positioning posts

Adventures in Consumption August 15th, 2011

Here’s a bunch of examples of surprise, delight, dismay and beyond from my recent interactions in the consumo-sphere.


From the travel section at The Container Store. Lots of fun little bottles for packing your unguents and potions for travel. Nalgene bottles are guaranteed not to leak, even in the unpressurized airplane cargo hold. Given that the most you can carry onto a plane under TSA regulations is 3 oz., that seems like a likely size. Nalgene doesn’t make that size, despite sufficient demand that The Container Store has printed up a special sign to try and deflect the inevitable inquiries. What are those conversations like between the Nalgene sales rep and the buyer from The Container Store?




Paying online for the San Francisco Chronicle. In addition to the cost of the paper, I can also add a tip for the carrier, or donate some money to NIE. Not a misspelled Monty Python reference, it’s Newspapers in Education (I Googled). You’d imagine they’d get more uptake if they told us what it was they are asking for money for.




From the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. “No peeking” (and “come back”) is so much nicer than “keep out.” And so knowing; of course when you see an installation-in-progress you are curious! The SFMOMA acknowledges that curiosity and harnesses the energy behind it to encourage you, rather than discourage you.



The menu at Oyaji in San Francisco. We see the risk of software that uses default form entries when you end up with Spider Roll that consists of “Give a brief description of the dish.”



At Crate and Barrel, shoppers can send a text to the manager to give feedback about their shopping experience. I hadn’t heard of this service (from recent Google acquisition TalkBin) before.



A travel poster advertising Alaska. And bears. Funny, friendly bears. Who, if you read the news, keep eating people.




A poster from a local cafe advertising Elizabeth’s range of services. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a more tangible demonstration of the importance of specializing in your positioning. While I’m sure Elizabeth is wonderful and if I got to know her I’d trust with everything including yard maintenance and meal preparation, but to a new customer, someone who is qualified to look after precious offspring isn’t therefore qualified to look after precious animals (and in fact my be less qualified…do you want your toddler in a house full of someone else’s dogs?). Pick what you are good at and sell the one thing. If you need to diversity, create a range of separate messages.



Rooms at the Edgewater Hotel in Seattle have lovely specialized bottles of hair care products that reflect their brand and overall attitude. Unlike most hotels with their tiny (3 oz.) sample bottles, these are big, easy-to-handle bottles like you might have at home. A sign warns you that it’ll cost you $25 to take them home, so you know it’s good stuff. Mind you, on the housekeeping cart are these ketchup-and-mustard-evoking-bottles with stick-on labels that are used to refill those lovely bottles. Delightfulness denied.



Pike’s Place Market in Seattle. Past the faulty grammar (How the elephant got in my pajamas, I’ll never know!) the motivation for this extreme warning is clear enough.



The ice cream menu at Cold Stone Creamery. Random, unfunny, unintegrated product name puns. One evokes James Bond, but why? None of the others do. Other names are silly but decidedly not clever. My favorite is Cookie Minster, made with mint, so you’d think it’d be Cookie Mintster but no. Not that.

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
ChittahChattah Quickies September 2nd, 2010
  • [from steve_portigal] Laptops Look like Race Cars — And Not in a Good Way [NYTimes.com] – [Pogue on the ridiculous sticker-on-laptops package] As A.M.D. points out, it’s like buying a new, luxury car­ and discovering that it comes with non-removable bumper stickers that promote the motor oil, the floor mat maker, the windshield-fluid company and the pine tree air freshener you have no intention of ever using….A.M.D.’s research shows that consumers hate the stickers (duh). But they’re not going away, for one simple reason: There’s big money involved. I(Apple famously refuses to put Intel stickers on its computers, even though there’s Intel inside. In doing so, it leaves millions of dollars a year on the table.)…In 2011, A.M.D. will switch to new stickers that peel off easily, leaving no residue; after that, it’s considering eliminating the sticker program altogether. In the meanwhile, it’s going to make affixing its stickers optional. If a computer company chooses not to use the A.M.D. stickers, A.M.D. will still pay it the same marketing dollars to use in other ways.
  • [from steve_portigal] DROID DOES – [Of course this advertising copy is at least partly tongue-in-cheek but I really have to wonder why – even as a joke – this is the sort of thing that we supposedly want out of our devices. The radio ad goes even further, giving voice to the implicit message here by promising to turn you into a machine. Verizon's raison d'etre is to sell phones, I know, but ulp, people, ulp. As we grapple with where we're at with this digi-firehose, Droid is putting a mecha-stake in the ground for us] Turns your eyes into captivated apertures of ecstasy. Its web-busting speed turns your arms into blistering, churning pistons. It’s power, intelligence and intuition. It’s not a better phone. It’s a better you….Its power, ability, brains and skill turn you into a web-rocketing, message-crafting super-you…with web-browsing speed that shoots you from zero to sixty in nanoseconds. It has an intuitive QWERTY keyboard that turns your thumbs into twin, text turbines and steaming diesel email engines.
  • [from steve_portigal] Robert Krulwich on Wondering [Frank Chimero] – Noticing is tough, yet rewarding work, and it begs to be documented. We’ve more tools than ever to do so…Maybe if the noticing started to arrange into larger patterns or there got to be a lot of documentation, I could maybe even print up a book of all the things I had noticed. And wouldn’t that be a nice thing to have on the bookshelf? My Year of Noticing and Wondering — 2010. As a person constantly in a position to produce words or designs or ideas, or whatever it may be, it feels good to give myself permission to kick back and inquisitively absorb things as they come. Part of noticing isn’t seeking, it’s highly reliant on serendipity and unexpected relevancy.
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
ChittahChattah Quickies October 22nd, 2009
  • Amazon’s Kindle app for the PC – (Is it still an app if it runs on a computer?) While it seems to be tied to the launch of Windows 7 this week, it will also run on XP, etc. The Kindle experience starts to become platform independent. So what it is? A UI? An OS? An ecosystem? Or a store?
  • Advertising – The People Spoke. In Windows 7, Microsoft Says It Listened – Microsoft asks PC users for feedback. But after the debacle with Vista, they realized that the concept of consumers as an intrinsic part of the development process could be an effective selling point for Windows 7. And so was born a campaign carrying the theme “I’m a PC and Windows 7 was my idea.”
    “Our customers co-create the product with us,” said David Webster, GM for brand and marketing strategy “We’re using the customers’ voice to tell our story.”
    In one ad, these words are superimposed over a photograph of a woman: “I asked for it to use less memory. Now it uses less memory. I’m a tech goddess.”
    In another ad, these words appear over a photo of an older man: “I suggested they make it less complicated. Guess what? Now it’s less complicated. I so rule.”
    In commercials, Microsoft engineers say, “Bring it on; what do you got?” PC users fire back with pithy phrases like “Less clutter, just less clutter.” And the engineers reply: “Loud and clear. We’re all over it.”
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
ChittahChattah Quickies October 4th, 2009
  • Things I Would Rather Read On Paper – I recently built up a hefty backlog of unread articles, and the prospect of reading them all on a laptop or iPhone screen seemed like more of a chore than a pleasure. I should really get around to actually reading some of these things that I'm saving to Read Later. Something had obviously gone wrong. I had personally curated a series of articles, blog posts and essays that I was genuinely interested in, but somehow the resulting collection felt like a to-do list, yet another inbox on my computer waiting to be un-bolded. What I really wanted was a nicer user interface to these articles. So I copy-and-pasted the text of my unread articles from Instapaper into a PDF, uploaded it to Lulu.com, and ordered a single book.
  • As innovative products are introduced, category boundaries are continually shifting and new categories emerging – Lexar Media, a digital photography start-up founded in 1996, sold memory cards. They used a variety of signals to persuade early adopters, especially professional photographers, to classify the memory cards that store pictures as similar to the silver halide film used in analog cameras.

    Lexar Media’s product was put in gold packaging similar to Kodak’s film cartridges, given a speed rating to create an analogy to ISO ratings, labeled as “digital film” on the package and in advertising, and placed in the camera section of retail stores.

    Sony promoted a competing categorization, labeling its cards “Memory Stick” and advocating their use for many of the company’s consumer electronics devices, including digital music players, handhelds and digital camcorders. Other companies also adopted this broader memory classification, so Lexar Media’s success in establishing memory cards as analogous to film was short-lived, and the company stopped promoting the cards as digital film.

  • Will Piracy Become a Problem for E-Books? – Until now, few readers have preferred e-books to printed or audible versions, so the public availability of free-for-the-taking copies did not much matter. But e-books won’t stay on the periphery of book publishing much longer. E-book hardware is on the verge of going mainstream. More dedicated e-readers are coming, with ever larger screens. So, too, are computer tablets that can serve as giant e-readers, and hardware that will not be very hard at all: a thin display flexible enough to roll up into a tube.

    With the new devices in hand, will book buyers avert their eyes from the free copies only a few clicks away that have been uploaded without the copyright holder’s permission? Mindful of what happened to the music industry at a similar transitional juncture, book publishers are about to discover whether their industry is different enough to be spared a similarly dismal fate.

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
Comments Off  |   Email This Post    
ChittahChattah Quickies September 13th, 2009
  • PC Makers Abandoning a Sales Pitch Built on Complex Specs – Ludicrous article claiming that all of a sudden, computers will be sold based on what they can accomplish, with a focus on aesthetics and design, and with models aimed at specific customer segments. How is any of this at all new? Much of this has been going on – to varying degrees of success – for well over a decade. And there's no indication that these "new" efforts will be any more well executed than they have in the past.
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
Comments Off  |   Email This Post    
ChittahChattah Quickies May 17th, 2009
  • Mass Customization of the Fiat 500 – A number of folks we recently met in Europe mentioned this new (although an updated classic) car as being perfect for their needs. The variation and customizing, while perhaps not unique in today's marketplace (I'm imaging the Mini's variability is similar if not beyond) was still striking: "The 500 is available with four different trim levels: Naked, Pop, Lounge, and Sport. Customers can choose also between 15 interior trims, 9 wheel options, 19 decals, and 12 body colours. There are over 500,000 different personalized combinations of the 500 that can be made by adding all kinds of accessories, decals, interior and exterior colours, and trims."
  • Searching for Value in Ludicrous Ideas – Allison Arieff writes about "inventor/author/cartoonist/former urban planner Steven M. Johnson" whose "work tends toward the nodes where social issues intersect with design and urban planning issues." I'm reminded of my formative experiences with Al Jaffee features from MAD magazine where he's describe future products or technologies, or explain (fancifully) the workings of some current product (i.e. bars of soap that are made with quick disappearing stuff on the outside and then a small interior core that takes a long long time to dissolve).
  • Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us) by Tom Vanderbilt – Suggested to me by René Vendrig at the Amsterdam UX Cocktail Hour, after my talk on looking at cultural differences based on everyday observations. He tells me "It is about traffic, but the real subject is human psychology and how we deal with that kind of situations."
  • It's Not TV, It's HBO – HBO's standard-creating slogan, giving words to the premium experience of their programming.
  • It's not just coffee, it's Starbucks. – New ad campaign for Starbucks attempts to differentiate on quality, but sounds just a bit familiar.
  • All This ChittahChattah | Flying the sneaky skies – (see link for screen grab)

    While checking in online for a United Airlines flight, you may be offered the opportunity to upgrade to Economy Plus. It’s likely that most people decline upsells in many situations, though. The default would be to click “no thanks” and move on to completing the transaction. But United has done some tricky and manipulative interface design. The bright yellow arrow with bold text placed on the right is almost irresistible. E-commerce sites have trained us to envision a transaction moving from left to right (granted that they’ve landed on that model since it corresponds to how we read and other cultural factors); it’s very easy to click on the arrow and make a purchase you didn’t want. It takes cognitive work to search for the preferred option which is a lowly blue-underlined unbolded text link off to the left.

  • Evil-interface design in airline website design spanked by European Commission – "Another common problem is the use of prechecked boxes offering services like travel insurance; consumers must uncheck the boxes to remove the unwanted charge." I've written before about United's website being slightly more subtle in their evilness, by offering an upgrade during check-in where the highly visible (colored graphic arrow) button in the default location will cost you tons of money; it's more effort to realize, locate, and decline the offer. Why do we live in a world where major brands want to sell us things that we don't want by tricking us? It's unconscionable that any company can claim to respect consumers and then pull crap like this.
  • Cyd Harrell of Bolt | Peters reacts to the ludicrous Dell campaign trying to sell computers to women, in 2009 – "…a woman, with the last Dell I will ever own. It’s my current laptop, and I chose it because I needed a computer powerful enough to run screensharing tools and high-res video; I needed mobile broadband to stay in touch with my clients and employees, and not just my kid (heresy!); I needed my screen to look great when I go to meetings with clients. That is to say, I needed it for work. Dell, let’s make it official: you can bite me and the millions of other women who take themselves and their technology seriously."

    I love the articulate passion here, as well as the insight into what may have happened organizationally/culturally at Dell (ahem, really crappy research) that leads to such a horrendously offensive sales pitch to HALF of their buying population

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
Comments Off  |   Email This Post    
Staying On Message December 4th, 2008

clifmojo.jpg
I ordered some tripods from REI and in the package was a nice bonus: a mini Clif Mojo bar. Although my purchase was not outdoor recreation related, REI reminded me of their positioning with an appropriately positioned freebie; a outdoor recreation lifestyle snack.

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
What are your brand attributes? November 28th, 2008

assets.jpg

I received this promotion from a local plumber. In addition to the more typical description of services offered, he provides a striking summary of his personal brand attributes: insightful, mature, courteous. Those are desirable characteristics in any professional setting; they are provocative when highlighted by a plumber.

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn