But What If It Fails?

(originally posted on the Lithium Lithosphere at http://lithosphere.lithium.com/t5/Social-Customers-Matter/But-What-If-It-Fails/ba-p/33725)

I recently attended the annual Forrester Consumer Forum in Chicago. And, in usual fashion, I came away with a new outlook on my digital creativity.  Oh, I wasn’t in a rut… well, maybe a little.  And, considering the oodles of free time on my hands between 8am to 10pm, I figured I needed a fix beyond more caffeine on what I could do next.

As I was halfway thru the first day, lessons of an older time began to surface out of every conference session—starting, in fact, with the very first keynote.  James McQuivey, Ph.D. ,  Vice President and Principal Analyst at Forrester, relayed a story about an idea he proposed at an internal research meeting.   An idea that others perceived might not be successful.   Yes, a potential failure.

McQuivey pushed to have an iPad application created.  That certainly wasn’t a new idea.  The entire research team wanted the application, as there’s a general feeling that Forrester clients want easier access to published research on mobile devices and tablets.  The issue was—it had to be more complete…the mobile app team wanted more time, more features, and they needed proper resources to get the app ready.  McQuivey argued, just “get an application out that shows you the last 10 papers you’ve downloaded” (“Yes!” I replied to myself).

But, “No”.  The push-back:  Holy cow…what if doesn’t work?  What if no one likes it?  Read = what if my project is a failure?  McQuivey’s key point was “don’t try to get it perfect, get it out there and learn”.

In today’s hyper-sensitive, time-intensive world, who the heck has time for less than perfect?  Some might even call your project a failure.  It’s not comforting to put ourselves in a position of losing responsibility or even our jobs due to lack of performance, particularly when it may be an external/customer-facing program.  However, it’s a fairly well-known fact that great wins have often come as a result of learning from early losses.

There have been numerous articles on this topic.  One of the most popular articles was in BusinessWeek a few years ago called “Fail Fast, Fail Cheap”, by Doug Hall.  Mr. Hall states, “I am not encouraging you to fail. Rather, I am stating the fundamental truth that you can’t know the answers before you start. It’s foolish to assume you know things that it’s not possible to know.”

We’re not talking about “Enron”-type failures.  Like positioning your entire company’s market value on non-existent assets.  I’m talking about taking that leap into a major initiative to figure out what will work and what won’t.  After all, the worst that will happen is that you’re marketing at the same rate as anyone else.  If I don’t try, you know you can’t get ahead, and you’re limiting your ability to innovate.

THE QR PILOT

At the Forum, Lithium also staffed a booth on the exhibit floor.  We knew that this event would produce a steady stream of great visitors, and it did.  But, along with our sponsorship of the event, we also had an insert included in attendee materials.  So, we came up with the idea of handing out one of our most popular tchotchkes – the “Nation Builder” t-shirts in our favorite pan-tones.

To promote the t-shirt give-away, we included a QR Code on the ad insert (sample in orange).  If you scan the QR Code, it initiates an email with a pre-populated, subject line – “Reserve My T-Shirt, I am a size <enter size>.”

Upon clicking send, the email would go to marketing@lithium.com, and we would be able to identify the exhibit hall visitor using their email address.  The technology worked great.  And, while it would be quite tough to call this a raging success (there were less than 1% of the attendees that scanned and sent us an email), I wouldn’t call it a failure either.  Since there were a few responders, we can now walk away with a clear data point on whether or not this “works” or is even remotely useful for the attendees.

Thus, for every new idea or campaign, we can learn that:

  1. Finding the right way may be by first seeing the wrong way.
  2. A small success can be turned into a big success.
  3. A limited failure may end some ridiculous, time-sucking conversation that’s taken place over the last six months which can finally be put to grave (i.e. you can state this in the meeting without hurting anyone’s feelings—we tried it, it sucked, let’s move on.)
  4. You can make good ground on a major initiative and save the company thousands by not biting off more than you can chew.

THE OPPORTUNITY

If you have that inkling to launch that mobile initiative, create a new conversation lounge for your premier customers, build that partner network, the blog, the iTunes app, the event, the knowledgebase, or the customer experience you’ve stared at, talked about, but haven’t lifted, let’s give it a whirl—with the right dosage and expediency.

Oh, and you could fail and be successful simultaneously, which will always be better than not trying at all.

Warm wishes for your 2012 planning session and new customer experience ideas.  I’m off to flag down my CMO and see if my new campaign will reap a “you’re nuts!” response.  Then, possibly, I’ll know I’m on the right track.

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LiNCing Revelations

I bolted from LiNC  (the Lithium Network Conference 2011 in San Francisco).  I’m sure like many others, I didn’t want to leave the LiNC fun, but it was time to get home and daylight was burning.  So, I walked up to Market St. and headed southwest from downtown San Francisco at BART speed.   And, I was overcome by the thoughts of meeting so many great people who are making great strides for their brands and pushing their careers forward.

I had planned a camping weekend with my son. It was with the Cub Scouts, a parent-child weekend at Camp Cutter Scout Reservation in the Santa Cruz Mountains.   I had already packed before I left for LiNC, so now all I had to do was get home and change from business casual to camp clothes.   Swapped out my slacks and dress shoes for blue jeans and hiking boots.  And, off we went on a short 75 miles journey up into the hills between Saratoga and Santa Cruz.

By 6pm Friday night, just 3 hours removed of the modern luxuries of the Intercon, I had traded in my city by the bay view to an immersion of tall pines, redwood trees, twigs, and dirt.   My mobile phone had no service.    My warm comfy bedroom was now a tent with sleeping bags and an air mattress (I did remember that).   And, quickly I found bug repellent for the early eve mosquitos and the eau de Cutters was in full stench.   I went to the restroom, affectionately called a “Latrine”, which was indescribably primitive.   I can tell you that it had a huge trench sink with one temperature control – cold water. Very cold water (more on that later).

boy scout emblem.jpg

After a few campsite games and introductions to other parents and young scouts in our campsite, we marched off to the lodge for dinner.

There was a huge kitchen and mess hall to feed the 100+ scouts under the age of 11 and 100 or so parents.  More adjustments for me…  Gone were the cloth napkins and silverware.  It was replaced with napkins that could barely dry a wet pinky, paper plates, and plastic utensils.   And, from premium bar to completely dry (scout camp rules).   Heck, 2 “dry” days was probably what the doctor ordered anyway.

And, by the time the whole dining hall broke out into a group song, my re-initiation to scouting was complete.  I had left behind the Lithium Nation, and now contentedly succumbed to the Scouting Nation.

Back at the tent after dinner and a small campfire, I played Texas Hold ‘Em with my son in the tent with my iPad (did you really think I’d leave that at home?).   It’s a heck of lot easier to play card games on an iPad, then trying to find a flat area in a tent to stack poker chips.
At promptly 7:45am Saturday morning, I was awoken by reveille.   It was foggy.  The tent was slightly damp and about 46° F outside.   We put a few layers of clothes and set out for a day of activities including BB Guns, archery, canoeing, and crafts. I drank coffee.  I hiked.   I even found a few minutes for a nap.

Each parent had to sign-up for one of the shifts in the kitchen.  I arrived at 11:45am and was handed a mop and bucket. I mopped about 500 sq. foot of the dining hall, washed huge pans, served pudding, and ate watermelon.  I felt good about my contribution and gladly complied with every request.    (I’m sure my boss is wondering what it’s like when I act like a good subordinate).

After dinner Saturday night, the whole camp came out for the ceremonial campfire.  It had been sunny most of the day, but it was really foggy now and becoming more windy and misty.   We were doing everything we could to stay warm.  I was able to convince my son and 3 other kids from our Den to lead one of the campfire songs.  It’s called the “Little Green Frog” song.  With 4 kids at my side, we had 200 people jumping up and down.  I was warm and could feel my toes for about 5 minutes.  I’ll show the song if you want, but you’ll have to do it with me.

After we lay down for the night, it clouded up.  It then started to rain.  Really rain.  Followed by a deep mountain fog.  I awoke around 6am Sunday to find my son and I’s sleeping bags soaked at the foot of the tent.  I had to move our shoes to keep them out of a puddle.   By 8am it was 42° F outside, we had packed most of our stuff and headed to the dining hall for some warm coffee and eggs.  As I was leaving the lodge to go back to our campsite to pack, I found something amazing.

IMG_0040.pngMany, many years ago, as a young scout, I participated in a Western Region conference. This was 10 scouting councils competing for the prestigious “Conclave Award”.   It was my first time at the event and we won, and I remember distinctly how much fun I had be part of a winning team and doing whatever I could.  Simply nailed to the wall near the main door, there it lay.

The winning plaque from 1981.

This was just the reminder I needed about what I had experienced at LiNC – how accomplishment can exceed the elements.  I’m talking about both the accomplishments by Lithium customers and all of the contributions by Lithium employees to make this a great annual event in San Francisco this year.  Along, with the inspirational push from Coach VanDerveer.

Thank you to everyone who came, participated, spoke, questioned, blogged, tweeted, ate, drank…even if it was just for one or two sessions.  This was a highly memorably event and I really enjoyed meeting everyone.   Can’t wait til next year.

For now, back to reality.

Is It Too Late to Post an iPad Review?

I figured since Apple announced there’s 2 Million iPads sold, perhaps it’s time to write a review.  Odd to admit…I now own my first Apple product ever – a 32 Gb iPad (non 3G version).

Yes, I’ve been affected by my iPad ownership.   (1) I’m no longer greeted with the usual “Hi Dad, how was your day”, when I get home from work.  It’s now “Hi Dad, where’s your iPad?”.  (2) I can leave my 6 lb laptop at my desk as I run off to back-to-back meetings.  I have quick access and ability to answer email, see my calendar, VPN, and jump on the internet – way better than having my 3G/WiFi mobile phone.  (3)  I temporarily look hip on BART – no very easy for me to do!  I say temporarily because they will become the norm for BART riders, particularly when the WiFi on BART improves.  (4) I’m no longer envious of Kindle owners as there’s an app for that.

Would the 3G option be nice to have?   Yea perhaps, but I have a 3G BlackBerry that’s of course way more portable and I don’t necessarily want to tow my iPad everywhere.  WiFi is becoming available pretty much everywhere you go, thus it’s totally sufficient.  Even better if you own (or able to obtain) one of the Verizon Broadband/WiFi Hubs.

WHAT I LIKE

Form factor.  It’s way better for after dinner, weekend breakfast table reading and in work meetings.  It’s simply a less intrusive internet appliance.  I predict v2.0 will have carve-outs on the sides for easier hand grip.

Educational programs for all aged kids.  The (free and purchasable) library of reading, spelling, math, science, music, and many other important learning aids makes the iPad an excellent home schooling center, particularly here as the kids start summer.  Set them up with 15 minutes of studying for every 15 minutes of game playing.   And, all aged kids including toddlers will be able to pickup games quickly with minimal instructions even if they are unable to read.  It’s amazing to watch kids figure out the games so easily.  I can’t even keep up with my son on the Snowboard game.

Power – battery consumption.  Very good.   It lasts all day.  Only downside is that based on the family usage, I do need to charge it daily.

200+ Free Applications.  Not all of them have annoying ads, but many do, which I subsequently delete after testing them out.

Newspaper and Media.   I have the free NY Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, and Mashable iPad applications and use SFGate.com from the Safari web browser.   This is plenty for me to read everyday.    While it’s excellent that so many magazines have made convenient iPad apps, it’s not necessary to buy them unless you already subscribe and you want another mode to read.  Go ahead and kill the home delivery service if you go that route.   Save the environment – the paper and the gas for the paper delivery to get to your house.   I don’t see this as a savior for the magazine and newspaper industry, although I would really like to know when ESPN The Magazine will be available on the iPad.

THE BAD AND UGLY

No Flash.  Come on…this is just silly.  Makes web browsing unbelievably painful.   No hulu.com – which would be an awesome app on the iPad.  Apple is unbelievably lucky that YouTube doesn’t use Flash.  It’s just the running failure of Apple to be so closed-minded about this, and also means it will never be as pervasive and accepted as Microsoft, Google and Linux are.

Price.  If only the iPad came with a quality case – currently a 3-4 week backorder on the Apple and BestBuy web sites and at $40.  I’ve tried the other covers and their strangely insufficient as compared to the Apple one.   If Apple include a quality cover and a $100 iStore gift card, there would probably be 4 million iPads in circulation — just sayin…

Internet Poker.  All of the top properties need a client app and use flash.  No way that iStore can have a gaming app for these offshore enterprises.   US Government is way too stupid to figure out how to manage and tax the online card gaming industry, so they are offshore rolling in un-taxed cash.   And, the iStore can’t facilitate an “illegal” operation.

Apps Store.  I certainly appreciate the fact that someone is building an app and they want to sell/license it.   But, what happens when you buy a $5 game and then stop playing it after a month.  It’s like burning money, and I don’t enjoy that.  Be great if there was a trade-in/trade-up policy.  Unlikely.

Keyboard.  Great for quick notes and entering your password.  Way too incomplete to use for constant typing.   The iPad docking station solves this problem – a mere $69.  Note that I’m wrote this blog from a laptop.

Screen.  You’ll see that after 30 minutes of activity, your fingerprints will be all over it.  After the kids use it, it take a good wipe to clean off.  Of course, screen covers and glare reduction films are now available, but it seems the only ones people like are $30.  I have to clean the screen about 5 or 6 times/day.

Fake Demand.  It’s amusing how Apple seems to act like they’re continually out of stock of everything.  With all the supply chain optimization techniques out there, there’s NO excuse for having a delay to purchase the iPad and a 3-4 week backorder on accessories.  Oh, sure it used to be a brilliant marketing scheme, but you ain’t foolin me.  It’s nothing but an old joke now.

Yes, this $600+ device has changed my outlook on internet appliances and convenience.  I really enjoy the iPad.   If you can spare the cash and keep your kids from fighting over it, you will enjoy it too.   And, you don’t mind dumping another $100 to $200 in accessories  and sought after apps.