Have you actually ever stayed in an airbnb place?

airbnb-logo-hed-2014Before a couple of weeks ago I would have had to say – no, I think airbnb is a cool idea but I’ve never stayed anywhere via their portal.   That’s not true any longer, I’ve taken the plunge.  It wasn’t a big deal at all and that’s pretty much a good thing.

Yesterday it was reported in Crain’s NY  than 72% of airbnb offerings were basically illegal (or as it was put by NY attorney general Eric Schneiderman ‘. That they violate the law.

Don’t worry – it’s not a legion of grandma’s and grandpa’s renting out their spare room, nor is it mostly individuals that are looking for income to make ends meet by renting a room, a second home, or whatever they can on a person-to-person basis via airbnb.  No It’s – yes you guessed it, mainly corporations.

From yesterday’s Crain’s New York article:

‘It is generally legal to rent out a room while the homeowner or tenant is present, but many listings violated city zoning laws because the legal resident of the unit was away when the Airbnb client stayed there, a spokesman for Mr. Schneiderman said.

Additionally, he said, some listings violated state tax laws.

The report charged that large operators controlled a disproportionate number of listings.

According to the report, just 6% of hosts ran large-scale operations, but that group generated 36% of all rental transactions and collected 37% of total revenue, or $168 million.’

So renting the spare room is very much ok – particularly if you stay there.  I do not have information on the percentages of airbnb hosts that live or stay on the premises while their guests enjoy their stay.

In my case my wife and I stayed at an airbnb duplex condo on a recent trip to Florida.  We were there visiting our daughter and it was a big football weekend with it being parent’s weekend and well, it’s college football in the state of Florida.  What I am trying to paint a picture of is that there were almost no hotel rooms available even two months prior to the weekend.  We had wanted to try airbnb (ok I had wanted to try airbnb – my wife was less than enthused) and it was the best option for the price.

How was our experience?  Meh.  We knew there would be nobody else there.  The place was conveniently located (something we knew prior), large (something we knew prior), it had a full size small bed (something we knew prior and just accepted due to lack of other options).  It had ‘antiques’ (something we knew prior but did not value and for good reason.  Relics would be a more apt description).

The general appearance of the place reminded me of an old 1970’s TV episode (Like Columbo – but no sign of the great Peter Falk).  It was dark, kind of musty and kind of tired.  The place was clean – mostly.  Here’s the big thing – it was rated five stars on airbnb.  FIVE STARS?  I dare offer that while I admit I have what might be considered rather discerning standards, not one person reading this post would give it five stars.  Two stars maybe.

Would I stay in an airbnb-listed place ever again?  I would not rule it out on the basis of one experience in one city.  The thought of staying in someone else’s house in a spare room is the only option for some people.  I am interested in having more experience in this aspect of the sharing economy.  It’s all because I think Uber, Lyft, airbnb, HomeAway, all are just cool.

But be mindful of the ratings.  One man’s dump is another’s Ritz-Carlton.


Posted in Customer Experiences, Innovation, Living in the World Today, Sharing economy, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Commuting and stress – can you relate?

NYC commutersI’ve written about commuting to New York City before.  http://wp.me/pn6jX-jG    http://wp.me/pn6jX-RG .  But I was speaking with a friend recently regarding commuting and he encouraged me to share my description of what it is like.  Living outside of the city and commuting whether it’s every day as I have done for part of my career, or a few days a week as I do now, offers a great contrast in how my day starts and my morning commute winds down the moment I step off a train in Grand Central Station.   I suspect every commuter can relate.

To wit:

It’s a cool morning in the suburbs of New York City (but it really could be any city around the world).  Ok maybe if it’s Hong Kong there are not too many cool mornings but you get the idea.  It’s quiet in the suburbs and the sun is just coming up (well at least some of the year).  There are birds singing, pretty trees and the air smells fresh and clean.  I enjoy the routine of commuting into New York City since what I actually do in the morning is not all that different than what I do when I do not commute.

Most days I wake up, click on the local NYC news to find out if there are any problems with the commute or weather issues.  I shower, have coffee and breakfast, read emails), and catch up on what’s going on from a variety of sources – reading both online and an actual printed newspaper (we get two at home).   I am always on the lookout for interesting and relevant information on behalf of my friends, clients and colleagues.

Most days I am feeling pretty relaxed as I leave the house for the train station.  I am not too concerned with which train I catch since they run fairly frequently, though not  punctually, so when a train headed to Grand Central arrives I just get on it.  Spending the time in the morning on the train is quiet time and there’s not much conversation on a train that is on the move around 7AM.  This is in stark contrast to the return trip home which is much noisier.

That groove that I am happy with on the train; reading, thinking, contemplating, is one of the most enjoyable parts of my day.  It all comes to an end in the dark tunnel that starts at 97th Street and Park Avenue as people begin to gather their belongings and line up to exit the train before the poor souls that remain sitting down reading or sleeping. The race is on.  And so is the stress level.

We commuters file out into the city streets in waves – often waiting to climb a staircase as the volume of humanity streaming out of the train overwhelms the track exits into the station.  I notice my gait picks up just in order to keep up with the masses.  So does my heart rate whether I want to admit it or not.  I make hundreds of mental calculations on where to walk, who to walk in front of and who to go behind, and a critical skill is to know when to cross through the flow of people moving at a 90 degree angle – without breaking stride.  If you don’t do this you are much like a salmon struggling to swim upstream.

Exiting the station the choreography continues.  Timing the lights, walking diagonally across the street so as to be as completely efficient as possible in order to minimize any wasted time.  Walking between cars, buses, taxis all are part of my daily flow.  Using cars or pedestrians as screens from oncoming traffic (hey they’d get hit before me), it’s so ingrained that I do all of this without even thinking.  If it is raining a new dynamic is introduced, that is the dance of umbrellas which take up valuable space and serve to keep people dry (for the most part) but slow down the process.

The walk down Park Avenue is decidedly different (and more peaceful) than the walk down Madison Avenue which is chock full of buses and exhaust.  But in the interest of efficiency I eventually need to find my way over to Madison Avenue and its cacophony.

Finally I am on the street where my office is and I churn all the way to the front door.

Arriving at the office I take a deep breath and do my best to ratchet down the stress level that is only really ten to fifteen minutes old.  It’s quiet in my office and I can begin to regain the groove that started my day.

While I have spent nearly all my professional career in New York City, my travels around the world have shown me that it is not all that different in other cities.

The rat race really does exist and it’s up to each individual to find ways to cope. They don’t call us mad men without reason.

What is your commute like?


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Amazon and Apple – are they rivals or partners?

apple-vs-amazonAggravation: As of last week The Wall Street Journal application that resides on my ‘Original’ Amazon Kindle Fire is no longer is supported by Amazon.  I learned of this when last week I could no longer download the paper.   No warning, no communication from Amazon at all.  At first I thought it was my individual device but when I called (yes I really called the 800 number) I was informed of the news.  Since I called the Wall Street Journal I got their point of view that Amazon changes things rather consistently without any advance notice.

While I am far from being a member of the Apple cult (and a cult it is), I appreciate the good things (design elegance and usability) that come with Apple devices and platforms.  Those things are the cornerstones of the Apple brand.  But hey, what about Amazon’s cornerstones?  People tend to trust Amazon and have confidence in the platform, but I’ve never heard anyone mention anything regarding the elegance of an Amazon device.

I want to think that Apple would never handle an update the way that Amazon did.  As if Apple would ever allow a situation to occur like ‘Too bad Original iPad owner but we don’t support that anymore’’.  At least that’s my perception.

So I began to think exactly where do Amazon.com and Apple directly compete?   I decided to make a little scorecard.

The first thing that comes to mind is music.  iTunes vs. Amazon’s new Prime Music service. There’s a clear winner here even though Prime Music is relatively new and unknown.

OK Apple 1 – Amazon 0

How about books?   Again, there’s a clear winner but the other way around.  Amazon’s roots, past if not present, are books.  Just ask the folks and authors at Hachette.   There actually is an iBooks application but it is not built as an e-commerce platform in any traditional sense.

Apple 1 – Amazon 1

What about mobile phones?  Until very recently this was literally a no contest.  With the introduction of the Kindle phone it’s all so different now, isn’t it?  NOT.  Still no contest

Apple 2 – Amazon 1

How about tablets?   The Kindle Fire from Amazon vs. the iPad, iPad Mini or any tablet device from Apple.  Again no contest and I can tell you this from first hand experience.

Apple 3 – Amazon 1

And what about distribution of goods?  Starting with books, Amazon has built an impressive distribution platform that can deliver goods to Americans in less than 48 hours (this is without delivery drones).   Apple is not at all interested (at least not at the moment) in distribution.

Apple 3 – Amazon 2

I’m not even going to get into which company has made money over the years and which one has yet to make money.    Apple is the most valuable company on the New York Stock Exchange.  In 2012 Amazon did almost $18 billion in sales.  Amazon has always been about long-term value, which is why it has remained a popular stock on the Street.

Now my scorecard is totally biased with my own opinion.  However what did emerge is that Apple and Amazon (for the most part) do not really compete – at least not to any substantial degree. Yet they are not partners to any degree either.  In fact with Amazon’s handling of the Hachette situation there’s talk of Amazon already having or on the way to having an industry monopoly when it comes to books.  Not too long ago Apple was being called out for something similar when it came to music but not so much recently.

Both Apple and Amazon seem to have some unwritten gentlemen’s agreement not to get into each other’s stuff (the Kindle Fire and Kindle Fire phone non-withstanding).   So are Apple and Amazon rivals?  Partners?  Neither?  Something else?

Posted in Apps, Best business practices, Brand Advertising | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Direct Response Television – A mature industry still in the process of growing up

virginia-super-slims-advertisement1Most of my career has been in and around direct marketing. Sometimes B2B and sometimes B2C. I’ve attended countless conferences over the years although with my extensive background in print and mail dominates and I’ve had not nearly as much career experience in DRTV (you know the things you claim never to watch. Infomercials. Short form ones, like 30,60,120 seconds; or longer form, like 5,30 or even 60 minutes). Last week I attended my first Electronic Retailing Association (can we agree it’s time for a name change?) Direct to Consumer (ERA D2C) show/conference/expo (call it what you like), in Las Vegas where the focus is on DRTV. (The Wynn Hotel is awesome by the way).

When direct response pitchman Billy Mays died in 2009 I wrote about that from the standpoint that perhaps the time had finally arrived where DRTV marketers would stop all the yelling. To a degree that has happened but what continues to work are a plethora of low cost products that are as easy to purchase as a few clicks or a quick phone call. Most of the attendees, presenters and organizers appeared to have experienced successes in DRTV. And yes a few failures as well. After all DRTV is a business that necessitates failing fast.  If orders don’t come in when spots air cut and run as soon as it’s clear.

Like so many industries technology is having a big impact on the DRTV business. Viewing habits are very different from even five years ago. There are more cable channels than ever before and now with Internet TV channels countless viewing options so advertising inventory is spread out over an increasingly wider landscape. Audiences continue to fragment making it harder to reach likely DRTV purchasers of products and services.

One of the things that has always interested me regarding direct response is that if it doesn’t work you don’t keep doing it since your direct sales figures are the only indicator of success or failure. Professional marketers readily admit that brand advertising is nearly impossible to correlate to an overall ROI.

I’ve heard ratios like one in thirty DRTV spots actually work. And in pure direct response terms you are always hoping for that grand slam like a Snuggie from a few years back, or the expandable garden hose that is everywhere today. In recent years a direct to retail strategy has become increasingly popular. The real success today is often seen in using DRTV to create some sales to offset media and production costs that will enable a hit DRTV product to then be sold at retail – Wal-Mart, Kmart, etc.

What I became aware of as I took it all in with an industry colleague and good friend, was that most DRTV efforts have still not graduated from being strictly tactical to being strategic first before going to tactics. The machine is still working (although not as effectively) – spots are written and produced, and media is purchased in pretty much the same fashion as it has been, (with more technology to better catalog and report to clients where and when spots aired).

The prevailing notion is that the best DRTV products appeal to the broadest range of people. For that reason fitness and health products rule the roost. Yet when we asked marketers and companies who was their target audience we often heard “everyone can use it” or something like women from 16-55. Instead of determining the most likely segments to purchase, since everyone needs to be fit everyone is a prospect. Since everyone wants to be healthy than health products are for everyone!   Let’s face it folks – DRTV for most of its history has been nothing but a blunt instrument.

There’s so much useful data in the marketplace that can be used to finely target the people that would MOST likely purchase your product. At the same time it’s just as important if not more so to not reach out to people who might be able to use the product but would NEVER BUY it. One of the show personalities, a sometime DRTV spokeswoman, noted that even DRTV now has begun to realize that shouting is not the answer, and that a conversation should be had with the prospective customer. The only way that can happen is if DRTV folks grow up and understand that leveraging behavioral and attitudinal data is the key to unlocking those conversations that your prospects and customers will be interested in having.

Unlike the old brand ad for Virginia Slims cigarettes, DRTV’s version of the line should be ‘You’ve got a long way to go, baby’.   And yes I am going to go back again next year, after all, it’s Vegas baby.

Posted in Marketing stuff, Television advertising, Direct marketing, Targeting, Direct Response Television | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Facebook wants you to wish Happy Birthday to the deceased

automatic-wish-happy-birthday-in-FacebookThis morning I read an interesting post written by Josh Cline as if it were February 2016 ruminating on the death of Facebook.

While I found the post to be amusing, (if not implausible) the same day it was overshadowed by a ‘suggestion’ to wish a now deceased former classmate of mine from high school a Happy Birthday. It’s not that I don’t understand that someone in the person’s family should have (by now since it’s been more one year) contacted Facebook (FB) to have the profile removed. Maybe the family tried and was unable to reach the right people at FB. Or maybe the family in some way wants to have the profile remain for some reason I will never be able to understand.

Shouldn’t more be expected of Facebook? With all the tracking and data it’s impossible for me to believe that some FB algorithm would not indicate that a FB user has passed away, especially after more than a year. My view is that it is in extremely poor taste to suggest FB friends wish someone a happy birthday when they have passed away.

I am not of the opinion that FB should take down the deceased’s profile page and that appears to be FB’s ‘’policy’ as well. I’ve noticed that family has used my classmate’s FB page to post occasional loving remembrances and far be it for anyone to opine on a family’s way to deal with their grief whether it be short or long term.

But surely Facebook knows when people pass away right? If FB can retarget me contextually based on a website I visited it should also be able to search and match files of the deceased (don’t tell me this is not possible I won’t believe it) to make certain that mistakes like suggesting wishing a happy birthday to deceased FB friend do not occur.

The same is true of other social media profiles like LinkedIn. I had a LinkedIn connection that passed away tragically and yet more than a year later I was asked to congratulate him on his years with the company. Ugh.

Social networks need to do a much better job of stopping this kind of thing from occurring. Hiding behind protocols is not the answer. It just should not happen. Leave the page active, stop the suggestions for wishing the deceased a happy birthday, anniversary or anything else for that matter.

Do agree that FB is responsible for a certain amount of insensitivity here?  Shouldn’t we expect and demand better?

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Amazon gets a Twitch and likes it

GamersThe news that Amazon purchased Twitch.tv for nearly a billion dollars last week is now in the category of old news.  It was Amazon’s second largest purchase ever (bonus points if you can recall the largest which was only for a couple of hundred million dollars more).

David Carr of the New York Times wrote his usual good piece about it  earlier this week.   I’ve been familiar with Twitch for some time now as my son is an inveterate gamer and has been talking about the incredible popularity of the platform.   What remains to be seen is how Amazon will leverage the platform into something profitable.  Gamers, you’ll note, are notoriously resistant to efforts of commercialization on their platforms.

That thousands of fans attend live events to watch others play video games is a hard concept for most of those over 40 years of age.  I’ve not attended one of these events but I am interested enough to want to have the experience even though I am not gamer.  The marketer has much over which to salivate when it comes to the opportunities to monetize the incredible passion of the ever-growing gaming audience.   And the numbers are mind-blowing as Mr. Carr notes – citing (ironically) the Wall Street Journal -

…’last October, more people – 32 million — watched a championship for League of Legends, on various streaming services including Twitch, than saw the finales of “The Sopranos,” “24” and “Breaking Bad,” combined.’     This was all without commercial interruption.   Apparently gamers were pleased that it was Amazon, and not Google or Yahoo that won the bidding for Twitch although I am not sure exactly why they feel that way.

Gaming has more than come of age and my son and I have talked about an ESPN-style Sportscenter show that would be an obvious outgrowth.  There are many athletes both amateur and professional that love to play games in real time with other people like League of Legends (LOL – really), StarCraft II and Counterstrike (not to mention Dota 2).   The gaming world is more than ready during tournaments for a wrap-up show of the prior match and preview show of an upcoming match to fill what is now dead air.  That’s one of the first places I’d expect to see monetization take hold (i.e. sponsored by…).

You already know that gaming has come of age when Amazon pays nearly a billion dollars for it. How marketers will rise to the challenge of reaching an audience that rejects commercialization will be interesting to watch.  I have a few ideas.  How about you?

The answer to the question is Zappos.com.


Posted in Advertising to Millenials, Community, Internet gaming, Sports Marketing | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Will Google buy Uber?

Johnny CabUber is still the lead horse in the car-sharing race (ahead of Lyft and Sidecar for example). I’ve already written about when Google Drives Your Car.  Now I can see that it is only natural that Google can drive you in Uber’s network of driverless cars.

I had a flashback to the original version of the movie 1990 Total Recall.  The movie (which was for my money much better than the 2012 re-make) featured several different interesting thoughts about the future.  One of them (for those that can remember), was the ‘Johnny Cab’.  Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character Douglas Quaid is driven by a robot that takes you wherever you need go whenever you need to go.  While in the movie the Johnny Cabs were hailed the old-fashioned way, they just as easily could have been hailed using a transmitter (read app).  After all, this version of Total Recall was made eight years prior to the founding of Google.

The Uber app is easy to use and tracks an individual’s travel history and habits.   Uber (Lyft and Sidecar as well) right now is primarily used as a taxi app. All the apps have now introduced ride-sharing capabilities within the app.  Users are presented with the opportunity to spend less money (than a single ride) where you pick up or join another passenger as long as the trip does not take you more than five minutes out of your way.

More than half the trips on Uber would apparently qualify as having two people in the same general area going to the same general place at any given time.  It’s all about big data and Google is really good at monetizing big data.

I admit that Google buying Uber is a pretty obvious idea.  So why hasn’t it happened as yet?

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