Random stuff I learned at SocialMix 2012

So yesterday, I had the priviledge of meeting a bunch of my online heroes in real life at the Social Mix 2012 conference in Toronto. And while stuff is fresh in my mind (okay not *fresh-fresh* after a *few* post conference beers), here are a few things still bouncing around the old coconut.

So yesterday, store I had the priviledge of meeting a bunch of my online heroes in real life at the Social Mix 2012 conference in Toronto. And while stuff is fresh in my mind (okay not *fresh-fresh* after a *few* post conference beers), price here are a few things still bouncing around the old coconut.
Photo by Gini Dietrich of me (left) and Geoff Livingston (right).

Stuff I learned at Social Mix 2012:

  • Danny Brown and his team at Jugnoo throw a mean conference – and on pretty short notice from what Jugnoovians Lindsay Bell and Hessie Jones tell me. They put together a top notch group of speakers with a great venue and a great cause to make one really memorable event. Congratulations to all, buy more about and to Hessie’s question: “should we do this again?” YES!
  • Danny has a great accent (“rogue with the brogue” they called him), but despite that handicap, he’s a brilliant communicator, and all-around great human. Imagine a heavy Scottish accent while Danny says awesome, off-the-kilt stuff like this:
  • The biggest, and most pleasant, surprise of the day was Tim Burrows who manages social media for the Toronto Police Force. Yup. A cop. Talking social. And he’s a brilliant, self-deprecating speaker who demonstrates how focusing on your core brand values allows you to do your job better, respond to a crisis fast, and win back jaded hearts and minds for the forces of law and order. Deeply inspirational.
  • Gary Vaynerchuk owns the stage. It was my first time seeing him live. But I’d seen video, so I already knew that he swears a lot, and that sometimes he says stuff that really pisses me off: like “What’s the ROI of your mother?” But the thing is, in person, you still get pissed off, then realize a moment later that he actually does understand, care, and is keenly aware of Return On Investment in his own business. So yeah, he pokes sticks at lots of sacred cow nests (huh?), but he’s such a great performer, that you still end up in the palm of his hand.  That’s his shtick, and it works.

“Marketers ruin everything.” Gary Vaynerchuk

  • Gary’s actually at his best when he’s “off-shtick”. Yesterday, we saw him deftly handling questions yesterday from the three kinds of fans he seems to attract (1. sycophants, 2. brown-nosers, and 3. sycophantic brown-nosers), but he spikes their loaded suck-up questions back at them, and then riffs out a series of long, cogent, scary-smart ideas.
  • Gini Dietrich and Geoff Livingston are superstars and nice folks, who can lead an engaging off-the-cuff session. Yesterday they free-styled on their book Marketing in the Round. Which is hard, because they’re still in the middle of a long and (from the sounds of it) arduous tour. But even so, they made some time for a riotously fun evening out afterwards That’s Gini’s picture of me (left) and Geoff (right) at a downtown pub.
  • Geoff is a scary, scary man. In a totally cool way. One might almost call him punk. Almost.
  • Susan Murphy is spooky-good at networking. Not that I’m impressed by – or jealous of – social media “A-listers”…. no really! But holy crap my Ottawa friend Susan Murphy is good friends with a whackload of them! Including Gary, who never struck me as a huggy dude, but he veered out of his way on the way out the door to run up and give Suze a massive bearhug.
  • Matt Hixson from Portland Oregon is a smart cookie, and his company Tellagence is onto something with the idea of intelligently mapping and predicting social connections based on people’s real influence in specific interest areas. That’s all I can say… okay, it’s all I understand. But stay tuned. There’s cool stuff to come from this company.

“I don’t care about your friends or followers. I care about relationships you build – in context.” Matt Hixson

  • Apparently I have a very loud laugh. But the origin story? Not so interesting…

Updated: check out their sites

How to speak Bizbabble in one easy step: DON’T!

Last week, I was excited to hear that Mitel, founded by Ottawa high tech stalwart Sir Terry Matthews, had released a revolutionary new product. So as a loyal Ottawa geek eager to talk up the new device to my network, I hastened over to Mitel.com to find out more. I found this instead. And I Beg to Differ.

Try your customer’s language instead: it’s called “Human”

Last week, cure I was excited to hear that Mitel, founded by Ottawa high tech stalwart Sir Terry Matthews, had released a revolutionary new product. So as a loyal Ottawa geek eager to talk up the new device to my network, I hastened over to Mitel.com to find out more. I found this instead. And I Beg to Differ.

I call it “Bizbabble”:

“Bizbabble”: (n) a set of words arranged by well-meaning business communicators in such a way that they look like they should mean something to a human of average intelligence, while utterly failing to actually help anyone understand the thing being babbled about.

Now I mean no disrespect to the good marketing folks at Mitel. I’ve been in their shoes, and I’ve written my share of Bizbabble myself. It’s really hard to communicate well while also navigating the minefields of engineering jargon, business politics, investors, analysts, and more.

But the experience reminded me of this story. And I’m speaking here as someone on the outside who wants to help them get the message out. And to do that, I first need to understand.

10 little words

Let’s go back a bit and read the words above again: “Next-Generation Multimedia Collaboration in the Personal Office Meeting Space”. Now tell me, dear human of above average intelligence. What is this thing? What does it do? Who is it for? Is it something you want to know more about?

The best I could do was “some kind of high tech thingy that helps people collaborate” but I had no idea whether it was a conference phone, a projector, a wireless hotspot, or a mini computer, and I had no clue what a “personal office meeting space” was. A home office maybe?

The words don’t help. And neither did the press release, the product name (“UC” stands for “Unified Communications” not “ulcerative colitis” which came up first on Google) or the the (almost impossible to find listing on) the corporate site.

Nor, unfortunately, did the slickly produced little product site , which spends most of its space talking about why the product is important, but very little about what the heck it IS! And that’s the key thing anyone looking at a new product wants to know!

So here you go Mitel. I solved your problem.

If I were advising Mitel on how to position and describe this product, I’d start with a simple formula:

  • 1) Tell us what is in terms most ordinary humans are already familiar with.
  • 2) Tell us what makes it special or different from the things we’re already familiar with.
  • 3) Do it in a way that people will remember – in this case by surprising them.

So, for example, here’s what I would say their product is after reading a bunch of materials (that said a whole lot less):

“The <insert better name here>
is a conference phone on steroids.”

(Pause. Sound of crickets…)

I could go on of course, but now it’s your turn:

What do you think? Does that help? Or am I hopelessly out of touch? Any examples of simple, helpful corporate communications – especially in very technical or jargon-laden fields? Weigh in below!

Surface impressions: Microsoft just nibbles the Apple.

Microsoft tries to challenge the iPad, apple-to-Apple. But scratching the Surface, it is bruised at best, and may even be a lemon. We Beg to Differ.

Microsoft tries to challenge the iPad.  But scratching the Surface, viagra approved Microsoft wants you to compare them apple-to-Apple. We Beg to Differ.

I finally had a chance to see the video of the much-hyped “secret” launch event for Microsoft and look into the branding and positioning of even more hyped new tablet.  Now, price I’ve never touched the actual product, ask but just skating on the surface here, a  few impressions.

Reinventing the reinvention

The format of Microsoft’s presentation seemed oddly familiar to me, like deja vu, or a vaguely remembered movie. And here’s why. Read Write Web did a beat-by-beat comparison (embedded below) of the Surface launch with the epic launch of the iPad by Steve Jobs.

And you’ll never guess who comes off looking like an innovator and who comes off like a copycat:

Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming.

Tough day on the Jobs: Steve Sinofsky’s “somebody’s gonna get fired” face.

In the clip above, you see a brief moment where Microsoft  Executive Steven Sinofsky goes pale, tightens his lips, and sprints for the podium to grab a back-up tablet after the machine he’s holding completely freezes. Here’s a blow-by-blow of that excruciating moment from UK’s Daily Mail.

Now, as someone who’s done presentations for major consumer product launches (remember CorelDRAW 8?), and had to skate through crashes in the middle of your prepared schpiel, I have great  sympathy for what this guy is going through. Particularly since my screw-ups weren’t documented on YouTube for later dissection.

But this ain’t Palookaville. This is Microsoft (remember Windows 98?). So when the stakes are this high, you have to wonder how unstable the machine is to crash at that moment.

The name and brand strategy

I’m having a lot of trouble wrapping my head around the name. Maybe because it’s a two-dimensional metaphor – and most of the product shots are three-dimensional, and because Microsoft can’t seem to make up its mind whether this is a tablet (just a “surface”) or a new kind of lightweight quasi-laptop.

This confusion seems to be baffling even the most enthusiastic reviewers:

Microsoft is clearly straddling the uncomfortable divide between the old world of mice and keyboards, where it dominates, and a future ruled by touch screens, where Apple and Android devices prevail….

Surface splits the difference between a standard tablet and super-light laptops such as Apple’s MacBook Air or ultrabooks that run Windows.

So what is this thing? I’m sure a new category descriptor like “power tabs” or “laptabs” will emerge. But Microsoft could have helped us – and themselves – by figuring that out ahead of time.

Microsoft’s brand mangers also can’t seem to make up their mind whether it is a “Microsoft Surface” – like “Microsoft Word” or “Microsoft Comfort Mouse” – or whether “Surface” is a standalone brand with “Microsoft” as a lower visibility endorsement- like X Box. If it’s the latter, the Surface name is too weak to be memorable, and not distinctive enough to create a solid new product category to stand against iPad.

The wordmark is pure Apple minimalism as well, and the design of the Surface’s paper-thin launch site could easily be straight off Apple.com. Except that Apple actually tells you something substantial about their product.

And that’s the real problem with the Surface (and the substance of this product). Microsoft should have spent less time playing the Apple game (which they will never win), and more time playing the Differ game.

But, my fellow brand-watchers, what do you think? Am I being too hard on this little West-coast start-up?

Happy May 1 Ontario! Electricity just got more expensive (again)!

Brandvelope client EnergyMobile launches new mobile app. If you’re like me, you prefer not to think about electricity. Or how much you’re spending on it. But a few things have conspired in my life to make power use a real “hot wire”:

Brandvelope client EnergyMobile launches new mobile app

Disclosure: This is an article about a client’s product, dosage so we may be a wee bit biased. But we can also get you a free pass, so read on!

Our house. Big power. Lacking cents.

If you’re like me, you prefer not to think about electricity. Or how much you’re spending on it. But a few things have conspired in my life to make power use a real “hot wire”:

  • 1) Three growing kids. Suddenly, our house has gone from 2-3 loads of laundry per week to 8-10 loads and climbing. That’s a lot of power, and it ain’t cheap.
  • 2) Increasing daycare costs. With three kids in daycare, we’re having to penny-pinch like never before, so suddenly “invisible” costs like food, water, and energy bills are in the spotlight as places to save some money.
  • 3) Ontario time-of-use metering. For non-Ontario folks who haven’t encountered this, rates for power are cheaper during hours considered “off-peak” for a given time of year – basically, an incentive to wash your potty-training toddler’s pee-soaked socks (yes I said socks) late at night or really early morning.
  • 4) Me being an idiot. As I said, energy has never been a top-of-mind concern for me, so I have no idea what a kilowatt-hour means, and I can never remember what time the price changes, or how much money I’m actually saving.
  • 5) Carbon footprint. Last one, but it’s got to be on my list with a seven year old daughter who is becoming militant about making sure polar bears don’t have to swim too far. And while time of use isn’t about using less energy per se, it turns out there are lots of easy things all of us can do to save energy, money, and hopefully, save polar bears without using giant polar water wings.

So we’re trying to save energy, but we need help

That’s why it was so cool to work with Tim Johnson as he developed, refined, and launched this iPhone app (at right). Because it’s really designed for, well, me – and people like me, who want to save energy, but are too busy or forgetful to get into the right habits without help.

Basically, like Tim’s other business Energy Insight (also a Brandvelope client) it’s about making Energy concepts easy to understand and giving people convenient tools to help them do the right thing without getting a degree in electrical engineering.

Here’s the basic idea of Powercents from an Ottawa Citizen article yesterday:

Called Powercents, the smart-phone app by EnergyMobile Studios of Ottawa is billed as a tool to help Ontario consumers make better decisions about household energy use.

“The best way to do that is with good, simple access to information that is not clouded by any specific agenda,” EnergyMobile founder Tim Johnson said.

The main screen is all about Time of Use, and helping you see what the rates in Ontario are right now, and how soon they’ll change, so you can plan a bit better.

But even better, as you can see at right, there are lots of charts to help you understand exactly how much money you’re saving with big power hogs like dishwashers and laundry machines.

So check it out!

You can buy it yourself from the iPhone store. It’s $1.99. And let us know what you think.

Or, get it for free! If you’re one of the first five people to retweet or Like this post, (and you live in Ontario) I’ll send you a code for a free download.

Steve Jobs announces “the greenest Apple product ever”

Another revolution from Apple? This one’s alive.

Just when you think the god-like product development powers of Steve Jobs couldn’t go any further, shop he launches a product that creates life itself. Let the hyperbole begin!

Behold: the ChiaPad.

“I really cannot say enough about this latest miraculous, viagra life-affirming, intuitive, and super, super green device, so I will continue to say it for the next 3 .5 hours.”
Steve Jobs at the ChiaPad unveiling

The new device is a joint project between Apple and Joseph products – makers of the classic Clapper and Chia technologies.

The shell of the device looks like an  iPad made of fired clay. But that’s where the similarity ends, because inside, the operating system is pure Chia.

Says Jobs: “You just add water and watch your content grow! It’s that easy.”

Apple officials were quick to dismiss as “fuzzy headed” the critics who have called the device a “closed ecosystem” that can only grow plants approved and sold by Apple.

And they also insist that while the ChiaPad might seem similar to several other devices on the market, the red clay is actually terracotta, and definitely not adobe.

“This changes everything you thought you knew about touch-sensitive herbal neo novelty technology,” says Jobs in the Webcast of the launch.

His demo was of course greeted with rapturous self-flagellation by Apple fans worldwide and long lineups at Apple stores, even though the product does not actually ship for several months.

Other features:

  • Herbal, organic and fully biodegradable.
  • Rain tolerant for true cloud computing.
  • Familiar interface for millions of iSod users.
  • Clap on. Clap off.
  • Thousands of apps available like Herb 2007 office suite, iMow, and Farmville – Monoculture Edition.
  • Battery cannot be removed, and don’t even mention Flash.
  • If you order NOW, we’ll throw in a second ChiaPad at no extra charge along with Ginsu Knives, a new ChiaPhone (data plan not included), and a Chia Head Steve Jobs (right).