Black Friday…How Big Will it Really Be?

November 23, 2010 § Leave a comment

Unlike the past two years, retailers have stepped up their marketing and promotions activities for their largest weekend of the year that includes Black Friday and Cyber Monday.  Many retailers are offering up sneak peeks of upcoming deals using social media, teasing their websites and including detailed promotional information to all store associates who are told to share these details with customers (where in the past this was taboo).

After a couple of rough years, retailers have become more creative in their efforts to attract consumers to their store-fronts (digital and brick & mortar).  According to the Shop.org eHoliday survey, conducted by BIGresearch, more than half of all retailers will send special emails to customer about Black Friday deals and nearly 4 out of 10 will use their Facebook channel to reach out to consumers.

Additionally, many retailers will utilize their websites home page (31.4%) and Twitter (21.6%) to announce and promote Black Friday deals.  However, retailers will continue to rely very heavily on email – more than 70% of retailers will turn to email as their primary channel to reach out to shoppers.  Email has become a critical channel for retailers to drive both on-line and in-store sales.

Last year, 69% of the top online retailers tracked by the Retail Email Blog sent at least one email to their subscribers on Black Friday, up from 59% in 2008. On Cyber Monday, 71% of retailers sent email, up from 70% in 2008. The email marketing push helped propel online sales to all-time highs, with Black Friday sales up 11% year-over-year and Cyber Monday sales up 5%, according to comScore.

Retailers have the ability to reach out to their shoppers with more relevancy and engage them at more levels in real-time than they could have ever had imagined only a few years ago.  These efforts should translate nicely at the point of sale and yield a nice return on investment.

How Big?

138 million people are expected to hit the malls on Black Friday weekend, according to a preliminary Black Friday shopping survey conducted for the National Retail Federation by BIGresearch, higher than the 134 million people who planned to do so last year. According to the survey, approximately 60 million people say they will definitely hit the stores while another 78 million are waiting to see if the bargains are worth braving the cold and the crowds.

It begs the question; ‘are retailers and marketers being set up for a fall this year with these projections?’  I recently visited a number of retail outlets from Big Box to Boutiques to Department Stores and the inventory was overwhelming – significantly more so than the last two years.  Is this a sign of their optimism – sure it is.  But lets hope for the retailer’s sake they’re right.  Otherwise it could mean retailers will be scrambling to unload excess inventory at bargain prices once again.

It would be a shame to see this pattern repeated especially since retailers were so cautious last year in holding their inventory levels low.  Although this may not have provided consumers the bargains they were looking for it certainly did help retailers manage their costs and avoid a fire sale.

There is no doubt that retailers are optimistic about the upcoming season.  There’s no question, shoppers will be out in droves during these days. But it goes on to point out that two research firms have released somewhat conflicting data about this. There is the National Retail Federation projection of 138 million shoppers. However Consumer Reports said fewer Americans plan to shop on Black Friday weekend this year compared to last year, with 102 million shoppers planning to go to the malls, down 16 million from last year.

What this all means, remains to be seen.  I’ll be trolling the malls and sampling consumers to get a gauge the season; but it won’t be until the final numbers come rolling in can the verdict be decided.


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If it looks good…

November 19, 2010 § Leave a comment

If it looks good, you’ll see it.

If it sounds good, you’ll hear it.

If it’s marketed right, you’ll buy it.

But…If it’s real, you’ll feel it!

– Kid Rock

Kurt Vonnegut’s Tips for Writing Fiction

November 13, 2010 § Leave a comment

Preparing for a presentation?  Looking to be the next great American novelist?  Or simply writing for self fulfillment.  Either way, Kurt Vonnegut has a few tips for your characters, your sentences, and how you treat your readers. It’s and oldie but goodie, shared by reader Zan.

In his book Bagombo Snuff Box: Uncollected Short Fiction, Vonnegut listed eight rules for writing a short story:

1.  Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.

2.  Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.

3.  Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.

4.  Every sentence must do one of two things-reveal character or advance the action.

5.  Start as close to the end as possible.

6.  Be a Sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them-in order that the reader may see what they are made of.

7.  Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.

8.  Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To hell with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

Vonnegut qualifies the list by adding that Flannery O’Connor broke all these rules except the first, and that great writers tend to do that.

via Kurt Vonnegut’s Tips for Writing Fiction.

Harnessing the Conversation – One Social Site at a Time

November 12, 2010 § Leave a comment

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There are literally dozens of entrepreneurs trying to get into the social media space and one area seems to be getting a great deal of attention these days; social media monitoring.  Through dashboards that track conversations across multiple social platforms and conveniently pull it all into one hub for easy dissemination – it is becoming fast the holy grail for many.

Recently I came across an article that featured a former colleague and his firm – Spreenkler.  Spreenkler was founded as a forum to share and build off the ideas from a community of creative and talented marketing professionals; it’s evolved into something much more than that today.  Today, Spreenkler works to help students gain valuable experience in the real world through projects that is sponsored by agency partners and brands – much of the work involves creative and strategy concepting as well as UI development.  However, the niche in which the group was originally formed was through the use of social media and in this space they are working to develop just the type of dashboard that many marketers are looking for; enabling them to get a handle on the digital beast we so affectionately refer to as social media.

Although, the competition is tough, there is always room for another player; a player that does it a little better than the rest and can quickly build and deploy improvements; one that collectively work side by side with their clients in developing and re-developing a workstation that will up-end the others in the market place.  Steve and the Spreekler team may just be the ones to pull it off.  Good Luck!

Spreenkler is developing social networking software

By Alysha Schertz email , of BizTimes

Published April 17, 2009

Hundreds of social media sites are available with the click of a mouse. Despite the benefits of using social media, many companies lack the resources available to devote toward the management of their brands on social media accounts.

Steve Glynn, president of Milwaukee-based Spreenkler Creative, and developers Jonathan Yankovich, and Kevin Ciesielski are in the process of designing software to help companies that have a critical interest in social media conversation but do not have large amounts of time to invest in the process.

The product, SocialRuler, is almost ready to launch. SocialRuler is a product that will enable a user to stream search content from sites like Twitter, Flickr, Youtube and blog sites, to one central location.

“There were all of these companies coming to me who understand the emergence of social media, but don’t necessarily understand how to get involved and take the first step,” Glynn said.  “The idea is to allow individuals to stream this content into one location, that would then allow them to generate graphs, charts, and reports related to the content.”

Spreenkler is a creative services firm.

According to Glynn, the first step for most companies is listening to what is being said and how other people are using it. SocialRuler will allow them to start listening by giving companies an intuitive view of what is being said on multiple sites in one convenient location.

“Companies will be able to feed individual words or phrases into the search mechanism, and the defined set of sites will then monitor and track all activity and conversations where those key words appear,” Glynn said.

Companies will be able to use the data gathered from SocialRuler to react to people’s perceptions of the product, educate consumers on the company or the product once they figure out what people are saying, and even use it to monitor what a competitor is doing or to decide where best to direct their marketing dollars based on where the conversation is taking place.

“There are endless possibilities for companies,” Glynn said. “They are able to measure feedback from their key words over a constant time period, or they can observe conversations after they issue a press release, or make a strategic decision to decide where they need to go from there.”

Glynn envisions elected officials using the product during elections to receive real-time feedback from their constituents. He envisions companies using the data they have gathered to identify brand ambassadors or learn how to prepare for certain events.

The product is still in its developmental stages, but Glynn hopes to roll out a beta form locally in the near future.

“We have a couple agencies already interested in using the product for some of their clients,” Glynn said. “We are definitely marketing it towards the enterprise level group or company.”

Spreenkler lead designer Dawn Zimmerman is in charge of designing the user interface for the product.

According to Glynn, the product will be released as a Web-based service and will most likely be available at the elementary level for free. A higher “pro” version will then be available for a monthly subscription price that will give companies the ability to have more services, including the potential for mobile updates, customizable layouts and additional report services.

Steve Jobs Commencement Speech at Stanford – 2005

November 7, 2010 § Leave a comment

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Image via Wikipedia

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I came across Steve Job’s commencement speech and had to share it with you.  His straight talk and candor is refreshing; if not sobering especially if your one of the students listening in the audience (try and put yourself there if you can).

‘You’ve got to find what you love,’ Jobs says

This is the text of the Commencement address by Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple Computer and of Pixar Animation Studios, delivered on June 12, 2005.

I am honored to be with you today at your commencement from one of the finest universities in the world. I never graduated from college. Truth be told, this is the closest I’ve ever gotten to a college graduation. Today I want to tell you three stories from my life. That’s it. No big deal. Just three stories.

The first story is about connecting the dots.

I dropped out of Reed College after the first 6 months, but then stayed around as a drop-in for another 18 months or so before I really quit. So why did I drop out?

It started before I was born. My biological mother was a young, unwed college graduate student, and she decided to put me up for adoption. She felt very strongly that I should be adopted by college graduates, so everything was all set for me to be adopted at birth by a lawyer and his wife. Except that when I popped out they decided at the last minute that they really wanted a girl. So my parents, who were on a waiting list, got a call in the middle of the night asking: “We have an unexpected baby boy; do you want him?” They said: “Of course.” My biological mother later found out that my mother had never graduated from college and that my father had never graduated from high school. She refused to sign the final adoption papers. She only relented a few months later when my parents promised that I would someday go to college.

And 17 years later I did go to college. But I naively chose a college that was almost as expensive as Stanford, and all of my working-class parents’ savings were being spent on my college tuition. After six months, I couldn’t see the value in it. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and no idea how college was going to help me figure it out. And here I was spending all of the money my parents had saved their entire life. So I decided to drop out and trust that it would all work out OK. It was pretty scary at the time, but looking back it was one of the best decisions I ever made. The minute I dropped out I could stop taking the required classes that didn’t interest me, and begin dropping in on the ones that looked interesting.

It wasn’t all romantic. I didn’t have a dorm room, so I slept on the floor in friends’ rooms, I returned coke bottles for the 5¢ deposits to buy food with, and I would walk the 7 miles across town every Sunday night to get one good meal a week at the Hare Krishna temple. I loved it. And much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on. Let me give you one example:

Reed College at that time offered perhaps the best calligraphy instruction in the country. Throughout the campus every poster, every label on every drawer, was beautifully hand calligraphed. Because I had dropped out and didn’t have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture, and I found it fascinating.

None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, its likely that no personal computer would have them. If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do. Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards ten years later.

Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.

My second story is about love and loss.

I was lucky — I found what I loved to do early in life. Woz and I started Apple in my parents garage when I was 20. We worked hard, and in 10 years Apple had grown from just the two of us in a garage into a $2 billion company with over 4000 employees. We had just released our finest creation — the Macintosh — a year earlier, and I had just turned 30. And then I got fired. How can you get fired from a company you started? Well, as Apple grew we hired someone who I thought was very talented to run the company with me, and for the first year or so things went well. But then our visions of the future began to diverge and eventually we had a falling out. When we did, our Board of Directors sided with him. So at 30 I was out. And very publicly out. What had been the focus of my entire adult life was gone, and it was devastating.

I really didn’t know what to do for a few months. I felt that I had let the previous generation of entrepreneurs down – that I had dropped the baton as it was being passed to me. I met with David Packard and Bob Noyce and tried to apologize for screwing up so badly. I was a very public failure, and I even thought about running away from the valley. But something slowly began to dawn on me — I still loved what I did. The turn of events at Apple had not changed that one bit. I had been rejected, but I was still in love. And so I decided to start over.

I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.

During the next five years, I started a company named NeXT, another company named Pixar, and fell in love with an amazing woman who would become my wife. Pixar went on to create the worlds first computer animated feature film, Toy Story, and is now the most successful animation studio in the world. In a remarkable turn of events, Apple bought NeXT, I returned to Apple, and the technology we developed at NeXT is at the heart of Apple’s current renaissance. And Laurene and I have a wonderful family together.

I’m pretty sure none of this would have happened if I hadn’t been fired from Apple. It was awful tasting medicine, but I guess the patient needed it. Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith. I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.

My third story is about death.

When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.” It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

About a year ago I was diagnosed with cancer. I had a scan at 7:30 in the morning, and it clearly showed a tumor on my pancreas. I didn’t even know what a pancreas was. The doctors told me this was almost certainly a type of cancer that is incurable, and that I should expect to live no longer than three to six months. My doctor advised me to go home and get my affairs in order, which is doctor’s code for prepare to die. It means to try to tell your kids everything you thought you’d have the next 10 years to tell them in just a few months. It means to make sure everything is buttoned up so that it will be as easy as possible for your family. It means to say your goodbyes.

I lived with that diagnosis all day. Later that evening I had a biopsy, where they stuck an endoscope down my throat, through my stomach and into my intestines, put a needle into my pancreas and got a few cells from the tumor. I was sedated, but my wife, who was there, told me that when they viewed the cells under a microscope the doctors started crying because it turned out to be a very rare form of pancreatic cancer that is curable with surgery. I had the surgery and I’m fine now.

This was the closest I’ve been to facing death, and I hope its the closest I get for a few more decades. Having lived through it, I can now say this to you with a bit more certainty than when death was a useful but purely intellectual concept:

No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

When I was young, there was an amazing publication called The Whole Earth Catalog, which was one of the bibles of my generation. It was created by a fellow named Stewart Brand not far from here in Menlo Park, and he brought it to life with his poetic touch. This was in the late 1960’s, before personal computers and desktop publishing, so it was all made with typewriters, scissors, and polaroid cameras. It was sort of like Google in paperback form, 35 years before Google came along: it was idealistic, and overflowing with neat tools and great notions.

Stewart and his team put out several issues of The Whole Earth Catalog, and then when it had run its course, they put out a final issue. It was the mid-1970s, and I was your age. On the back cover of their final issue was a photograph of an early morning country road, the kind you might find yourself hitchhiking on if you were so adventurous. Beneath it were the words: “Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.” It was their farewell message as they signed off. Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish. And I have always wished that for myself. And now, as you graduate to begin anew, I wish that for you.

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

Thank you all very much.

http://news.stanford.edu/news/2005/june15/jobs-061505.html

Why Workflows Work Better than Sitemaps by Zurb

November 2, 2010 § Leave a comment

I found this post via Zurb and thought it was worth sharing.  I have always thought that the prototypical site map was too clinical and never really allowed for fluid discussion – it seems to be so final.  The workflow is a great tool that invites collaboration and discussion – something desperately needed when working through a user interface.  Not to mention a workflow is so much easier to communicate to your client.

An example of a hifi workflow that defines a specific interaction

In the last half of the decade we started noticing a trend at ZURB. Sitemaps started to disappear in a lot of our work and, in its place, we started using workflows instead. It turns out, workflows are more specific than sitemaps and map to actions a particular user will take through a website or application. Also gone is the idea that you can capture the core benefits/functions in just one diagram.

Using workflows over sitemaps also makes it easier to prioritize important actions in the system— something that’s useful for establishing measurable metrics, solid business goals, and a defined feature set to implement. Workflows help keep the actual work in perspective, while sitemaps tend to hide the engineering costs behind a structure that doesn’t explain the value of the components and pages.

via ZURB – Why Workflows Work Better than Sitemaps.

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