Friday, February 29, 2008

Eisenberg's Hierarchy of Optimizaiton Needs

Bryan Eisenberg's article today on the hierarchy of optimization needs is a worthwhile read. In it, he layers the concept of prioritizing site optimization opportunities on top of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. An interesting concept, though I think his separating Usable and Intuitive onto two separate layers is a bit of a stretch, meant mostly to make a nice, marketable pyramid.

Still, very useful. You could take this same concept and apply it, with slightly different labels, to optimizing any business process. If you don't have the fundamentals (the bottom of the pyramid) in place (e.g. an operation that works) then driving more and more leads into to your operation is going to be of limited value.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Hooked on Pandora

Lately I've become completely hooked on Pandora. If you don't know about it, it's a free streaming music site based on the Music Genome Project. You create your own stations based on "seed" songs or artists. Pandora then uses the genome qualities of that song or artist to feed you other similar songs. You can "thumbs up" or "thumbs down" a song to tweak what it is that Pandora feeds you. You can also bookmark songs, which sends them to your profile page where other people can see what you like and you can link over to Amazon or iTunes to purchase the track.

I use Pandora primarily at work, but I love it so much that I've started using it at home, too, by connecting a laptop to the stereo we use most often - the one in the kitchen (my wife is also hooked). Sonos makes a home music distribution system that will connect to Pandora, but that seems like overkill to me.

Now I'm starting to want Pandora when I'm on the move. Some phones can be used to connect to Pandora, too, but not my BlackBerry Curve. Not even with the web browser. I know I can buy and download my bookmarked songs, but I bookmark songs from multiple stations, not all of which I'm interested in buying at a given time. It would be great if Pandora allowed me organize my bookmarked songs by station, and then buy all (or selected) bookmarked songs from a station in a single action. It should be as easy as possible (see below - I hate managing MP3's).

Really, though, I hate managing MP3's. I want Pandora to work on my phone so I don't have to manage files. It's a completely friction-free way of listening to music if you don't mind not being able to go directly to a particular song (you can skip ahead in the stream, but you don't have direct access to specific tracks). I don't have to manage anything to make it work. I like that.

Pandora, please work on my phone. Until then, I'm patiently waiting. And loving Pandora.

Composed on my BlackBerry Wireless Handheld

Monday, February 25, 2008

Eddie Bauer Embraces its Inner Male

Eddie Bauer is another example of a brand that got big, then moved away from its position in an ill fated attempt to expand and paid the price in declining sales. In 1996, prior to the brand expansion efforts, Eddie Bauer had sales of $430 per square foot according the the Puget Sound Business Journal. That had declined to $250 by 2006. The expansion efforts included moving to dressier lines and more women's clothing, and abandoning the rugged outdoors position that made the brand so powerful in the first place. Stick to your position, or watch it erode and die.

As a clothing retailer, Eddie Bauer owns "outdoors" in the mind of the consumer. Straying from that proved disastrous. It appears that CEO Neil Fiske wants to return the Eddie Bauer brand to the rugged outdoors, where it came from.

Hooray for Neil! This will be another interesting turnaround to watch along with Starbucks. Interesting that both are taking place in Seattle. Don't know if that means anything, but it's nice to see this stuff happening in our own back yard here in the Pacific Northwest.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Prediction: $1.00 Starbucks Coffee = Bad Move

Quick Prediction: Starbucks attempt to move down market with $1.00 coffee will prove to be another in a recent string of brand mistakes. Starbucks stands for "expensive coffee" in the mind of the consumer. Adding a $1.00 cup of coffee to the menu, and attempting to compete with McDonalds and Dunkin' Donuts will dilute that perception, eroding the core perception of "expensive coffee", and revenue growth with it.

Another recent mistake was the hot sandwiches for breakfast. While I personally loved them at first, the quality seemed to wane after several months. Worst of all, the ovens made Starbucks smell like a fast-food joint, not like a coffee shop. Frankly, it was disgusting. In a business like coffee, smell is a huge part of brand perception...and the sandwiches were killing the coffee shop vibe.

It's funny [not so funny, I guess, more sad] to watch big companies like Starbucks start to mess with, and in some cases throw away, that which made them powerful brands in the first place. Starbucks is "expensive coffee", Dunkin' Donuts is "everyman coffee", and McDonalds "fast food and kids". Dunkin' is doing great job with embracing who they are, and presenting an alternative to Starbucks. Starbucks could stand to learn from them. Stick to your position, Starbucks, or watch it erode and die.

UPDATE (2/22/08): Looks like movement in the right direction. Of course, its very unfortunate to see layoffs, but previous management laid a course that was unsustainable, so the course has to be corrected. My hat's off to him for doing what needed to be done. Now, will he dump the $1.00 coffee, too? Time will tell.

UPDATE (2/25/08): I just heard from my wife that some stores are reporting that they won't be getting rid of the hot sandwiches due to so many people complaining about their disappearance. This raises another interesting question: how to weight the protests of a vocal minority when trying to pull a brand back to its position. I'm sure there are people who would love Starbucks to sell cheeseburgers, and if Starbucks had introduced cheeseburgers, they would complain when they were taken away. The instinct, of course, is to try to please all your customers. The problem is, you can never be all things to all people. When you try to, you lose your focus. When you lose your focus, customers stop coming because they don't know what you stand for. If I want a burger, I'll go to McDonalds. If I want coffee, and I don't want the fast-food burger experience with it, where do I go? Not Starbucks, I guess. We don't have Dunkin' Donuts here, so I'll go to my neighborhood coffee shop. The point is this...I don't have research on it, but I bet Starbucks is driving more people away with the fast-food experience than they are gaining by keeping the hot sandwiches. The counter-intuitive thing about positioning is that it, by definition, drives some people away, because your brand doesn't represent what they want. But it also strongly attracts those that want what you represent (assuming you're well differentiated from competitors). Those are the people you want to please, not the loud people tugging you away from your position.

Blog Remodel

We're undergoing a bit of a remodel here at Greater Returns. Shedding the stodgy look for something a little more dynamic and modern. Also, broadening the focus a bit, since I think about more than just Analytics and financial services.

I'm not entirely happy with Blogger's new templates. They're better, but they're still missing some things. For example, I don't seem to be able to have links to the previous and next post within a post. Seems obvious enough, but it doesn't seem to be there. If you know how to enable that in Blogger, let me know.