Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Mobile Marketing: QR and Snap Tag

My new favorite online marketing resource is iMedia Connection. It comes to my inbox with a list of very relevant articles and the community has a lot of active discussions. It's almost as good as chatting with the #UsGuys on Twitter.

Yesterday, I read Sean X Cumming's piece: Why the QR code is failing.

An excerpt:
In my informal "on the street" survey of 300 people last month, I held up a sign with a QR code on it and the phrase: "Free gift if you can tell me what this is."I was not asking them to decipher it, just tell me what it actually was. Here are the results:
  • 11 percent correctly answered QR code or quick response code
  • 29 percent responded with "Some barcode thingy"
  • Seven percent guessed some variant of "Those things you stare at that get 3D when you cross your eyes. What picture is it? I can't seem to get it"
  • The remaining 53 percent tried everything from a secret military code, Korean (uh really?), to an aerial street map of San Francisco
My survey was conducted in San Francisco, the veritable Mecca of the planet for tech, so it only goes downhill from here.

A lot of this echoed my own dislike of QR codes: they're ugly. They're not intuitive. They break up good visual design. They DO look like secret codes, not something designed to bring you helpful information.

So today, iMedia delivered this piece by Jeff Hayzlett: TrendWatch: Why SnapTags are replacing QR codes.

SnapTags are 2-D barcodes that include a brand's logo (or a Facebook logo) in a notched circle design. Contrasted with the familiar QR code, the result seems minimalist and polished. But it's not just a new design. The interactivity and analytics are updated, as well.

Here's a quick visual for you:


QR code

Which one of these images makes you want to engage with it?

There's still the general point that neither is effective unless the person looking at it has a smart phone, and an application to scan the code, and knows what the expected outcome will be. However, I'm glad someone has come up with a solution to the visual problem posed by QR codes.

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Friday, October 21, 2011

On Knowledge, or My Nickname is Google

My dad, a terrifically clever man, has taught me a lot of things. How to ride a bike, how to mow the lawn, how to change the spark plugs in my moped. How to work hard, how to fish, how to use a lathe, vertical miller, drill press, and various electric saws. He read me stories about archaeology and mythology and helped me build model pyramids out of clay. And if you had a question, whether it was "why is the sky blue" or "how can I reassemble this jumble of bones into a raccoon skeleton," he would know the answer.

(A favorite story was when my Aunt took me and my cousins to the beach, and my cousin asked her something about a shell or creature she found in the sand. My Aunt didn't know the answer, and my cousin sighed deeply and said, "I wish Uncle were here. He knows EVERYTHING.")

Now that I'm a grown up, I like pursuing the idea of knowing everything. Socrates said, "All I know is that I know nothing," and Oscar Wilde said "I am not young enough to know everything," but I treat pursuit of knowledge as my job. (Just not one I get paid for.)

On one of my favorite TV shows, Bones, Dr. Brennan sometimes employs an assistant Mr. Nigel-Murray who has a love of spouting out random facts. His habit gets on the nerves of most of the rest of the cast, but I love this character, because often times his random knowledge provides a vital clue to unraveling the mystery at hand.

I find that while my collection of knowledge is useful for trivia night, it often helps me in other ways. I enjoy discovering shared intellectual pursuits at networking events. Learning about foreign cultures has been very useful in navigating my current role in an international industry, from etiquette on accepting business cards to deciphering idiomatic speech patterns.

But the sheer joy of knowing something is its own reward. As we are so often told, knowledge is power. Power to master statistics or analyze current economic and financial trends. Power to immerse yourself in another language and read all the nuances of a culture. Power to know exactly where you have come from, and to determine where you are going.

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Friday, October 7, 2011

IMBO: Being a Feminist

Though she doesn't like the word feminist because the term is so loaded within her community, she's a staunch egalitarian in a world in which there's an ongoing debate over whether husbands are the masters of their wives.
--Ruth Graham, writing on Rachel Held Evans in Slate

Why can't we like the word "feminist?" Is it because Rush Limbaugh recast feminists as "feminazis?"

In the religious world, Christianity is a huge umbrella religion. It includes Catholics, Protestants, Congregationalists, Lutherans, Evangelicals, and many, many more sub categories. Well, Feminism is a lot like that as well. There are conservative feminists, second-wave feminists, third-wave feminists, grrl power feminists, liberal feminists, Catholic feminists, Jewish feminists, socialist feminists--there are all kinds of feminists. Why must we all shy away from this word?

I'm not shying away from this word. I am a feminist. Feminism, and the notion of pushing for women's equality, and for that matter all kinds of gender equality, informs my daily life. When I vote, I vote for the candidate that will best promote women's rights, whether that's a man or a woman. When I have looked for jobs, I try and consider the one that is most fair to its women workers. When I shop, I look for items that come from companies that have women in leadership positions, or employ women fairly at least. When I have conversations, I tell people about women's issues, I point out that rape jokes aren't funny, and I let people know that I won't let others talk in ways that bring women down.

I'm proud to be a feminist. I know this designation gives people all sorts of pre-conceived notions about me, but that's not important. What's important is that I continue to be a feminist, and to use my daily life to make the world a better place for everyone, a more egalitarian place. Whether that means shrinking the political gender gap in Congress or just succeeding at having one less person tell dumb blonde jokes, I am making a difference. IMBO

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


A quick hit of something that sparked in my mind through some of reading.

First from New York Magazine: What Happens to All the Asian-American Overachievers When the Test-Taking Ends?

This is a thoughtful piece on the "Bamboo Ceiling," or how rote memorization can hamper Asian-Americans' advancement in a socially-interactive corporate setting. It also touches on Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother and the stereotypical expectation that Asian-American children will grow up to be doctors, lawyers, and bankers.

Then today, from the New York Times: New for Aspiring Doctors, the People Skills Test

Again, it's a push about the social skills lacking in doctors that make them poor team members and how to teach them to inject more emotion into their work. So, I have to wonder if this catches on, if we'll see fewer Asian doctors.

There's so much more to this conversation, so please feel free to add your own thoughts.

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Monday, June 6, 2011

Loving What You Do

Today, I'm typing gingerly, because I have blisters on my fingers. I have blisters because I spent 8 hours yesterday reupholstering my dining room chairs. The old upholstery was held in by thousands of tiny staples, and my husband and I worked side by side, prying them out with screwdrivers.

And though it was hard work, and the staple gun didn't always cooperate, and the dust from the decaying foam under the old upholstery got in our noses and eyes and we sneezed and coughed, I wouldn't take back that day spent working on this project. It's important to me that I can do this kind of work.

At my real job, my output is measured in abstract things, rows of numbers in excel spreadsheets, bytes of emails answered, phone calls made. At the end of the day, there's nothing to hold up and say "I did this."

In my own life, my husband and I do a lot of things for ourselves: bake our own bread, jar our own jam and pickles, bicycle for groceries, repair holes in clothes, rewire light bulb sockets. I really can't imagine living a life where I didn't do these things.

At the end of my Sunday, we ate dinner at our kitchen table, in our newly cushioned and clean chairs. That is far more of a personal reward than any row of numbers will ever be.

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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Life Without Headphones

When I first bought my iPod in 2005, I can remember people saying that soon after I started using it, I would begin to wonder how I ever lived without it.

I don't think I ever got to that point, but I did begin to rely on it to avoid those people on the street who accost you ask ask you to give money for charity. And then it was important for blocking out the squeals of the subway system. The iPod drowned out people talking near me on cellphones, whiny children, and any noise I didn't want to hear. (I confess that I am not very good at tolerating small repetitive noises, particularly when I can't identify the source.) They became my own little haven as I walked the streets of my city and rode the subway. Since I tend to walk the same routes, it was easy to autopilot and focus on the latest KT Tunstall album or my favorite Mozart Symphony #30.

I went to San Francisco recently, and while I was there, I had to focus more on where I was, since it's not a city I'm very familiar with. I left the headphones in my purse, and spent more time looking at the people around me, spotting costumes from the Bay to Breakers run. I looked at the plants that are common there that aren't so common at home. I listened to the voices, street singers, casual conversations, other out-of-towners.

Not surprisingly, I found all of this very calming. Instead of trying to decipher whatever the heck Tori Amos was singing while I walked, I could focus just on the moment in front of me.

It's amazing how plugged in I am all the time. I sit in front of two screens every day, pop on and off my iPod Touch and BlackBerry on the subway, and Tweet constantly. So after discovering the joy of hearing what's around me, and seeing it fully, on the West Coast, I'm leaving my iPod in my purse here while I commute. (Of course, I'll still use it at the gym, because I can't stand the techno music they play there.) Today, I was able to stop on my way to lunch to give someone directions.

If I'd had my headphones on, I probably would have walked right by.

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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Building Professional Networks Online

Let's say you are a recent college graduate, looking at a terrible job market, and you are very tapped in to the online world like most whipper-snappers these days. So you decide to set up a LinkedIn profile.

As one of those aged Gen Xers, I want to tell you, do not think LinkedIn is Facebook without games. Because it isn't. It's the online version of going to a real networking event. People talk business, check out your experience, follow up with leads on Facebook.

And please, don't just start your LinkedIn network by dumping all your email contacts in and asking them to connect with a generic message. Just don't.

This afternoon, I got an email from "Jessica Powers" (not her real name), asking me to join her LinkedIn network. I was just at a conference last week, and met a ton of people and I'm still following up, so I thought maybe this was someone I met there.

But the name didn't match any of my notes, so I ran the name through my email inbox at work. Turns out Jessica had applied for a job with me, when I was hiring two months ago. I still had her application filed in the folder with all the other people I sent emails to saying "Thanks for applying, but you're not what we're looking for." I hadn't even phone screened this person, and it was only because I'm an email packrat that I had a touchstone at all to remember who she was.

This is what I wrote back to Jessica:

Hi Jessica,

Thank you for inviting me to join your LinkedIn network.

I use LinkedIn to only connect with people that I know personally or professionally, so please do not be offended if I do not accept your invitation.

I would recommend that you start building your network by reaching out to only those people that you work with or network with personally. Once you have built a good network in real life, you will find it easier to build a professional network online.

Best regards,

Kate Hutchinson
It's good advice, so I thought I would share it. Build a network in person first, and then take it online. You can't build credibility if no one can remember who you are beyond an email address. Networking is very hard work, involving attending events, calling people, writing emails, and remembering details about people and making deals that help everyone get something they want or need. 
Networking is not an address book dump into a website.

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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

I Wear A Watch

Seth Godin writes:

Nobody wears a watch any more.
Nobody wears a tie either.
Nobody shops at a bookstore, at least nobody I know.
The market of nobody is big indeed. You can do really well selling to nobody if you do your homework. In fact, most companies selling to nobody outperform those that are trying to sell to everyone.

News flash: While a lot of our commerce has become e-commerce, there is still a market for watches, ties, and books from bookstores.

I appreciate that Godin works hard to analyze the trends of online life and marketing, but this brief soundbite gets my dander up.

Maybe I'm biased, since I won't leave the house without my watch. I'm not a Luddite, since I also carry a BlackBerry, an iPod and a MacBook on a regular basis. But I will always check my watch for date and time before I pull out a cell phone.

Godin's making the point that companies who do not move forward and embrace change will end up losing their market, or any market. But he's overlooking human irrationality. My daily watch is an Invicta, but on fancy occasions, I wear my husband's grandmother's wind up silver Gruen model, or my own grandmother's gold Hamilton. I buy a new watch every now and then, and I have one in chocolate gold, one powered by a solar cell, and one that's old and battered that it's okay to scratch and beat around.

Do I really need so many watches? Do I need a watch at all? Certainly not. Everywhere you go there's a clock, on your phone, on your laptop, on the wall, scrolling on subway announcement boards, on whatever electronic gadget is in your hand... you don't need an extra time piece on your wrist.

But the watch is a reminder of routine. It's something that keeps me grounded. It's got enough dials to remind me what day of the week it is when I'm so busy I forget. And really, there is a market for this. There is a market for watches. There will always be a market for watches. Just because it won't be made of the same people doesn't mean that the market disappears.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Is Imitation Really the Highest Form of Flattery?

An invitation to a Investment Management and Hedge Fund Roundtable plopped in my Inbox this afternoon. It wasn't a relevant topic for me, so I was on the verge of just trashing the message when I noticed in the preview pane a familiar logo. I thought it was from the Boston Business Journal, but no, it wasn't. It was the logo for Pepper Hamilton, LLP.

Huh, I thought. That really looks like the BBJ logo. So I checked the BBJ site. No, they had a new logo. So I searched Google Images. There it was. So you can see the comparison, I put the two logos next to each other:

This really struck me as odd. Pepper Hamilton has been around since 1890, has offices nationwide, and seems to be a fairly well-off firm. Couldn't they hire a graphic designer to create a logo for them? I'm also curious if perhaps no one at Pepper Hamilton read the BBJ when their logo looked like this, so maybe they didn't notice. For me, it conveys an image of laziness; it looks like they saw the BBJ logo, liked it and only modified the name to suit their company. (Although, I'm willing to think perhaps the BBJ stole the Pepper Hamilton logo... if anyone knows someone at the BBJ or Pepper Hamilton, feel free to pass the info on.)
Logos often serve as the first visual introduction to a company. Think of all the hoopla around the recent logo updates for Gap, Starbucks, and JCPenney. Now granted, a law firm does not target the same demographic as major brands like Gap, Starbucks, or JCPenney, but I'm willing to bet that the folks that the Pepper Hamilton Boston office work with do read the BBJ, and would recognize the logo. 
If you were shopping for a law firm, and found a similar situation, would it impact your impression of the firm?

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Friday, March 4, 2011

Customized Customer Service

Image (c) 2010 Matthew Inman aka The Oatmeal
I had a quick watercooler chat with a friend this morning. He asked me how my morning was going, and I replied that it was a good morning, because I had managed to clear my queue of customer emails. And I mentioned a small bug in our system was causing a small problem, so most of the emails were about the same thing.

"Yeah, that's when you hit copy and paste," he said, grinning. I smiled back as I picked up my water bottle and headed back to my desk.

But my real answer to that is: I don't copy and paste.

I work for a small company and we are establishing our niche in a mature market with some very big dogs. Last year, after surveying the landscape, I began building a strategy around competing on service and experience. (Not to mention that my personal business principle is based on the highest standard of service.) Part of this strategy is that we never respond to customer emails with a cookie cutter answer.

This means that if you purchase a domain from my company, and you have a problem and you send me an email, I will actually read your email. I will look at your problem, and you'll get back a real email written by me just for you. Sometimes, I include a link to our FAQ section, but I'll always explain my answer personally. Not only that, but if I wrote you back, and I didn't have a complete answer at the time, I'll write you another email when I have more information.

All of this grows out of my personal vision for business: high quality customer service. I pay attention when I am shopping, and I notice good and bad customer service. Yesterday, I bought a microphone for my office computer to record voiceovers for a video tour I was building. I got it back to my desk, and found the adapter wasn't the right kind, so I walked back to the store and returned it for a different model. The whole time I was there, the clerk didn't say a word to me, except for "Can I see an ID?" Instead, she chatted away on her headset to another clerk somewhere else in the store about weekend plans. This had the effect of making me feel like I was invisible. Sure, I got my replacement without hassle, but it would have been nice to have my existence acknowledged during the transaction.

Now, when I consider that my customers will never actually see me, since I work for an online company, it becomes even more important to write those personalized emails. I won't have the opportunity to smile and greet them the way this clerk did. In the online world, everything seems to be automated. We have automated emails to confirm purchases, but I want our customers to know that there is a real person behind those emails, someone who cares about their concerns and wants to help them.
Yesterday, I got a customer call with questions about a new program we have on our site. I spent a long time answering his questions and explaining the program to him, and then he said, "On one of your FAQs at the bottom, there's a lot of marketing fluff in the answer, but no real answer." And I admitted he was right, because he was. I spent the afternoon rewriting the answer.

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Friday, February 4, 2011

In My Brazen Opinion

In my brilliant courses at Simmons School of Management, I had more than one professor who noted that women often being their sentences, particularly in larger groups with "I think" or "I feel." In fact, Debbie Kolb, who taught my negotiation class, wouldn't let us continue speaking if we started our sentences that way. She'd interrupt and say "You think?"

Since then, I've made a conscious effort not to start my sentences with discounts like "I think." Since most of my work and networking takes place on line, where I can see what I'm typing, it's fairly easy to catch myself from writing it out. (Also, the brevity of Twitter makes it difficult to add in those extra 7 characters!)

So today, I thought about another self-inflicted put-down used so often on the Internet: IMHO. This acronym translates to "In My Humble Opinion." Go search Twitter right now for these four letters. You'll pull up a string of tweets on everything from Colin Firth's performance in The King's Speech to the complexity of bioethics... all of them qualified with "IMHO."

(Interestingly enough, IMHO is not limited to women users. I'd love to have the time to sample a cross-section of tweets and find out which gender uses the acronym most.)

I'm fed up with people not taking responsibility for their opinions. As I posted today:

Eric Andersen brilliantly replied with:

ha, I like that, maybe IMBO (in my brazen opinion)?

And so, I'm lobbing this out there. Let's make it a movement, a hashtag! #IMBO

Stop qualifying your opinions, and be brazen about them. If we can't lay claim to our own opinions, what can we lay claim to?

PS: Thanks to @Lipsticking and @DowntownWoman for helping to push this!

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Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Social Engagement for Small Business

Recently, I was explaining to a friend what Etsy was. Mostly, this was because I wanted to show her the blog Regretsy, which makes no sense if you don't know what Etsy is. Quick summary: Etsy is a site for small time crafters to sell their wares, like a giant online art market, and Regretsy is a great blog that highlights some of the weirdest, wackiest, and funniest stuff on the site. Because it can't all be beautiful.

So, once my friend saw Regretsy, she wanted to know, does anyone sell anything good on the site? And I had to say, "Why yes!" It's entirely true. For every misspelled greeting card or taxidermied squirrel with a fish head, there is a gorgeous photographic print series or hand knitted lacy scarf.

But my favorite Etsy retailer is LotusPad. I first became acquainted with her on Twitter, following her tweets about daily yoga practice and battling Boston weather on her commute by bicycle. And then I noticed she would tweet links to items in her Etsy shop.

This is a great way to connect with potential shoppers on Twitter that a lot of big companies miss. Some companies simply tweet over and over again about their product, but LotusPad is selling handmade jewelry and eco-friendly yoga mats. These items are very personal, and the people who buy them, the demographic wants more than just a "thing" to buy, they look for relationships. So it's nice to read LotusPad's tweets, and talk to her about what she does, reads, or thinks, and then see the product of her handiwork.

The night I showed my friend some of her jewelry, I realized that I really wanted to buy another necklace from the shop. When I got home, I went to look for the item, but for whatever reason, it wasn't popping up. So I used Twitter to write to LotusPad to ask if she could find it in her inventory. My description was a little lacking, but LotusPad kept searching until we found it. That's an amazing level of customer service, something every small business should aspire to. It's especially amazing, considering she was answering my tweets after 9:00 pm! This is a time that I would expect her to be home from work, and taking a break from the "office."

Most of the time, buying things online is so impersonal. Amazon has an algorithm to tell me that I should try Patricia Cornwall books because I like Kathy Reichs books, but it's just a computer. It's nice to meet someone I can have a conversation with, who makes a great product to boot.

Image from LotusPad's Etsy shop--I love this necklace and own a similar version of it. 

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