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One-of-a-kind at CES 2015

One of the pleasures of attending the Consumer Electronics Show is seeing new concepts making their debut for the benefit of prospective investors and manufacturing reps. Many of these are clustered in the “Eureka Park” area which, unlike last time I was here, was part of one of the main exhibit halls.

Easy Sim 3D

Easy Sim 3D quickly reconstructs an accident or crime scene.

Some products are very very niched yet seem like they’d be highly attractive to their intended audience. One example was Easy Sim 3D, a web application that quickly recreates a 3D representation of an event that can be viewed from multiple angles. It’s designed for news reporters. Then there was the GoTenna, an antenna that turns your phone into a homing device if you should be in trouble and out of cell range.


goTenna turns your cell phone into a homing device

But there’s also the “first case for your Mac charger”, probably first because nobody knew they needed it. The first ever handheld dashboard camera. And Belty™,  The New Belt Experience.

Mac Charger Case

Mac Charger case solves a problem you may not have realized you have

I wondered about the broad application of  Social Media Counter, one of those “visual radio” displays you see in restaurants that scrolls news headlines and sports scores, except this one scrolls your updated count of Twitter followers. Then there’s Smart Sine Food Minder, a collection of little radio equipped scales you put a carton of milk or other staple on; the scales know how much it’s supposed to weigh and send you a message when it’s running low.

Smart Sine Food Minder

Smart Sine Food Minder tells you when you’re out of something. The question is whether this is easier than a shopping list, and I fear not.

But I could be wrong. Or a buyer could be looking for exactly that niche kind of solution.

Witness the interest in Teddy the Guardian (watch the video), the sensor-loaded teddy bear that collects a wealth of information about your baby, then transmits it when you touch the bear’s paw.

You never know when the next big thing will come along in the form of something which you never imagined, but that now makes you say “of course!” That’s the magic of CES.

Smart homes and smart marketing at CES 2015

Oomi Smart Home system

What’s Oomi? Tell me why I should care.

“Smart homes” is a useful topic for a marketing review because, while it’s exciting (or maybe ominous) to think about gadgets turning out the lights, managing security or monitoring our baby’s heartbeat, it’s up to the marketers to tell us exactly what their specific products do. Witness a few examples, good and bad, from the recent Winter 2015 Consumer Electronics Show.

Smart Home famil

Generic smart home marketing

Oomi makes the mistake of thinking others are as interested in their product as they are. “What’s Oomi?” was the headline of their booth at the Showstoppers press event. Without a benefit or point of reference, it’s not likely many will stick around to find out. The subtext “the first smart home that’s actually smart” provides context but is too clever for its own good: I don’t know that there’s a perception of lots of smart home products that are stupid. It’s a solution for a problem that may not exist. And meanwhile, we haven’t learned anything about the product. (Like many others, it’s a set of modules that work together to handle various home automation functions.)

Not much better are a number of OEM booths I passed in the nether regions of the second floor in South Hall. By focusing entirely on technology, these importers make their systems generic. There’s a “home” graphic but otherwise they lean heavily on the “what” rather than the “why”. This is a common problem with marketing at the CES where thousands of new products and unfamiliar concepts jostle for attention simultaneously. In a few seconds as I stumble down the aisle you need to tell me not only what you are selling, but why I should care.

Teddy the Guardian

“Teddy the Guardian” baby monitor

For smart homes, it’s obviously about emotion, and the shoestring display for “Teddy the Guardian” does this very well. In fact, the signage doesn’t even say what the product is but the baby tcotchkes make a strong emotional appeal and you hang around long enough to find out it’s a teddy bear with all kinds of baby monitoring built in. There was a lot of interest in this one.

Four WeMo examples

Can I wemo that?

Finally, WeMo is a family of devices that monitor and automate activity in the home. Belkin created a mock home and then stuck devices all over the places with captions describing hypothetical problems and “can I WeMo that?” Compare this to Oomi, which seems to do the exact same thing, and you can see why Belkin’s marketing is so good. It’s a complete conversation that combines technology and the human factor and is fun to interact with as well. The booth was packed.

The Idiot of Things visits CES 2015 Las Vegas

Internet of Everything Now Open

Qualcomm’s takeoff on the Internet of Things

I saw IoT all over Las Vegas on buses and billboards, and asked a booth staffer for an explanation. She said it stands for the Internet of Things and then proceeded to explain what that meant. I already knew the concept, just not the acronym but too late; I felt like a clueless Luddite. Anyway, it is indeed the Year of the Thing at the Consumer Electronics Show with heavy emphasis on apps for connecting mobile devices to all aspects of your daily life.

Pet monitoring gadgets

Lots of pet monitoring devices at CES 2015

Over two days I saw many gadgets for monitoring every aspect of your fitness, or your child’s, or even your pet’s. You can buy an electric toothbrush that has Bluetooth that connects to an app to show you how effectively you’re brushing. You can control your home remotely or turn your car into a nerve center for managing what will happen when you arrive while hopefully not getting into an accident due to distracted multitasking. (As a car company executive pointed out in a keynote, one thing that has to be sorted out is liability when a self driving car gets into an accident.)

3D family

3D printing and printed 3D products are huge at CES. Here, your family miniaturized for posterity.

What’s hot this year, in addition to things? Drones, lots of drones. 3D printers, and products and services connected to 3D printing. Smart cars that can be controlled with hand gestures (Volkswagen), will park themselves (Hyundai) or run on fuel cells (several). Fitbits and other performance monitoring electronics on steroids, so you don’t have to be because your conditioning is so efficient and awesome. And endless lineups of 4k televisions and monitors, each more vivid and breathtaking than the last.

Drones, also totally hot

Drones, also totally hot

What’s not? 3D television. (I saw just one at the show, billed as the world’s largest glassless meaning you don’t have to wear goggles.) Google Glass is ice cold… again, just one showing. And very few laptops, tablets or conventional PCs…. This was a gadget show, and it’s fully returned to its roots as a “consumer” show with very little business spillover. (Microsoft, which had an enormous presence in years past, was behind closed doors with a single hospitality suite.)

I’ve got a few reports coming up over the next couple of weeks:

  • Some interesting “mobility experiments” described in the keynote by Ford President Mark Fields
  • Best and worst of CES: some niche concepts that fill a narrow but credible role and others that left me shaking my head
  • Marketing makeover: I look at how, and how not, to present the “smart home” concept based on examples from many exhibitors
  • A historical retrospective on CES—an institution that would seem to have no history, since it’s always looking for the next big thing
Google Glass

Google Glass, not hot

Stay tuned.

Why won’t the Post Office deliver my package?

My USPS tracking report

My package is sitting in the post office at ZIP 94124 and “scheduled for delivery” 11 days ago. Can someone help me get it to its destination?

A few years back, Canada got a new Postmaster General. He was presumably a political appointee vs. someone who came up through the ranks, judging from what he said at his introductory press conference. He was asked how he could improve mail service for business mailers and he replied to the effect of, “quite frankly, I don’t think it’s a very good business model to count on the post office.” Informed that thousands of direct mail marketers and mail order companies did exactly that, he quickly modified his remark.

I thought of that anecdote this past week while trying to track a package that I’d misaddressed and sent through Priority Mail. This is a great and reliable service that brings many of us back to the post office once per year at Christmas time. For $16 bucks or so, we can send a box of a fixed size but any weight and it will arrive in 3 days or so.

It was when my recipient didn’t get the package that I looked at my receipt and discovered my error: I’d sent it to an old address which was on file with my USPS account. I then went online and input the tracking number (tracking is included with the Priority Mail service) and found that it had gone out for delivery, presumably was rejected, then was forwarded from San Francisco to City of Industry in Southern California, where it had at this point been sitting for several days.

I tried to find a way to contact the post office on the website and eventually found a form I could fill out. I had to choose a reason and said it was an address change. (There was no choice for “I made a mistake on the address and I want to correct it.”) I actually got a call, in fact two calls, from the post office in response to this effort. But when I returned the calls the phone numbers rang forever; nobody was picking up and the post office doesn’t have voicemail.

By now my package, moving from port to port like the Ancient Mariner, had made it back to the Bay Area, giving me hope it would be redirected to the correct destination. But after it sat in Richmond for several days it made its way back to the post office for ZIP code 94124—the same ZIP code from which it had been dispatched to my original bad address.

At this point I filed a Package Intercept Request. The USPS website explains that it is a “request” rather than an “order” because “With USPS Package Intercept® service, you can seek to redirect a domestic item you’ve sent. If your item has not been delivered or released for delivery, you can request to have it redirected back to the sender’s address, to a Post Office™ location as a Hold For Pickup, or to a different domestic address. This service is available for packages, letters, and flats with a tracking or extra services barcode and all mail classes except Standard Mail® or Periodicals (other restrictions may apply). The Postal Service™ will make every effort to locate your item prior to delivery however; there is no guarantee for the service. [italics added]”

Now think about that. The package has a barcode, it has a tracking number, the postal service knows where it is, the post office knows the corrected address, and yet it hasn’t been delivered. How can this be? What good is a tracking number if it can’t be used for tracking?

You wonder why the U.S. Postal Service is, year after year, billions of dollars in the red as business drains away to Fedex, UPS and other for-profit carriers. Think about how responsive UPS was to last holiday’s shipping fiascos to make sure they wouldn’t happen again, and they didn’t. When those companies offer tracking services, you better believe they’ll work.

Maybe the project to track packages at the Post Office ran out of budget so they’re able to track a truck full of packages from one central location to another (note the ZIP code is the lowest sort level on the report; there are no actual recipient addresses). Maybe the person who was in charge of the tracking package got promoted, or retired, and the replacement wasn’t interested in the project.

For me as the customer, knowing my package is within a few miles of its destination, and yet not delivered, is far worse than simply giving it up as “lost in the mail”. If somebody in the Post Office is reading this, would you please take the package off the shelf and deliver it before the cookies inside get any staler?

Kohler how-to video might have been titled “why you shouldn’t buy Kohler bathroom fixtures”

You’ve replaced a toilet seat, right? It takes about five minutes: you unscrew the plastic nuts underneath, pull off the old seat, position the new one by poking the plastic bolts through the very obvious holes, secure it with new clean nuts and you’re done.

Well, if you have a Kohler one-piece toilet things are a little different. This video–which was MADE by Kohler, not an irate customer–tells you how to replace the anchors that hold the toilet seat in about (their estimate) 45 minutes. Mind, these instructions are just for the anchor…. you still have to put in the toilet seat and its bolts. And you have to buy a kit (Kohler sells it for $47 but you can get it for much less on Amazon) that includes the anchors and a bunch of specialty hardware to handle the difficult task of getting out the old anchor (which in my case was broken off in its hole) and stabilizing the new one while you compress it.

Take note as you watch the video of the sequence in which the washers go on the mounting bolt: first the flat washer, then the lock washer which is the opposite of the way it’s usually done. This means that after you seat the anchor and back off the mounting bolt, when you lift it off the toilet the lock washer will inevitably fall… into the toilet! At which point you have no choice but to fish it out by hand.

My teenager was impressed that a company has found a way to make money on its own design incompetence, but as he grows older he’ll learn. Google a bit and you’ll find Kohler is reviled among plumbers and any homeowner who’s ever had to work on their products and all swear never to buy Kohler again. I’m giving them my broken-off bolt award for “Worst User Experience of the Year”.

Second place, by the way, goes to my 2010 Prius for its left low beam headlight. The halogen lights in newer cars do burn out and need replacement, which on the right side is as straightforward as you might expect. But the left side requires taking off the bumper for access, giving you the choice of spending half the day on the project or paying the dealer $150. Nice move, guys.

Instead of protecting trees, Sierra Club turns them into advertising

Sierra Club Note Card Mailing

Sierra Club note card mail pack… that’s a lot o’ timber, podner!

John Muir must be spinning in his grave like a lamb on a campfire rotisserie. The organization he founded to “preserve the forests and other natural features” of the California Sierra Nevada Mountains has, in its most recent prospecting mailer, delivered a set of five two-panel note cards (complete with mailing envelopes) that must have taken out quite a swath of those forests.

Thinking about how many of these mail packs likely end up in the trash (or hopefully, recycling bin) unopened, it has to amount to a Giant Redwood-sized waste of natural resources. Hopefully it grates on the sensitivity of the target audience so it fails and they don’t do it again. Especially because the purpose of the mailing is not to protect the forests but wolves, who are being removed from the Endangered Species list presumably because they are no longer endangered.

I’ve been mildly irritated by previous Sierra Club mailings for their promotional nature but it wasn’t until today that I got rankled enough to dig into the mailing. A small notice that your gift is NOT tax deductible tipped me to go trolling on the web where, in spite of some excellent reputation management, it soon becomes clear that the Sierra Club you’re supporting is NOT the Sierra Club Foundation that spends 89% of its funds on worthy activities and gets high marks from

Sierra Club disclosures

Disclosures on the back of the reply form (which you send back). Click the picture to read the fine print.

Rather, “Sierra Club Founded 1892” is a PAC that spends almost half the money it receives on lobbying (this information is on the back of the gift form in the mail pack, which you are going to be sending back with your gift so it’s no longer in your possession). I took a picture of this document so you can see the budget breakdown, winsomely portrayed as a sectioned tree. I do see that 7.6% goes for “outdoor activities” which might be wilderness hikes, but might also be lobbyist picnics.

In short, I smell a polecat up this tree. If you’re looking for a year end tax deduction (which “Sierra Club” wouldn’t give you anyway) a better choice is Doctors without Borders which, while governments and NGOs dither about the fight against Ebola, is in Africa in force with boots on the ground. Grit your teeth as I did and check the “may we share your info?” box because it really does save them money if they can exchange lists, rather than renting them. Plus how else would you get on the list of other organizations and receive mailings like the one from the “Sierra Club”?

Does “made you look” strategy work for fundraisers?

Made You Look!

“Made you look” address sticker direct mail from DirecTV

I got a Christmas card this week from Chris Thomas—or so I thought. I was intrigued by the seasonal address sticker and wondered who I knew in El Segundo, a community near LAX notorious for its predatory speed traps. I opened it up…and there was the familiar tent card invitation from DirecTV, which indeed has its corporate headquarters in that city.

The DirecTV invitation is successful judging by the frequency with which we all receive it; the question is whether this “made you look” twist on the outer envelope helps response. I’ll guess it does, because some people will open who otherwise wouldn’t, like me, and some of those may  be in a mood to churn their TV subscription. But is there a negative effect from people who are irritated by the trickery and become LESS likely to respond in the future?

The same question applies to a graduate student’s marketing experiment described in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal (it’s a long article, and this example is way down at the end). The researcher noticed that when a Salvation Army bell ringer was posted at one entrance of a mall store, shoppers would go out of their way to use the other entrance. He then posted solicitors at both entrances and had them directly request donations from some shoppers, and not from others.

Shoppers who were directly asked for donations were 60% more likely to give. That would seem to be a big win for the Salvation Army. But what about people who were irritated by the pressure and less likely to donate in the future (or maybe to visit that store)? Donors have memories and if you create a negative impression, does it hurt you in the long term?

I’d love to hear from readers who have some experience or thoughts on this. For me it goes back to my early experience with subscription and catalog direct mail when we definitely saw fatigue; mail somebody too often and they become less likely to respond, now or ever. I’m sure there is a negative effect from pushing too hard, and I’d like to know how organizations are factoring it into their fundraising.

Do infographics work as lead generation offers?

A successful example from Marketing Sherpa

Infographic from the Marketing Sherpa case study, “Content Marketing: Interactive infographic blog post generates 3.9 million views for small insurance company”. The callouts are interactive; the reader clicks them to get the results at right. I also like the fact that this fits my screen without scrolling.

I am working on a business-to-business lead generation campaign in which I was given a bucket of information “assets” to sprinkle as offers throughout the series of contacts. Included are several infographics. I find myself reluctant to use them and I wonder if I’m alone in this.

It’s one thing to visit a web page and find a graphic that tells a story with images and type design, more effectively than words could do alone. That’s what an infographic is supposed to do. (I have previously complained about infographics that don’t get over this easy hurdle, and seem to be just a way to keep designers employed.) But how do you get people sufficiently interested that they’ll click through or give their contact information to see the infographic?

A search for “infographic” in my email archive doesn’t come up with a lot of examples. Here’s CEA Smartbrief:

What’s the ROI of Brand Advocacy at Retail?
We were curious about the value of turning retail employees into brand advocates. So we conducted an independent academic study that crunched two years of data on 63,500 sales associates in over 330 locations — and discovered that brands with customer-centric brand training sell up to 69% more. Download the infographic.

And here’s an ad for Citrix, on the Infoworld: Mobilize newsletter:

Infographic: Mobile Workspaces Enable New Ways to Work
The number of workers who telecommute is expected to increase 63% in the next 5 years, but the technology to support this is lacking in most organizations. Mobile workspaces that follow people anywhere, across their devices, secure enterprise information and afford the ultimate in productivity. SEE THE INFOGRAPHIC.

And here’s Russell Kern’s ROInsider:

Download our easy-to-read infographic on Big Data to learn what it means to connect with today’s consumer.

I like the first example because it sets up the graphic as support for one surprising fact. I’m interested in Kern’s reassurance that his is easy to read, implying that’s a hurdle with infographics. And Citrix treats the word “infographic” as equivalent to “white paper” or “special report”; there’s no additional advantage or baggage.

But what I’d like to know is whether the promise of an infographic performs as well as or better than these other, tried and true, information delivery vehicles. As a business prospect, I’m a bit embarrassed by the idea of clicking on a promised infographic because of the implication I can’t handle words so I’ve got to get my information in pictoral form—like a comic book!

Another issue with infographics is how they are to be accessed. Do you really expect me to cheerfully and willingly download a picture as I would a white paper, which I accept must be absorbed offline? And what am I going to do with it when I get it? By definition, infographics are supposed to be quick reading. Now I’ve read it, and I’m done, and I have this unwanted download (possibly with a virus attached) to dispose of.

Then there’s the practical aspect of reading the infographic: most are huge, and require extensive scrolling on the screen. That goes against everything I know about lead generation offers: if you make it difficult for people to get at your promotional information, they’re much more likely to abandon it than to struggle through.

I saw a study some years ago (from eMarketer, I think) of the comparative effectiveness of various lead gen offers (white papers, sales kits etc with interactive calculators being the best performing). I’d love to see infographics evaluated in this mix. My hunch is that prospects will view an infographic on a web page if you describe it in a compelling way, but they’re not going to download it. So that’s how I’m going to handle it in my project, and I’m going to couple it with another offer. They can go to a page and see our interesting visual, then give us a bit of contact information if they want to delve further with a related written document.

In writing this post I searched “infographic” on Marketing Sherpa, which is all about direct marketing case histories, and found just one which is the example above. This is on the blog of a company that sells travel insurance, and it appears they promoted it through quite a few channels, so I don’t know that it’s helpful in answering my question about the effectiveness of infographics for lead gen. (The article does mention that it was tested in emails against a “just plain insurance” message and achieved a 96% lift, but that is what I would expect with any offer vs no offer.) If anybody has any hard stats of whether infographics work, please share!

TV ads during the World Series: the good, the bad, the strange

For somebody who works in marketing, I don’t watch all that much commercial television. This changed during the recently concluded World Series, where I was following the fabulous Giants in a hotel room without a DVR while attending the Direct Marketing Association’s conference and so giving a lot of thought to advertising.

Certain ads played over and over again, making me the beneficiary or victim of frequency. An ad I never tired of was Budweiser’s “Friends Are Waiting” spot. A young guy bids farewell to his dog as he heads out the door with a suitcase of beer; later it’s night and we hear ominous music and the dog is sulking, making us guess something bad happened; then it’s morning and the guy comes home after all because he decided not to drive after drinking. The punch line: “Some never make it home. But we can change that.” A bit cryptic, yet absolutely perfect.

The Matthew McConaghey ad was another winner in a fine series, which equates driving a Lincoln to being an American success. It gets a special mention for this line: “I’ve been driving Lincolns since… long before they paid me to do it.” As copywriters we struggle to include the mandatory compensation disclosure in spokesperson ads. This is a beautiful solution.

Bad was everything from T-Mobile, and especially the ad with a Pirates outfielder making a last minute catch. The rather obscure message of this campaign is that they have better broadband coverage than some competitors (maybe because they have so few customers?) so if you want to capture the moment with a video at the event you won’t get timed out. The problem was we were already at the event, watching the game. The incredibly high production values/expense to create something that look like a high definition tweak of reality was wasted and ultimately annoying.

And just peculiar was the Bank of America ad featuring the dad Rafael Feliz who’s bopping around making strange purchases with the money he’s earned with a cash back card until finally it’s revealed he is putting together a night sitting on the beach watching a surfing video with his family on a portable projector—presumably all bought or rented with points. Rafael looks hapless throughout this spot and his kids, the beneficiaries of his largess, look like they’d rather be somewhere else.

Since “responsibility” is the theme of most of BofA’s commercials these days, one wonders how this even made it off the storyboard. It’s just tone deaf instead of whimsical or charming and one also wonders if they test this stuff against real audiences. A presenter at the DMA shared some car ads and results—one for Audi (as I recall) where the car helps avoid accidents just as a parent does with kids, and another spy vs spy for Hyundai with a lot of chases through tunnels, helicopters and other James Bond silliness. The sweet one dramatically increased “intent to buy” while the spy themed ad actually reduced intent to buy, so maybe not.

Boredom banished at DMA 2014

The Direct Marketing Association’s annual conference is happening this week in San Diego, and I’ll shortly get on a plane to join my colleagues. I will be on a panel Tuesday morning October 28, called “Creative Slamdown: How world-class creatives successfully sell strange, obscure, boring or even the most mundane products” put together by estimable designer and freelance creative director Carol Worthington Levy. Panelists Kathy Lemmon and Michelle LaPointe and I will vie to present the most interesting case history of a dry, difficult or tedious assignment which was executed in an interesting and hopefully effective (since this is a direct marketing conference, after all) way.

My centerpiece is a print ad for Rovi’s advertising in the guide (the ads the appear on your TV channel guide while you are looking for a show to watch) aimed at media buyers. Come see how we turned a straightforward and complex pitch/explanation into something memorable, or at least unexpected.

The session is at 11 am, just before the “Hall of Fame” luncheon which is traditionally a barn burner, so this is a great way to get all fired up and ready to go.

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