

A few reasons:
- It's incredibly dark, breaking the fundamental rule of retail that people actually have to be able to see the product.
- The fit-out, as somewhere between an opulent beach house and a pier, is to an unbelievable level even by today's flagship store-meets-Disneyland standards.

Perfume spritzing - I also happened to be when someone walked around spritzing everything with perfume. That'll be why a nice smell wafts out when you just walk past. And when you get the clothes home I bet the smell has a sub-conscious effect on satisfaction.

Bored models are a problem - a few models were dancing, laughing and enjoying themselves. It worked - you wanted to be part of their gang. But many, understandably, looked bored. This totally breaks the spell.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Emotional Compatibility (brand mergers and acquisitions)

When 2 brands are merged into one, or 1 brand is rebranded as another, 'emotional compatibility' needs to be considered.

For example, if one brand is seen as adventurous and another is seen as safe they are not emotionally compatible in this respect and this contradiction needs to be managed carefully. They may be emotionally compatible on other dimensions, e.g. both seen as clear. And they may or may not be functionally identical in terms of what they actually offer - that's a separate consideration.

Lloyds TSB Save the Change account - Nudge in action

Lloyds TSB have an account called Save the Change that rounds up each debit card to the nearest pound and deposits it in a savings account.

Copied from a US account? In any case, nudge economics in actions.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Rebranding & Renaming - useful examples

Someone has helpfully scanned this Marketing Week article from 2007 with good examples from successful and unsuccessful brand renaming. Including Powergen to E.on, Switch to Maestro, Jif to Cif, Coco Pops to Choco Krispies, Go to Easyjet, NTL Telewest to Virgin Media, and Andersen Consulting to Accenture.

Key lessons:
  • engage staff with the rebrand and explain what it means for them
  • make sure customers are clear on the benefit

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Stew Leonards

Just visited US retailer Stew Leonards' store in Yonkers, New York.

Two iconic actions jump out:
- Giant 'stone' at the store entrance with 'The customer is always right!' engraved
- “Up the Ladder” posters above the checkouts. They show an employee's name and photo, and all the positions they have held in the store as they move up the ladder. Great idea showcasing their employer brand.

Loads of other interesting ideas:
•Webcam showing the cows in their farm
•Huge mirror above the bakery shows them baking fresh products
•As previously mentioned, they showcase recommendations of their food from local rather than national press
•Sign: “If you wouldn’t take it home for you mother don’t put it our for customers”
•Sign showing chickens and cows standing up and wearing nothing but a barrel with “Get Naked” on it (i.e. chicken and beef contains no additives)
•By the cheese counter a screen shows employees making fresh mozzarella, as they do every day. Next to it is a sign explaining the steps of the process.
•Huge banner (at least 2 storeys high) near store entrance shows cover of Fortune in which they were named amongst the top 100 best places to work.
•Want to order from the deli? A computer allows you to select what you want (e.g. sliced meat, cheese etc) and then collect without waiting a few minutes later.

Monday, 17 August 2009

Darty's Contract of Confidence (Contrat de Confiance) - Iconic Action

Darty is a leading French electrical goods retailer, currently owned by KESA Electricals Plc.

The “Contract of Confidence/Trust” is a contract between the firm and its customers. Darty launched it 30 years ago, promising price, choice and service.

It contains tangile specifics, e.g.
- Darty is never knowingly undersold
- They guarantee a repair on any day of the week (unheard of in a country where no one worked on Sundays)

Iconic action: each employee signs the contract of confidence when they join.

Sources: Mainly Disruption by Jean-Marie Dru (p 163). Also KESA Electricals site here.
CDC booklet itself available here.

Monday, 10 August 2009

37 Signals...

...have a book explaining their philosophy

Flimsy Doorknobs (Why iconic actions work)

How do you judge how solid a door is? Of course from the feel of the door handle, and the clunk the mechanism makes when you close it.

On room doors the handle and noise is even less related to the quality of the door itself than in cars, which manufacturers apparently spend a fortune getting the closing noise right on.

Inspired by, thought not directly from:

Accidental Innovation: @replies on Twitter

"@replies were not originally part of Twitter. They were embraced by the community first, and then we built them into the system."


Power of testing - You should follow me on Twitter

UX designer Duncan Curtis found that the phrase:
"You should follow me on twitter"
Got 38% more clicks than:
"Follow me on twitter"


Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Market gap for serious but pacy media content

There needs to be more serious but pacy content on TV and radio. Radio 4 is too slow and current affairs based. 'Yoof' TV too dumbed down. Instead do something for people in their late 20s and 30s, based on Saturday broadsheet magazines.

Friday, 31 July 2009

Evaluating Ideas - Eureka Ranch's Merwyn Simulation

Eureka Ranch has employed a boffin to develop a model for predicting the sales of early-stage product or service ideas. Tap in a few assumptions, give them $2k, and they'll tell you how much you'll sell. It's called Merwyn Business Simulation Research.

Not sure how much confidence I'd have in the assumptions, but interesting idea, particularly for incremental innovations.

See their web site here. Or broader Inc magazine article here.

Pret A Manger - culture

Good blog post on Pret and how they create their culture on The Insider here.

Key points:
- empower employees
- spend 0.4% of revenue on marketing, and
- hire for attitude not skills
And in return to find that 60% of your comment cards are positive or neutral.

Nice quote on hiring for attitude from their Head of Comms, Jay Chapman:
“You can’t hire someone who can make sandwiches and teach them to be happy,” says Jay, “So we hire happy people and teach them to make sandwiches”.

Wired Coffee Pots + Whiteboard

John Seely Brown's consultancy tried to use their space to encourage collaboration by:
- Creating wired coffee pots, that send everyone a message when new coffee has brewed so they end up bumping into each other.
- Putting in a floor to ceiling whiteboard by the coffee pots.
- Using cameras and screens to link the whiteboard in the New York office to the one in San Fran.

Source: John Seely Brown in Storytelling in Organizations, p77. On Google Books here.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Telecoms improvements

I'd like:
- To be able to call more than 1 person at a time. Someone needs to reinvent conf calling so it’s easy.
- Check my SMS messages online. Particularly when I leave my phone at home or the battery is dead.
- Port my landline number to Skype, so I can use it anywhere. Is the barrier to this technical, or just the regulator has not forced it through yet?

Monday, 13 July 2009

Kit Kat's KitMail (Japan)

In Japanese Kit Kat sounds like 'Kitto Katsu', literally 'surely win' or more loosely good luck. Nestle and JWT Japan created a special edition mailable Kit Kat, to send as a good luck gift during exam season.

The 'KitMail' is available in 22,000 Japan Post offices, opening a new channel with no other confectionery competition. This has now won a Cannes Golden Lion.

Larger photo here.
Source: The Wire (WPP), Japan Today.

Friday, 3 July 2009

Why don't employees do what they're supposed to?

Just 4 possible reasons:

  • There is no positive consequence for doing it
  • They anticipate future negative consequences
  • They are rewarded for not doing it
  • They are punished for doing what they are supposed to do


'Individual Economic Value' statements at Alberto-Culver

Since 1998 people at Albert-Culver have 'invididual economic value' statements (IEVs), a sentence describing how their role contributes to company profitability. Communicates both the that individual and the rest of the company.

Not sure I love the example given, though. From a consumer relations person: "I turn every customer I talk to into a company fan".

Source: Alberto-Culver's HR Director Carol Lavin Bernick. Excellent article in HBR describing their turnaround.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Importance of User Observation

Nike saw that people running were wearing iPods, so created Nike+.

Golden Rule for Living Brand Values

Golden rule: Every action a brand takes should reflect one of its values, and never contravene any of them.

BJ Cunningham, creator of Enlightened Tobacco Company' Death Cigarretes (now in director of shoe brand Georgina Goodhan), quoted in Brand Management, Summer 09

Also: the CEO should be at the bottom of the (upside-down) pyramid not the top. But still a god, so like Atlas holding up the world not Zeus ruling from above.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Merging buildings? Re-assign offices from scratch

When Lockheed and Martin Marietta merged their headquarters into a building previously occupied by Martin Marietta, they moved everyone out and reassigned offices from scratch. This avoided the impression that anyone had been bumped or that some people were more important than others. That action was critical from a social standpoint. "The attitude 'we bought you' is a corporate cancer." (Source: HBR article, 1997)

Same thing with P&G:
Following the P&G acquisition of Gillette the day came for Gillette staff's site merger into P&G's offices.Tarek Farahat, P&G's country general manager, arranged that when people arrived at the facility on Monday morning nearly everyone from both companies were in new offices on new floors.

Monday, 8 June 2009

Biggest Mistakes in Business

Apple co-founded Steve Wozniak was an engineer at HP, and he gave it the first shot at his microcomputer idea. They said no. Source: Dan & Chip Heath in Fast Company

Dyson approached all the major vacuum cleaner manufacturers to license his technology, but they turned him down. Hoover were later found guilty of patent infringement. Source: Wikipedia entry

(add: 3M turning down WL Gore products)

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Brand extensions across categories - good and bad

Good: Disney 'Fairy Tale Weddings' bridal wear. Disney branding kept subtle and tasteful.
Bad: Walt Disney Signatures $1,295 executive fountain pen.

Good: footwear
Bad: Xtreme cake decoration kit

Good: pet insurance

Friday, 8 May 2009

Prototyping at Harrah's

Harrah's offered 2 groups of customer either:
- a $125 package, including a free room, 2 steak dinners, and $30 in chips
- $60 in chips

The $60 offer generated more gambling revenue than the $125 offer.

Including unavailable metrics

At DaVita, if a metric is considered important, but the data isn't currently available, the metric is included on reports anyway with the notation 'not available'. The persistent mention of important measures that are missing helps motivate the company to figure out ways to gather that information.

DaVita is $2bn Californian manufacturer of kidney dialysis machines.

Source: Evidence-Based Management, Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert Sutton, HBR

Friday, 17 April 2009

Types of Change Management Strategy

Types of change management:
- Evolutionary: gradually evolve values, structure and performance measures
- Jolt and refocus: risky but quick change
- Follow the leader
- Multifront small changes: many small operational changes at once, designed top down
- Systematic redesign: much more root and branch, again top down
- Bottom up: practical changes, starting bottom up from customer-focussed probs

Source: Adapted from a 1995 McKinsey Quarterly article here.

Monday, 6 April 2009

BP's Aloe Vera Plants - Iconic Action

BP has placed potted Aloe Vera plants in the lobby of its headquarters. Of all the green plants, Aloe Vera converts the most carbon dioxide to oxygen. As such, it embodies a core value of the BP brand: to be "green." Every day as employees walk into the office, the plants remind them of their shared corporate vision - to go beyond petroleum - and the imperative to develop renewable energy.

Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Time Inc and Lexus customised 'Mine' magazine

Sign up and get 5 free issues of a 36-page magazine, tailored to your preferences.

All will have Lexus ads, also with tailored messages.

Monday, 16 March 2009

Home Visits - Iconic Action

I've heard this told by an ex-P&G employee about AG Lafley, and by a Unilever person of one of their CEOs. Either way, the CEO was said to get off a plane on a business trip to a country and insist on doing 2 customer home visits before they'd go to the office or look at the P&L.

IKEA's Ingvar Kamprad Statue - Iconic Action

When they erected a statue of IKEA founder Ingvar Kamprad in his hometown they invited him to perform the unveiling. Instead of cutting the ribbon, he untied it, folded it up neatly and handed it to the mayor. "Now you can use this again," he said.

Continental Airlines - Iconic Actions

Gordon Bethune, CEO of Continental Airlines from 1994 until 2004.

- Concerned that customer-service employees were micromanaging customers by relying too heavily on a very thick instruction manual, he set fire to a stack of manuals in the parking lot.
- After he offered each employee a $65 bonus every month that Continental placed among the top five for on-time departures, Continental jumped to fourth the subsequent month and first thereafter.

(probably quoting from Bethune's book From First to Worst)

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Name That Tune

Shazam uses high tech algorithms to name a tune you play it via your mobile phone. solves the same problem, by asking people to listen to clips of people humming!

Monday, 23 February 2009

Tech Expertise x Motivational understanding = Effect

Used by GE Asia-Pacific.

Technically perfect product, no consumer need: (10 x 0 = 0).
Flawed product, appeals to a need: (2 x 8 = 16).
Best result achieved by balancing both: (5 x 5 = 25).

Natural Confectionery Company

Interesting post on history of Natural Confectionery Company, repositioned from 'Binkas' to hit on a insight. Massive sales growth, figures here:

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Reasons Companies Go Green

  • Enlightened CEO
  • Stakeholders pressure
  • Consumer pressure
  • Industry norms
  • Cost rise or demand fall shock + clear cost saving
  • Societal norms
  • Regulatory pressure
  • Environmental shock (e.g. hurricane)

Monday, 26 January 2009

Novartis HQ

Novartis tore down their 19th Century plant to build a knowledge campus, devoted to knowledge transfer. Everybody having a separate office went, Italian coffee houses came in.

Source: 'Storytelling in Organizations' book, John Seely Brown et al, 2005

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Promo idea: Green Tomato Cars leaflet

Green Tomato Cars dropped a leaflet at house no 1 on every street. It said 'we are a green company and so are only handing out 1 leaflet per street. Please cross off your house number and then drop it through your neighbour's door'.

Mentioned by founder Jonny Goldstone in a talk mid-2008. Idea was from an ad agency who approached them.

Promo idea: Dr Pepper bets when Guns 'n Roses will release album

Dr Pepper said that if Gun 'n Roses release Chinese Democracy, which was 17 years in the making, before the end of 2008 they would give everyone in the US a free can. It was released on 23 November, the only day on which the free drinks were available.

Promo idea: Lands' End Gift Card in a Mini-Bag

Lands' End in the US sent out a gift charge card before Xmas, in a mini-bag, mini-catalogue and gift box. The point: call up, fill the card with a gift amount, send it on in the bag and gift box.

Learnt from here:

Sadly no photos seem findable on the web.

Promo idea: Orange Rockcorp

Give 4 hours of your time to charity, get concert tickets.
And an Orange SIM-card with £20 credit to try to convert you into a customer.

See Your Car Being Repaired Online

Nationwide insurance in the US let you see you car while it's being repaired.

Friday, 9 January 2009

Promo idea: Burger King Lost Wallet Promotion

Burger King ran a fun US promotion centred on a finding a 'lost wallet'.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

IBM & Wal-Mart - Iconic Actions

Lou Gerstner, IBM
At a first Divisional meeting, where managers were accustomed to presenting great reams of overhead projections, Gerstner turned off the projector and insisted they all just talk. Very quickly, having the best slides stopped being among the criteria for success at the company.

Sam Walton, Wal-Mart
In one instance, he heard a customer complain to a clerk that the fishing rod he had bought at Wal-Mart Stores had broken. "Mr. Sam" walked over to the fishing rod section, got an identical rod, gave it to the customer and deeply apologized.

Source: John Kotter article,

Einstein and Reframing

A nice reframing story:
"We were all warned that algebra was going to be really difficult, whereas Einstein was told that it was a hunt for a creature known as 'X' and that when you caught it, it had to tell you it's name."