Mobile voice apps are already better than you think

google-now-vs-sirimaxresdefaultDuring this year’s Super Bowl, promoted the Amazon Echo, their new stand-alone voice activation device. Alec Baldwin is featured in the somewhat offbeat spots that can be seen here.


‘Alexa’, the name used to access whatever you want on the Amazon Echo, is in the room with you listening for you to say – “Alexa, how long will it take me to…” and it can answer other questions as well and buy things for you – on Amazon of course.   I’ve not yet purchased an Amazon Echo (about $150) but am thinking about it. A review on CNET did nothing but make me more interested.

And yet I hesitate. Why? The main reason is Google Now. As an Android mobile phone and tablet user, (yes I have an iPad and work on a Mac regularly but I need to know BOTH environments in terms of user experience and functionality), I am more and more impressed at how good and useful Google Now is. And dare I say, it’s better than Siri. Other reviews seem to concur.

I’ve not yet used Cortana (Microsoft’s voice response assistant) and with Google Now it’s unlikely I will anytime soon. Using Google Now (or Siri, Alexa, or Cortana) is an iterative process. The functionality improves all the time over time. I have found Google Now to be remarkably accurate in handling my voice queries on any number of varied requests. Often the answers are spoken by Google Now and the response is immediate and accurate.

Anyone that reads this blog with any regularity knows that I am a big fan of Jeff Bezos and Amazon. But I have this feeling of a too-contained environment if I were to adopt and use Amazon Echo regularly. Wouldn’t it make sense for Amazon to present choices that can be purchased on Amazon over those that cannot? It’s difficult for me to imagine that Amazon would be unbiased in its presentation of buying choices. And isn’t it a bit creepy that Alexa is listening all the time? Sure you can turn off that feature but in the case of Alexa that kind of defeats the purpose it would seem.

Chances are that I will eventually succumb and pick up an Amazon Echo. And probably love it too. Another one bites the dust.

How about you? Do you use and like or dislike voice activated assistants?


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Leading a team is a full time job

keys-for-leading-a-teamOver the past few years like so many people, I’ve had a major change in direction in my daily professional life. One of the biggest changes is that I’ve experience is not having employees. A well written article today by Sam Mallikarjurnan getting my hands dirty and helping other businesses with both their business strategy and marketing strategy.

I truly enjoy the work that I do day by day and know that I am incredibly fortunate that despite a professional disruption, I’ve been able to manage to adapt, survive and continue to grow as a person and as a professional.   One thing Sam did not discuss was if he actually missed managing employees. Just because one makes a conscious effort to get out of the direct line of managing people, does not mean that there was not satisfaction and enjoyment when that was a part my day-to-day responsibilities.

As any entrepreneur will tell you as chief cook and bottle washer you wear many hats. Leading a team is an awesome thing and also an awesome responsibility. It takes consistent time and effort to be effective and as far as I am concerned it’s nearly impossible to be great at leading the team, great at landing and managing new client relationships as well as manage the out-of-house partners that invariably help make things all work smoothly.

I know that near the end of my former company’s life I was not a very good manager as I was most concerned about keeping the lights on and I could have done a better job of communicating what was happening. It would not have changed the outcome, but my sense of time to communicate was disrupted until it was too late but to say ‘its’ over’.

So for the past few years I’ve espoused the benefits of NOT managing people directly. And it has been great and I’ve found greater focus has led to better results for our clients and for my future professional prospects.   Yet I do miss directly helping lead a team, nurturing talented people, sharing a vision of where the company, OUR company; is heading and why.

The truth is that I’d be interested in helping build a team again sometime in the future. But for now I am thrilled to be ‘doing the stuff’ to help our clients achieve success. Thanks to Sam for reminding me.

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State of Emergency: Rhode Island Stumbles and Falls. But What Happens Next is Even Worse.

The best marketing professionals are experienced and trusted professionals. Do you agree with my business partner?

Marketing Thingy

Have you heard about the marketing disaster happening in Rhode Island? It’s pretty bad, and it’s only getting worse. Instead of just recounting the disaster, let’s look at what happened, step by step, and point out the mistakes.

I assure you, we won’t do this to point fingers or tease, but rather to make it a teaching moment to help avoid similar setbacks in the future. Just in case you’re a state about to rebrand, and aren’t sure if you’ve got all your ducks in a row.

What happened first.
Rhode Island was set to invest approximately $5 million in a rebranding campaign. Naturally, they wanted to anchor the new direction around a central identity and theme. So they hired Milton Glaser, legendary designer and creator of the iconic ILoveNY theme and logo.

If you’re going to rebrand your state, and try to attract tourism, shouldn’t the creative…

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How will you market your product on Snapchat?

Snapchat logoTo be considered a good marketer, it’s well known that one needs to be aware of all the relevant tools that are available. In being a resource for clients how can you make recommendations on strategic marketing approaches if you are willing to ignore consideration of a particular marketing platform or media? Just because you are not familiar with a platform does not mean you are allowed to dismiss it as ‘too new’ or ‘unproven’. After all at one time Facebook advertising was ‘unproven’. And how did that work out?

The explosion in popularity of Snapchat is compelling me to learn about, consider and use Snapchat. And how might Snapchat be integrated into marketing plans for our clients and prospects? It’s complicated. Especially for me since from a personal standpoint I am not all that interested in Snapchatting. Probably age-related but of that I cannot be certain.

But that doesn’t matter does it? The more I read and hear about Snapchat and the amazing numbers of people and the level of their engagement, the more I know that Snapchat is no fad. The latest taken from AdAge:

‘Snapchat, which says it has more than 100 million daily active users and more than 8 billion video views every day, is calling its update Chat 2.0 and gives users a much broader way to communicate with other Snapchat users. Among the updates are more than 200 stickers (a very popular feature in messaging apps); video and audio notes, which lets you send videos up to 10 seconds long; or just an audio one if you can’t type but want to communicate; and audio and video calls, which can now be made even if the friend you’re trying to reach isn’t in the chat at that time.

Users can also now send multiple photos at a time in a chat and edit them with Snapchat’s filters.

One of the most alluring aspects to the update is that users can change how they’re communicating while they’re still in a chat. For instance, users can swap between video or audio calls, photos and stickers, as well as audio and video notes.

According to TechCrunch:

Snapchat has figured out how to pull every way humans communicate into a single interface — video, audio, text, symbols and drawing. Instead of having to choose how you want to connect before you start, conversations can evolve on the fly.’

So how will Snapchat help Business to Consumer (B2C) marketers spread the word and gain new customers? (Answer: With video/stickers/coupons there are intriguing options to be certain). Are there opportunities to engage B2B customers on Snapchat? (Answer: Yes). How long will it be before marketing on Snapchat becomes essential (Answer: Don’t know exactly. These things take awhile. Jump in and find out).

A single platform for communication of all types is a powerful one. Especially one that already has 100 million daily active users. Given the innate variety available on the Snapchat platform, brands will be scrambling to learn how to engage both customers and prospects.

Which means Snapchat is just another platform that I will be continually testing, watching and as little as I feel is warranted – using.

How will you market your product on Snapchat?

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First run movies at home won’t kill going to the movies

First run movies at home copyLast week Sean Parker (of Napster and Facebook fame) announced a new startup project, and as FORTUNE magazine put it “… called the Screening Room, that would allow users to pay to watch movies from home on the same day they’re released in theaters, according to Variety, which was briefed on the idea. The films would cost $50 per view, and would run on a $150 set-top box that would stream the movies over the Internet to users’ homes. In comparison, an individual movie ticket can cost anywhere from a few dollars to $30, depending on the theater.” 

VARIETY countered by offering their version of the news: “Screening Room, the brainchild of entrepreneurs Sean Parker and Prem Akkaraju, offers movies for $50 at the same time as they open in theaters. It plans to charge $150 for access to the anti-piracy equipped set-top box that transmits the films and will give customers 48 hours to watch the movies. It represents perhaps the greatest challenge to theatrical release windows since a 2011 DirecTV initiative to offer movies on-demand while they were in theaters. That push resulted in a fierce rebuke from filmmakers such as Michael Bay and Peter Jackson.

There are reasons for this and lower ticket sales are at the top of the list. Yet I am surprised at the idea that this approach would seriously impact the movie-going business in the first place.

FORTUNE went on: “Despite the major cost difference, movie studios and theater partners have been grappling with ways to get more people to see their films. Last year, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) revealed that theater attendance had hit its lowest point in 20 years, with just 1.3 billion cinema tickets sold across the U.S. That said, revenue has been skyrocketing in recent years, with 2015 global box office sales topping $38 billion for the first time last year, according to film industry tracker Rentrak. In North America, box office sales hit a record $11 billion.”

Variety had a slightly different take:

The National Association of Theatre Owners said that movie theater chains will individually decide whether or not to back Screening Room, but in a statement Wednesday (March 9), the exhibition industry lobbying group dismissed the startup, while reaffirming its commitment to theatrical release windows.

“The exclusive theatrical release window makes new movies events,” NATO’s statement reads. “Success there establishes brand value and bolsters revenue in downstream markets.”

The group went on to say that any new distribution models should be created in consultation between studios and theater owners, not with the help of a “third party,” a clear dig at Screening Room.

“More sophisticated window modeling may be needed for the growing success of a modern movie industry,” the statement reads. “Those models should be developed by distributors and exhibitors in company-to-company discussions, not by a third party.”

I am a fan of disruptive technology and thinking. The back and forth here is interesting since obviously there’s concern about how cinema fans will behave. After all the folks that have those $5,000, $10,000 or even $100,000 (or more) home theaters would be prime target customers.

However, as good as home theaters can be – and they can be VERY good, home theater viewing will almost never be the same as going to the movies and it’s not because of the $8.00 giant tub of popcorn. No, movie-going behavior is deeply embedded in the psyche of Americans and movie-watchers all over the world. Most people will never pay $50 for a first-run movie and the experience of being at the movies with other people, gauging their reactions – good and bad, is an integral part of the experience. Look at it this way – live staged plays are ok when aired on TV (think of the recent live performances of The Sound of Music, and Grease, but being at a live stage presentation is vastly different – and better. Not only because the actors are live, but also because of the shared experience of seeing and being there in the audience – together.

So there’s room for both wouldn’t you agree? Or do you really believe the advent of home screening portends the end of movie-theater going?

Posted in ads in movies, Movie theater advertising, Screenvision, Technology | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Build your professional confidence in thinking there’s nobody better than you

whos-better-than-you-nobody-78447986Here in the U.S. Major League Baseball’s ‘Spring Training’ games have been going on for two weeks and for those of us that love ‘America’s Pastime’ the sights and sounds of spring are inexorably wrapped up with baseball.

I had the great pleasure of coaching Little League and Babe Ruth baseball as my son made his way up through the ranks. Prior to that I had not played organized baseball since I played Little League myself back in the day. One summer when I was just past 40 I was enticed (induced?) to play Men’s Senior League Baseball. I was not a good player and the level of the other players which consisted of former high school, college and even an occasional retired professional player, was far above anything I could really handle.   Yet one of the best things was that I learned a great deal about teamwork, team support and team spirit.

What was most interesting to me about playing baseball (as opposed to watching it from the stands), was the constant infield chatter and constant support when a team member was at the plate.   “Nobody better here Mark” “You’re who we want up in this situation”. “Work your way back in the count”. “ Good eye”. Constant, positive encouragement helped keep my confidence up even when I really knew I wasn’t very good.   I am not going to say that our team used that approach to win the championship that season (we didn’t) as all the other teams in the league did pretty much the same thing.

And when things did not go so well (like I didn’t get a hit, made an error in the field or gave up two home runs in a row), the support was still there in the form of – “Tough day”, or “You’ll get ‘em next time”.

I took what I learned from that experience and brought it to the young players that I was coaching at the time. Because those young players were far from being professionals, I found the impact of positive reinforcement made them more effective than other teams they played that did not practice “Nobody Better” as I like to call it.

As business professionals having a success ratio of 30% (making one a multi-millionaire in professional baseball), is unacceptable. The stakes are higher as your livelihood is directly correlated to your performance. At least hypothetically speaking. However business leaders and managers all too often miss the opportunity to improve their team by offering a show of confidence that in the current project there’s “Nobody better” and “There’s nobody we’d rather have at-bat in this critical situation.”

The “Nobody Better” approach won’t turn a lousy player into a star. But it very well can push a team member to focus more and give his or her best effort more often because the team believes and is relying on them.

How do you motivate your team?




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The DMV is still where you’d rather not be

DMVAs the nation that invented the driving of automobiles, any licensed driver feels a chill go up his or her spine when they have to consider a trip to the Department of Motor Vehicles.   I’ve been going there now for forty years and on one of my recent visits, (in what was far from a nightmare) I almost began to buy the concept that DMV service and information was getting better. After today’s visit I don’t know how I could have felt that way.

Americans know that things like government sequestration and budget cuts have impacted service delivery of the vast network of DMV’s, (which are regulated by individual states).

To me it appears the average DMV (I’ve been to them in no less than four states over time) is a place that time and technology have forgotten. When I arrived today at what I thought was an off-hour (10:30 AM) the line was out the door.   I found out after the fact that one can go on the DMV website to get an idea of waiting time. Except that those people waiting outside the door are not counted. In fact the wait time has nothing to do with the first line you stand in. So there’s no way to know unless you actually show up.

There’s no visible signage – digital or otherwise but the good news is that they sell some packaged pastries and soft drinks. People showed up with books to read while they waited. I have not seen that in a long time (used to be in banks in Los Angeles in the 1970’s that people showed up with books and I wondered why, at first).

There was no way to know one person’s reason for going to the DMV over another aside from those of us that were carrying license plates. I just knew if I actually reached the Oz-like window (opening?) and was able to actually talk with a DMV employee, that the first question would be “are you returning your plates?” Aside from going to see the dentist I can’t think of a place people would want to avoid going more than the DMV. It must be disheartening for the people that work there to see the frustration and have to deal with thoroughly aggravated people who’ve waited longer than an hour to perform what should be a very simple task.

Could Fedex or UPS or Amazon or some private company do a better job of managing the DMV? The answer is YES! But it seems like it will never happen and that’s just too bad. Smart use of technology could help alleviate some of the problems, but the approach is all wrong as DMV’s are under-funded, under-resourced, under-staffed and overwhelmed.

That DMV data is seen as so vitally important to local and national security makes privatizing a complicated concept. But what exists currently is not working. People deserve better don’t you agree?


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