You can have any feature you want, as long as you (still) only want one

Although it’s never been proven that Henry Ford ever said “You can paint it any color, so long as it’s black” when referring to the Model T, the legend serves as a good example of a snapshot in time, and a way of thinking about marketing and consumers. It was the factory approach, that didn’t allow for customization of products or services.

Today we talk heavily about the consumer being able to customize anything they want, but is this really true? Or are we only allowed to customize certain aspects that companies want us to be able to?

I still have an iPhone 4s. Partially this is because I value money more than the latest technology, but partially it’s because I can’t find the case that I want. I currently have a MossGreg case and I LOVE IT. I love the wallet part of it and I don’t want to give that up . But, as I’ve mentioned on Twitter, my iPhone drains battery like a chocoholic who found a Hershey’s Syrup bottle (admittedly, partially because of my use patterns). So I’ve been on a mission to find an iPhone 5s case that is both a wallet and an extended battery. So far, I’ve only found one, by an unknown company, with very mixed reviews.

The major iPhone case suppliers offer many different colors and styles, but they don’t mix features. You can have an extended battery, but no wallet, no waterproofing, etc. Basically, pick one feature, and no more than one.

If we truly believe that the wave of the future is customization, we still have a ways to go.

Ikea gains revenue by keeping you in their store

“Ok, but if we are going to Ikea, you must be prepared to spend all day there,” is a common warning that I say to my friends. So, you can easily guess that I would most certainly we considered an Ikea brand fanatic. In fact, so much so, that I once told an inquiring home builder friend of mine that my perfect home could be summed up by the phrase, “Frank Lloyd Wright architecture, Ikea interior design.”

But, in reality, my warning of it being an all-day trip is not unusual and it’s exactly what Ikea wants. A core component of retail marketing is coming up with new and innovative ways to keep customers in the store and Ikea has mastered this.

Here is a quick  list of some of the key ways Ikea keeps you in their stores:

  • They design their stores like a maze, so it’s virtually impossible to get out without going through the whole store.  I’ve been to the Ikea closest to me enough that I know the shortcuts. But if you are visiting an Ikea for the first time, you’ll find it easy and yet, slightly painful, to have to cover every inch of the store to get what you want.
  •  They make their stores incredibly interactive. The top floors of Ikea are usually  demonstration areas that look like a series of small apartments or homes.  Guests are encouraged to go in and out of each of these “homes” and see how Ikea products could really be used. For an active learner like me, this is heaven. I get to touch everything, sit on things, open cabinets, and try to get the non-slamming cabinets to slam (a personal favorite game of mine).
  • Think those tasty and very inexpensive meals at Ikea restaurants are so they can make their customers happy? Think again! By offering food options, Ikea ensures that you won’t leave, just because you get hungry. And, of course, the food gets you to sample their food products, which you can also purchase. In case you are curious, I recommend the meatballs.
  • They also watch your kids for you for free while you shop! As a retailer, they know that happy children means parents can stay in the store longer and shop, which means increased sales for them. It’s not really a new concept. In fact, the grocery store I visited as a child gave each kid a cookie to keep them happy while their parents shopped. But offering free daycare for an hour is definitely a ramped-up effort.
  • In addition, they have small play areas strategically placed in areas that parents may need to spend a good portion of time in. For example, in the store I visit, there is a small play area next to the cabinet design portion of the store so the children can play while their parents design their new cabinets.

Now, Ikea is at it again with a new twist, Manland. When I would go to Ikea as a child, we would make it to the chair department and there my father would take a seat in his favorite chair and relax with a book until we were done shopping (or needed him to pay for lunch!). Now, it seems, Ikea has a better idea for my father. Now he can go to a space specifically designed with him in mind including TVs, snacks, games, etc.  Or, at least, he could on Father’s Day in Australia. Permanent or not, it seems Ikea is at it again, finding new ways to keep customers in their store and spending money.

Special thanks goes to my friend Nate Block for knowing my obsession with Ikea and forwarding me the information on Manland.

The wedding registry is evolving

As more and more of my friends get married, I’ve been thinking about the concept of wedding registries and I’ve come to the conclusion that the traditional wedding registry is going to have to evolve.

It’s no secret that the average age of women and men getting married in the United States is increasing. As of 2003, according to Bride’s Magazine, the average age of an American woman getting married was 27 and for men, it was 29.

Now think about the intent behind the bridal registry, wedding gifts, and bridal shower gifts. Most gifts given at the weddings/showers I’ve attend have consisted of things that the new bride and groom need to start their home. In my experience, it’s particularly a lot of small appliances, linens, and kitchen supplies.

Ah, but therein lies the issue. If people are getting married older, they are more likely to have their own established residence or their own home. So now, instead of having to start a new home from scratch together, most newly weds are faced with trying to combine two households.

A photo of a wedding gift
Photo by sorakiei on Flickr

The Combining Household Game

One of my friends described the house-combining process to me when she was going through it. She spent days holding similar items up to her husband so the two of them could decide which to keep and which to toss. “We had seven spatulas, so I held all seven up and said we could keep three. We picked the best three and put the rest in the charity pile. Then I picked up the five colanders we had and we agreed that we probably only needed two, so we picked those two,” she said. It was daunting to even hear about. And, needless to say, their registry was pretty small and consisted of mostly decorative items.

Evolving in Various Ways

So, the product of the wedding registry, in a time when more people are combining than starting households, is becoming less relevant. So what can brides to be and businesses do? I’ve seen multiple alternatives so far:

  • Couples are only putting items on their registry that would be upgrades to what they already have. Sure, they might have a $20 iron, but they would really like the $120 iron.
  • To find enough to create a legitimate registry, some couples are turning to websites that offer combined registries where couples can register for items from multiple online stores in one convenient website.
  • One couple I know used a vacation registry where their loved ones and friends could fund part of their honeymoon costs. For example, I could have paid for them to have breakfast in bed one morning or for them to go scuba-diving.
  • Some couples are thinking of others during their special day by asking guests to donate to charity instead of giving gifts.
  • Finally, some couples are using alternative gift registries to ask for unusual, but helpful items such as people’s favorite recipes, help fixing something at their house, advice on decorating, etc.

Two Perspectives, Same Outcome

From the bride and groom’s perspective, they now have more choices and can get what they really need. From the traditional retailer’s perspective, only the first is profitable to them, so if they don’t find a creative way to evolve the registry that benefits them, they could start losing a lot of business.  Either way, though, it’s quite clear that the traditional wedding registry is evolving.

Live blogging, a review

Picture of the Congressional Country Club golf course
The 111th US Open was at the Congressional Country Club. I covered an hour of the US Open via a live blog on June 16, 2011.

For my MSU Social Media and News Journalism Course, we had an assignment to live blog an event for one hour using Cover It Live software and Posterous to post. Below is a quick overview of how it went and what I learned in the process.

Local vs. National Event

Inspired by an FCC Report about the lack of local journalism, I was planning to do a local event, but quickly figured out that a local event would make it very difficult to meet the class requirements for the live blog, which were:

  • At least four links to online references
  • At least two Flickr images
  • At least one video (these could be pre-loaded into the software)
  • At least two Twitter streams

Unfortunately, I couldn’t think of local event where others would be tweeting or taking photos, so I decided to cover a National Event. After skimming the national front for interesting live events, I settled on the U.S. Open Golf Tournament. So, on June 16, I completed a live blog of the US Open.

Amount of Time

At first, when I read the assignment, I thought “Great! This shouldn’t take a lot of time because it is only one hour,” but I quickly found out otherwise. Even though I golf, I found that I needed to do a lot of research on the players, the tournament, the course, etc. to get me up to speed on the U.S. Open. In addition to preliminary research, I knew I wouldn’t have time during the live blogging to pull photos, videos, links and Twitter streams while live blogging, which meant I had to find all of that ahead of time and load it into the Cover It Live software. It turns out, between the research and the media gathering, it took about 4 hours to prepare for a one hour live blog.

Coordination of Technology

Technology is beautiful when it all works the way it is supposed to and frustratingly horrible when it doesn’t. One problem with the Cover It Live software I had was embedding YouTube videos into my live blog. I had preloaded all of the videos into the software, but during my live blogging, they came up blank. I kept experimenting and finally found that, if you put the embed code directly into the writing window, the videos will work.

The other issue I had was integrating the Posterous software with my Twitter account. I could get Posterous to post that I had a live blogging session coming up, but none of my actual live blogging posts, no matter what I tried. I eventually gave up and decided it was more important to focus on my live blogging than dealing with the technology issue.

Bottom Line

Live blogging was a fun way to cover an event, but it is time consuming and requires a good grasp of multiple software platforms and their integration features. If you are interested in live blogging, I would recommend practicing on some minor events prior to a major event where you want to make sure your coverage is flawless.

Post originally published on my MSU Journalism blog, Fit To Type.

Storify, a review

This week I tried the new online platform, Storify, to write an article about a severe storm in Battle Creek, Michigan. Storify, for those of you who have not played around with it, is a new platform that allows you to incorporate various web and social media elements, such as Twitter posts, YouTube videos, Flickr photos, Facebook posts, etc. into a story and publish it online.

Positives and benefits

Storify is a unique and easy way to include various elements found online into a story. By clicking on the appropriate icon on the left, you can easily search YouTube, Twitter, Flickr, Facebook, etc. for various elements to include in your story. Say, for example, you wanted to write a story about the protests that happened in Egypt. Using this tool, you could easily search all of various outlets and find what you need much quicker that you would be able to by going to the individual sites. This is a journalists dream because it significantly lessens the amount of time they need to gather information.

Storify also makes it easy to incorporate these elements into your story. In the past, you had to screenshot items you wanted and then insert them into your post/story, etc. Now, with the simple drag and drop feature, you can include posts, videos, and other elements with minimal effort.

The new web platform also lets you continually update your story as things change and new information becomes available. Again, this is very important to journalists who are continually updating their stories as new information comes in. Storify makes this process easy and quick.

Probably one of my favorite features of Storify is the feedback mechanism. You can send a message to the owner of the content you incorporated letting them know that you used their elements in a story. This adds a positive element to the stories posted because the owners of the original content can take pride in their content being used for a story. That then could encourage those people to share it with their friends and family, which could significantly increase the story’s readership. Also, the notification encourages a feedback loop by letting people know that you used something of theirs. This is a common courtesy, even if items are in the public domain.

Areas for Improvement

Despite all of its positives, there are a few things that could be improved about Storify.

First, Storify did not work correctly with the latest version of Internet Explorer 9. The icon to be able to begin writing a story did not appear. It did, however, appear when I used Mozilla Firefox. I sent Storify a message alerting them to this issue.

A screenshot of Storify from Internet Explorer 9 with the button missing
A screenshot of Storify from Internet Explorer 9. There was no way to begin a new story.
A screenshot of Storify using the most recent version of Mozilla Firefox.
A screenshot of Storify using the most recent version of Mozilla Firefox. The link is there in the center so that the user can begin writing a story.

The platform is also only as good as the individual search engines for each site and the information on those sites. For example, I was searching for information on a storm that hit Battle Creek, Michigan. For Twitter, I was able to search for references to a “storm” or “trees down” within a certain mile radius of the area. This made it pretty easy to find information. However, because Twitter isn’t very popular in Battle Creek yet, information was minimal and most did not include the hashtag #battlecreekstorm. For larger stories in areas where Twitter is popular, I think this would be eliminated by more people using the site and using hashtags. For Facebook, it was much more difficult to find what I was looking for because Facebook does not allow you to search by radius or other elements that may narrow the results to what you are looking for.

The linear model of Storify was somewhat frustrating for me. I’m the type of person who likes to gather all of the information I want, and then spread it out in a way that I can look at it all and then make decisions of how to put it together (you can imagine what my living room floor looks like when I scrapbook!). With Storify, I snatched everything I might want for my story and put it in so I didn’t lose any of it if the content wasn’t there when I went looking again. But by doing this, it became a really tedious process to continually scroll down and up to see what I had and put it in the order I wanted it in. I would recommend some sort of “holding pen” for elements that is separate from the story.

Bottom line

Overall, I really like the concept of Storify and like the way the platform works. I think it will be a great tool for journalists and people looking for various elements to include in an online story.

 

This story was originally published on my MSU Journalism class blog, Fit To Type.

Isotoner Smart Touch Gloves for touch screen smartphones, a review

A while ago I did a non-techie feminine review of the Droid X. Because of the popularity of that post, I thought I’d do another review of a new product: the Isotoner Smart Touch Gloves. If you haven’t read about these gloves, they claim to solve the problem that most of us who live in colder climates have when the weather is right to wear gloves; you have to take the gloves off to operate your touch screen phone.  The gloves claim to resolve this.

 Photo of the Isotone Smart Touch Gloves in lime and black

Functionality

So, do they work? The short answer is: yes! They actually work quite well. There is a small sewn patch on the index and thumbs on each hand of the gloves. Using these small patches (which look like they are embroidered with small arrows in the middle), you can easily operate your smartphone. Sliding images on the screen works every time. Every once in a while, it takes me 2 or 3 touches on a tap on my Droid X for the phone to respond, but usually it works on the first or second try.

 

Overall Look

Isotoner gloves are known for looking and feeling more like a luxury “dress” glove. Although the Smart Touch gloves have the same overall look of the Isotoner line, they do look a little more utility-focused when compared to the rest of their line.  If I was going on looks alone for a pair to wear with my dress coat, they wouldn’t be my first choice. But they are ok. The patches on the fingers and thumbs is slightly distracting, but not over the top.

 

Color

So far, the gloves only come in black and colors mixed with black. I purchased the grey/black combination because I couldn’t find a pair of the all-black. I’m hoping in the future they will also come out with solid colors and, particularly, a brown or camel-colored version.

 

Fit

My main complaint with Isotoner gloves and the main reason I haven’t bought a pair in a few years is fit.  The Isotoner Smart Touch Gloves are no different. They come one size fits all and they don’t necessarily fit me well.  I have thin hands and they are snug, so I would recommend that anyone with medium or larger hands try them on first. Also, my fingers are pretty long (which jewelers always try to convince me is a sign I need to wear big stones on them) so the glove does not fit well in between my fingers at the base. They need to be just slightly longer to be the perfect fit for me. Finally, the index finger portion of the gloves seems slightly twisted outward to the Smart Touch finger patch is more on the side of my finger than at the tip of my finger. I’m pretty sure this, again, has to do with them not being long enough.

 

Price

The price tag was $40 per pair for the gloves. I saw that on Istoner’s website, they are on sale currently for $26 and on Macy’s website, they are on sale currently for $26.99

 

Overall

Overall, I’m very happy with the gloves. They do exactly what they promised. So, despite the slightly-off fit and the look being a little more utility-oriented, I think they were a great buy and I will probably buy another pair in the future.