Opinions And Ramblings By Adam Kmiec On All Things

Author Archives: adamkmiec

Being Healthy Can Make You Smile

Walgreens is at the corner of “Happy” and “Healthy.” Too often we see these at mutually exclusive. Health is something we talk seriously about. It’s a topic we aren’t supposed to have fun with. But, with the growth of companies like SoulCycle, it’s clear you can enjoy and dare I say, become happy, in your quest to be healthy.

Our internal social, creative and content team is fantastic. This is a great example how we can reinforce how easy it is to be healthy at Walgreens, while delivering it in a way that makes you happy.

Also, if you haven’t already, download the award winning Walgreens app, sign up for Digital Health Advisor and check out Pharmacist Chat. Let me know what you think via email. Thanks.

Bringing Back The Joy Of Driving

The open road. The growl of an engine. The feel of the steering wheel. The swoosh of the wind, as the window’s down. Driving, can be, such a joy. Once you get out of the city, leave the stop lights behind, get past the highway traffic and find that stretch of road that’s smooth, with subtle curves and a gradual climb, driving becomes enjoyable.

What I’ve always loved about cars, is that there’s a car for every person and personality. Some like a smooth and quiet ride. Some like a loud and stiff ride. And some like something in between. Cars are quite personal.

My first car was a 1987, white, Toyota MR2. It was fun. So much fun. It looked like a dust buster, with angled lines and it was so light that you always wondered at which point you’d float off the ground, fly through the air and end up in the atmosphere. I drove that car hard, fast and often. Despite the limited amount of metal around me, I always felt invincible driving it. I sought opportunities to drive. You can bet, I was the first one to raise their hand to pick up milk, Chinese food takeout or to drop someone off. Driving was fun. It was a joy.

Following that first car, I’ve owned American Cars (Chevy), Japanese (Infiniti, Toyota, Suzuki), British (Jaguar) and German (BMW, Audi). They all drive differently. From their acceleration to the sound they make, a cars “birth place” instills inherent characteristics.

Despite owning some fun cars (the BMW 328i comes to mind) I never felt that sense of joy. That is until a few weeks ago. I had my 2013 Audi A4 in for service. While in service, I received an email from the dealership that inquired about my interest in trading in my car. I hadn’t really thought about it. The car was only 3 years old. It was in perfect condition (if you know me, you know how meticulous and OCD I am about cleanliness). And it was paid off.

After making the wise switch from BMW to Audi, I’ve lusted for an Audi R8, but at $120K+, it’s not in my reality. The Audi TT, though, was in the price range, but I’ve never been able to convince Nichole that it was a smart purchase (apparently 2 seats doesn’t make sense when you have 2 kids). But, the Audi A3 sedan recently came over from across the pond. It’s only been stateside for 2 model years. The A3 is a tad smaller than the A4 I had, but with a beefier engine and better weight balance. In other words, it was going to be a fun ride.

Audi A3

So, on my birthday, though I hadn’t thought about the idea of a new car, I traded in the A4 for a 2016 A3. Gray, obviously. Monsoon Gray Metallic, to be specific. The first drive was from Chicago to Deerfield. It was awkward. Getting accustomed to a new car always takes some time. Later that week, Nichole and I drove from Chicago to Minneapolis. While you don’t get the subtle curves and gradual climbs, you do get an open smooth road. What a drive. Every time, I drive the car, I enjoy the ride, more and more. There’s something about the way the A3 handles turns, accelerates and darts in and out of lanes that make it fun. No, it brings joy.

Joy. Joy in driving, means you look for opportunities to drive. You look past the potential for traffic. You seek reasons to drive places. I had forgotten how much I missed that joy. Gosh, I feel like I’m 17 again. It’s a great feeling. When you consider that the average US driver, spends nearly 40 hours a year, in traffic, shouldn’t you at least enjoy the ride?

I can’t tell you if an A3 is right for you. But, I would be remiss if I didn’t encourage you to at least test drive it. Perhaps you’ll then find the joy, I’ve regained.

“This Is Disney, Anything Is Possible”

A few weeks ago, Nichole and I took the kids to Florida for a well earned vacation. We stayed in the Clearwater area, on the Gulf side and had a fantastic experience. One morning, we woke the kids up at the crack of dawn and drove 90 minutes to Orlando. As the kids awoke, they remarked, “wait, this isn’t the aquarium, this is DISNEY WORLD!!!”

I’ve never had a bad experience at Disney. Much has been written about their relentless pursuit of creating an amazing experience. From the fact they aren’t “employees”, but “cast members” to the fact no cast member can ever say “I don’t know”, Disney creates an immersive experience that makes you forget that you just paid $100 for a single day ticket to one park. If there’s one story that’s always stuck with me, it’s the $100,000 Salt and Pepper Shaker passage from Randy Pausch’s tremendous book, “The Last Lecture.” Read it, then come back to this post. Yes, I’m serious.

Ok, back? Great! It was a hot day at Disney. Mid-90s, sun beating down on us, but thankfully it wasn’t overly packed. In the afternoon, following lunch, we ducked into one of the many air conditioned souvenir stores. The kids opted for “mouse ears.” And, by mouse ears, I mean, Cora got a Yoda version and John got an R2D2 version. You have to love how the Star Wars acquisition is fueling merchandising. As we were checking out, Cora noticed another park guest’s button. For those, not in the know, Disney will give anyone (yes, even adults) a free button to commemorate something they’re celebrating. This can range from 1st Visit to Just Married, and a host of other celebrations in between.

We were at Disney on June 17th and John’s birthday was 2 days earlier. Cora said, “John, you should get a Birthday Button.” John, being the honest kid he is, said, “But, today’s not birthday. It was Monday.” Well, the cast member, wouldn’t have any of that. He grabbed a birthday button, motioned for John and Cora to approach the counter and said:

This Is Disney, Anything Is Possible

He then, asked for John’s name, wrote it on the button, then placed tape over the ink, so it wouldn’t run or smudge, and then said, “Happy Birthday.”

Look, this isn’t a $100K experience, as outlined in “The Last Lecture.” I don’t know what it’s valued at to be honest with you. What I do know, is that, little things matter. They add up over time. And, a moment like this is pretty memorable. It’s certainly memorable enough that I’m telling all of you about it.

On the plane ride back, I thought about that moment and what it did for me, was, make me ask myself the question, “what would happen if everyone’s job at a store, was to give the customer a great and memorable experience?” In some corporate cultures, margin structures and store formats, that might not be 100% possible, but it’s worth shooting for.

When creating a memorable experience is everyone’s job, you end up with a photo like this, to share.

Me. Tink. A perfect match. She just doesn’t realize it yet. Damn Peter Pan!

A photo posted by Adam Kmiec (@adamkmiec) on

Sure, the kids got to meet Belle, but I got to hang out with Tinkerbell.

People. It’s Always About The People.

I spent Memorial Day in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. It’s a beautiful place with a resilient population. To continue building and rebuilding, time and again, after hurricanes ravage not only physical buildings, but an entire community’s way of life, is nothing short of inspiring.

The sun was bright. The weather, warm. The beach, perfectly manicured. The food, flavorful. I explored. I partook in some local beverages. I ate well.

Two of the places I ate at, were owned by the same woman: Edith’s and its more casual sister restaurant, The Office. Before I go any further, let me say, if you ever get the opportunity to dine at either place, please do. The menus were diverse. The staff attentive. The prices, fair. And the experiences were completely memorable.

I was blown away by how amazing the staff was. Following the dinner at Edith’s, I remarked, “I’ve never seen such a complete commitment to creating an experience, at a restaurant.” A good colleague of mine, smiled and then told me an astonishing detail about the owner of places, Edith. Every year, she closes both restaurants for 6 weeks. During those 6 weeks, she pays her staff to spend time with their families and travel the world to learn from other chefs and restaurateurs. The 6 week hiatus allows the staff to recharge, learn and become inspired for how to keep Edith’s and The Office as one of the best restaurants in the area.

That a restaurant, which relies on tourism, shuts down for 6 weeks, voluntarily, is, in itself, an amazing story. I had so many reactions. But, as I reflected on this story, on my flight back, something clicked. In 2009, I wrote, “Make no mistake, the most important asset is human capital.” I also, often remark, that a critical goal of any organization should be, to get an unfair share of top talent. What Edith was doing, in ensuring that she was getting that unfair share, by investing in the important asset in an organization: The People. The local population of Cabo is constrained. It hasn’t grown much in the past decade, while the portion of Cabo San Lucas residents that have matriculated from the United States has grown significantly. It also remains a top tourist destination for United States residents.

The expectation that tourists have, can be quite high. Their choices for where to spend their hard earned dollars, are plentiful. By investing in the people, Edith is able to attract the best restaurant talent in the Cabo San Lucas area. And, it’s that talent that creates a dining experience, worth blogging about.

A better way to sum it up, might be this often shared parable:

Investing In People

It’s a great question and something we should all be thinking about. Are we, in fact, creating an environment, where we’re investing in people to a point, where we’re able to keep the best and attract the best?

The Jerk To Value Curve

We’ve all worked with a “jerk” or “asshole”, if you prefer. The least bold, commonly stated and potentially “A lot of people say don’t fire great engineers — but they’re wrong. It only takes one asshole to destroy an entire team.” on the subject is that “you need to fire the jerks/assholes in your organization, regardless of how brilliant they are, in order to be successful.”

Of course, this statement, is quite easy to disprove. I submit the following geniuses, who also happened to be well documented jerks, for which, if removed from the organization, it’s clear the organization would be significantly worse off.

Steve Jobs
Michael Jordan
Jeff Bezos
George Patton
Thomas Edison
Bill Belichick
Benjamin Franklin
John D. Rockefeller
Jackson Pollock
Bill Bowerman
Pedro Martinez

I can go on and on, listing brilliant people, who were complete and total jerks, who were directly responsible for the successes of companies, teams, governments, the arts and humanity. Of course, when you bring up anyone from this list, especially Jobs, the response back is, “well that’s an outlier.” That may be true, but outliers are also the ones that we look at from the sidelines and wonder, “damn, how did they do that.”

This is not to say that we should aspire to be jerks or that we should tolerate jerks or that there is some pride to be had in being a jerk. But, it is to say, that the over-simplified, popular refrain of “organizations shouldn’t hire jerks and should fire all the jerks” is at best, misguided and designed for link-bait.

I see it as something a bit different. I think, it boils down to value. You simply can’t “out-kick your coverage” when it comes to being a jerk (perceived or real).

Jerk To Value Ratio

We’re generally accepting of a jerk so long as their level of jerkiness doesn’t outpace their value to the organization. We’ll accept Jordan’s jerkiness, so long as he keeps bringing home NBA titles. We’ll tolerate Patton’s indifference to “management” so long as he continues winning battles, taking back towns and increasing troop morale. Steve Jobs can a maniacal, heartless, condescending jerk, so long as he keeps inventing products like the iPhone that move the world and shareholder value.

We’ve seen this play out time and again across sports, politics, companies and life. Jerks, like it or not, are part of the success of organizations. The key however, is hiring the right jerks and putting them in the right roles, so that they enhance the organization, not tear it apart.

But, before all of you jerks start clapping, remember, your jerkiness can never be perceived to be worse than your performance or the potential performance of a replacement.

Rules For Being A True Fan

Jordan Dunks

Some time in the early 2000’s Bill Simmons wrote a fantastic article, titled, “Rules For Being A True Fan.” It’s a masterpiece. Seriously.

Before going any further, in this post, read the article, in its entirety and then come back over. Done? Good.

What I loved about his article is that it truly got to the heart of what being a fan really means. It’s about loyalty, tradition, history, suffering, celebrating, misery, hope and faith. It’s also very logical. Being a fan, is not the same as being a fanatic. The true fan roots for his/her beloved Cubs, but knows they aren’t winning a World Series, this year. A fanatic throws logic out the window and proclaims, this is the year, the Cubs win it all.

Over the years, I’ve referenced Simmons’ article often. It’s the perfect mic drop for having a debate with another sports junky. In recently re-reading it, I realized, that while still a masterpiece, it was dated. It needed to be updated to reflect the modern sports world that we live in.

I think it needs some updates to reflect the modern sports environment. Specifically:

Bill’s Rule #1: “You can’t purchase a “blank” authentic jersey from your favorite team with no name on the back, then stick your own name and number on the jersey … well, unless you want to be an enormous dork.”

Kmiec’s Rebuttal: With free-agency, one and done and players being traded left and right, I think it’s actually better for a fan to get a jersey with their own name on the back or to buy a retro jersey of a player that’s iconically tied to that team. For example, a throwback Bird jersey never goes out of style. As a Bulls fan, while Scottie got traded to the Rockets and Jordan left for the Wizards, the reality is, I never stopped being a fan. But, updating your jersey collection to reflect the current roster of a team, could bankrupt you these days. A Bulls jersey with my name on the back, never goes out of style and it always reflects that I’m a Bulls fan, for good and for bad.

Bill’s Rule #13: “You can follow specific players from other teams, but only as long as they aren’t facing your team. For instance, it’s fine to enjoy the Brett Favre Experience if you’re a Jaguars fan … just don’t get carried away and start making a scrapbook, collecting all his football cards and so on. That’s a little sketchy. And you can’t purchase his jersey under any circumstances.”

Kmiec’s Rebuttal: We need to broaden this rule. You can’t say, I’m rooting for my team in the playoffs, but I also hope another team does well, just because I like a player on that team. For example, as a Bulls fan, I can’t both root for the Bulls in the playoffs and root for the Spurs, because I like Duncan. One team. That’s it. This become woefully apparent, when you’re both rooting for you team and an opposing player, because you like him.

Bill’s Rules 18/20: “If you live in a city that has fielded a professional team since your formative years, you have to root for that team. None of this, “The Bengals weren’t very good when I was growing up in Cincy, so I became a Cowboys fan” crap.” and “If you hail from New York, you can’t root for the Yankees and the Mets. You have to choose between them.”

Kmiec’s Rebuttal: A slight modifier is needed. If you live in a city that has multiple teams in the area, you can pick none of the above. For example, let’s say you live in the NY/NJ/PA tri-state area. It wouldn’t be crazy to think that as a south Jersey resident you could root for the Eagles or as a Central Jersey resident, you root for the Rangers and so forth. The reason I’m pushing for picking none of the above, is it allows you to play the role of the heel. And we all need a heel.

Simmons Rule 19: “Once you choose a team, you’re stuck with that team for the rest of your life … unless one of the following conditions applies:…”

Kmiec’s Rebuttal: We need to add a bullet that outlines what happens with a particular player causes such shame on a franchise, that it’s completely ok to abandon ship. Lets call this the BALCO rule. If you were a Giants fan, it’s ok to leave because of Bonds. Ditto with A-Rod. Or Pete Rose. Or what happens if your team drafts Winston? Electing to root for another NFL team, if you were a Ravens fan, following their handling of the Ray Rice situation, is something I could understand.

Beyond those edits, I’d like to add a key, new rule. I’m going to call it the Lebron Law. You can root for a team, that’s not your team, so long as it is with the intent of watching someone so hated/despised, lose. This works on a lot of levels. For example, rooting for UNLV against Duke, because you don’t like Laettner. Or rooting for any team, even a rival team, if they’re playing the Cavs/Lebron. Or, my personal favorite, rooting against any team Lindros was on, because he was a dick and you never want to see him get the satisfaction of raising The Cup.

You may be wondering, so who do I root for and why?

Baseball: I’m an Atlanta Braves fan. Some context…I was born in Brooklyn, NY in 1979. I was raised by my grandfather and my mother to be a Mets fan. My dad, being raised in New England was a Red Sox fan. I went to Mets games as a kid. My favorite player was Lenny Dysktra. I rooted for “nails.” I had a signed glove. And I cursed the Mets when they traded him to the Phillies for Juan Samuel, in 1989. By the time they traded Dysktra, I was living in New Jersey, but had not yet entered my formative years. As an angry 10 year old, I vowed to never root for the Mets. My dad, the Sox fan, asked who I would root for, then. The petulant and stubborn child I was, lead me to pick the worst team in the league, the Atlanta Braves. Surely choosing the worst team in the league would show the Mets how upset I was. How did I even know about the Braves? Well, if you recall, TBS had a huge deal with them and broadcasted every single game. It made becoming a fan, at 10, quite easy. I’ve never wavered since 1989. I lived with the Braves misery thru 1990, the breaking of my heart over and over from 1991 thru 2005, save the 1 World Series win in 1995.

Basketball: The Bulls. It’s always been the Bulls. Jordan was my favorite college player. He landed on the Bulls in 1984 and the rest is history. Ironically, I don’t have an MJ jersey, but I do have a throw back John Paxson one. Outside of MJ, he’s my favorite player.

Football: Go Giants. We grew up on Parcells, rooting against Montana, Loving LT, Simms and Bavaro.

Hockey: Rangers! Hated the Devils. Grew up on Gartner, Amonte, Graves, Leetch, JVB, Richer and couldn’t believe it when Gretzky joined us. I celebrated Messier bringing us the cup in 7 and long to see a cup raised again!

Taking Simmons’ rules, I pass the test. The only potential grey area would be by Atlanta Braves choice. Although, I’m taking his passage about “formative years” as the supporting rationale.

What do you think?

Disrupting Your Sleep Experience

If it’s new or different, I want to try it. Philips Hue lights? Yep. Nest thermostat? You bet. August Smart Lock? Absolutely! Was a I an early customer of Harry’s Shaving Products? Definitely. So, I was definitely paying to all the new players entering the mattress category. The team over at Mattress Nerd, has a nice write up, comparing Tuft And Needle, Casper and Saatva. Those are the 3 major players looking to change the way mattresses are purchased.

Two weeks ago, over tequila, my wife remarked that she wanted to purchase a “real adult mattress.” I looked at her with a raised eyebrow. We had a very nice Serta Vera Wang edition, mattress, that she had claimed to love. I probed and said, “what do you mean by ‘adult mattress’, don’t we have one?” Indeed we did, but that mattress pre-dated our marriage and the real root of the desire, was to purchase a mattress together. Fair enough.

So, over tequila (again, this is a crucial detail), I took out my iPhone, visited Casper’s website and 5 minutes later had ordered a queen mattress. I looked at her and said, “I completely understand, I just ordered a new mattress from Casper.” She was stunned and happy; thus, we ordered another tequila cocktail, to celebrate.

Casper Box, Courtesy of Gear Patrol

Let’s start with the obvious question: Why Casper? Perhaps, better put, why Casper or any of the direct to consumer companies, instead of just visiting your local mattress store. That’s actually a simple one. As I said earlier, if it’s new or different, I want to try it. But, beyond that, I just never felt I was getting the right value from a mattress store shopping experience. It always felt like a shell game. Add in the fact, that there were so many, perceived, hidden costs and the generally lengthy delay in delivery, and it was clear, going to the mattress store was not the answer.

So more precisely, why Casper? I knew I wanted a memory foam-style bed. That was the easy part. We have pillows from Tempurpedic and they’re fantastic. But, there was just no way, we were paying $3,000+ for a queen mattress. After researching all the players listed in the Mattress Nerd article and checking out other companies, like Leesa, I felt that Casper offered the best combination of price ($800 with promo code, for a queen), technology, speed (delivers to your door inside of a week) and guarantee (100 nights to try it out). Basically, it was a gut call.

Before, I get into the mattress itself, let me first outline the good and the bad of choosing Casper.

Good

  • Price: You can’t beat 3-5X cheaper than Tempurpedic.
  • Speed: Wow, it shipped in a box, via UPS, to my door, inside of 4 business days.
  • Delivery Experience: Let me stress again; it was delivered by UPS in a box. Why is that so big? Simple, it means I didn’t have to schedule a day off to be home for a delivery window, like the traditional mattress buying model.
  • Communication: Inside of 5 minutes of placing the order I received a text message and an email confirming my order. Every time the process moved to another milestone, I received an alert via text and email. There were no surprises.
  • Experience: No messy negotiation. No argument over delivery fees. No hard up-sell on a box spring. In fact, I never had to talk to anyone. The delivery of a mattress via box, is bizarre and awesome at the same time. For more on that part of the process, check out this article from Business Insider.

Bad

  • Size/Dimensions: So far this is the only real complaint I have. The mattress itself is 10 inches. My previous mattress and most higher-end mattresses are in the 12-15 inch height range. The mattress sits on a platform bed that’s designed to not have a boxspring. But, when we placed the Casper on the platform, it was so low, it was almost comical. To make up for the height problem, we ended up ordering a foundation from…Tempurpedic. The irony, was not lost on us.

I’m sure you’re wondering about the most important detail; is the mattress comfortable. I can unequivocally say, yes. Mattresses are often organized by how soft or firm they are. Casper claims their mattress is neither soft, nor firm; it’s just right. We couldn’t agree more. It was plush, but firm. It was soft, but firm. It was bouncy, but firm. Yes, I’m serious. I can’t say enough good things about the mattress itself. I’ve slept on uncomfortable mattresses. I’ve slept on great mattresses. I’ve slept on so-so mattresses. Casper, comes pretty damn close to replacing the my all-time favorite mattress experience: The Westin Heavenly Bed.

The only real disappointment I have, is knowing that Casper, will undoubtedly launch a new product, that will be better that their first generation generation mattress, in the near future. I’ll of course want the new one…but, unlike an iPhone, I don’t see myself upgrading mattresses every 2 years. That is, of course, unless Casper offers a mattress upgrade concept.

Now that would be truly disruptive.

Don’t Make Your Strategy, Platform Dependent

Two things, this past week, caught my eye. The first, was a great article from The Economist, titled, “The message is the medium.” Take the time to read the article, in its entirety. It’s definitely worth your time. But, since we all now, everyone seems to be TL;DR, these days, this is the one graphic you need to remember:

Texting Is Dying

After years of hockey stick-like growth, we’re seeing SMS, flattening, and ultimately, declining. This doesn’t mean that messaging is declining. WhatsApp, iMessage, Facebook Messenger…and yes, even snapchat, are exploding in growth and eating SMS for breakfast.

The 2nd thing that caught my eye was this article from AdWeek, that outlined YouTube “star”, Michelle Phan’s plans to launch her own content/influencer network, called Icon. Michelle’s growth came from YouTube. Without YouTube, you could very well argue, many of us wouldn’t even know who Michelle Phan, was. But, to be loyal, in this space, is to miss out…or, as Michelle, stated:

“I’m platform agnostic,” Phan said. “I’ve been platform agnostic ever since I went online. I’m not saying I’m jumping ship (from YouTube). Platforms—they come and go, but storytelling is forever.”

Well, first, she states the obvious, that she’s not leaving YouTube. Difficult to leave the golden goose, eh? But, what’s really important is what she says about platforms. Platforms, indeed come and go. 20 years ago, it was AOL. 15 years ago, you had things like GeoCities. Nearly 10 years ago, Newscorp, purchased MySpace for $580M…only to be sold 5 years later for…$35M.

Strategies can’t be platform dependent. Building your strategy on top of a platform is like building a house on quicksand. It just doesn’t work. Don’t take my word for it, ask Zynga or DataSift. This isn’t to say that a platform shouldn’t be part of your strategy. For example, your consumer connection strategy, might indicate a need to understand, “Hopes, Wishes and Dreams.” That might mean, Pinterest, is a critical part of bringing that strategy to fruition. But, while you’re riding the Pinterest wave, you need to be keeping an eye out for the next wave, and more importantly, the right moment to move on to the next wave.

As exciting and initially lucrative as it can be to invest in a specific platform, your strategy, needs to take into account an understanding of your business, your customer and the macro-level environment. As, Brodie, told Rene in Mallrats, “Breakfasts come and go, Rene, but Hartford, “the Whale,” they only beat Vancouver once, maybe twice in a lifetime.” Today, platforms, come and go. And instead of Hartford (the underdog) succeeding only once, maybe twice in a lifetime, it’s more likely that the underdog, we weren’t paying attention to, becomes the leader. Platforms are quicksand. Be careful where you step.

To Keep Yourself Fresh, Try Something New

Earlier this winter, my kids decided they wanted to try skiing. Their desire to try something new, wasn’t something new. John and Cora are always trying something new. From food (Indian, Teppanyaki), to activities (swimming, painting) to sports (soccer, baseball, basketball), their thirst for new is nearly unquenchable. As someone who’s skied since the 2nd grade, I really wanted the kids to stick with skiing. It’s a fun and demanding sport that is never the same experience, even when it’s the same slope.

A bunch of ski bums.

A photo posted by Adam Kmiec (@adamkmiec) on

But, learning to ski and transitioning from beginner lessons to intermediate and advanced techniques, can be challenging, to say the least. To temper some of that frustration, I decided to learn something new, with them. After 25+ years of being a skier, I decided to learn how to snowboard. I told the kids if they were going to learn something, so would I…and we would learn together. We would fall together. We would get frustrated together. We would thrive together.

A full season, is almost complete, and I can say, this was such a great idea. We all took lessons, we learned from the bumps and bruises and we’re learning to enjoy something new.

The point of this post, isn’t to celebrate that we can all ride single diamond slopes. I mean, that is pretty cool. No, the point of this post, is to share the value that comes from trying something new.

Putting snowboarding aside, every month, I stop using something familiar and start using something new. For example, 3 months ago, I gave up twitter and spent the time I would have put into that platform, into trying to comprehend SnapChat. The month after that, it was YikYak. This month, I’m experimenting with Tumblr.

Today’s world changes in a blink of an eye. As a company, you’re not just racing against your competitor, you’re racing against your customer/consumer. As fast as you think your competitor is moving, your customer is moving even faster. Trying to make sense of it all, requires something more than a Mashable article or a Forrester white paper. It requires practical knowledge. That means you have to actually roll up your sleeves and trying something new.

Get out there, take a cooking class, sign up for Whisper or ask someone in your office to teach your the core of their craft. Not only will you gain personal satisfaction, but you’ll be more valuable to your organization and your brain will thank you improving it.

The Battle For The Right To Be Anonymous

Marketers love to track things about consumers. We track who you are, where you’ve been, what you’re saying, the sites you visit, the apps you download and a whole mess of other characteristics. The idea, for years, has been…the more we track about you, the more we learn about you and the better we can customize offers and content for you. Great in theory, poor in practice…usually.

Marquette Appliances Warranty Card

One of the earliest attempts at this was the warranty card a consumer would send in, after buying a product. When you purchased that new stove, back in the day, the store collected some information about you. They knew your address, your name and how you paid (cash, check or card). If they were sophisticated, they kept a log of what you bought, how often you bought and when the items you purchased, needed servicing. That information rarely made it back to the manufacturer though. The way the manufacturer gained some type of understanding about the consumers who purchased their products, was that warranty card. The carrot (or stick, depending on your POV) they used to ensure compliance, was the warranty itself. There was NO warranty covering your product, without a completed card. Sneaky, yes. Smart, at the time, yes.

Cookie Tracking 101

When we graduated to the dawn of the internet, things got a bit more sophisticated. We had cookies. Cookies left a digital set of crumbs that helped marketers understand where you went and what you did on the web. From there, we made assumptions about who you were and what you were interested in. But, we were bad marketers. Instead of using that information to better the customer experience, we used it to retarget them to death…serving them pop-ups at every corner and forcing them to…

Delete Cookies?

The simple solve for improving any browser/web surfing experience, was to delete your cookies. The minute you did that, marketers, were back to square 1, when it came to tracking, understanding and advertising to customers. This became a constant battle of catch me, if you can.

Track Me If You Can

This chase wasn’t efficient or fun. Thankfully, with social media and specifically, Facebook, marketers finally had a method for understanding just about everything they wanted to know about a consumer. Facebook told us who you were…yes, specifically, who you were. We had name, date of birth, location, relationship status, brand/product interests, what places you’d visited and so much more. As Facebook evolved and launched Facebook Connect, we gained even more information. We knew what other sites you visited and the apps you were using. Quick sidebar – I’m convinced, that at some point, Facebook is going to implement a Facebook tax on every call made from a site/app to Facebook Connect. While this wasn’t a perfect solve, it got us closer.

As mobile went from, “it’s going to be big” to “wow, mobile is huge”, marketers would betrayed the trust of customers. There was probably no greater example than that of Carrier IQ. Companies like Apple, HTC, Samsung, etc. would install Carrier IQ’s software services on phones as a means to collect information that would help them improve the phones. On the surface, not a horrible thing. Except for 1 big detail…Carrier IQ, wasn’t providing information anonymously and they were tracking things that weren’t diagnostic related, like every keystroke you made. No surprise, Carrier IQ was sued. It was situations like this and programs like Facebook’s beacon initiative that, in my opinion, accelerated the movement toward the rise of apps and experiences that focused on anonymity.

Today, apps like YikYak, Snapchat and Whisper are growing leaps and bounds. The minute a company releases a new piece of software or an operating system, articles like this are published to help consumers regain some of their freedom, by disabling features that track them. It obviously didn’t help, that the whole, Edward Snowden “thing” happened. Not exactly a situation that makes you feel comfortable about being tracked. That Snowden revelation lead to the growth of Tor, a free platform, designed to stop advertisers and the government from tracking you.

I believe we’re on the precipice of battle around tracking. The more marketers build new ways to track customers, the more customers will find new ways to remain hidden. How long til we’re wrapping our cars in tin foil to avoid tracking from Android Auto or Apple CarPlay. By the way, it’s completely possible to that…

Wrap A Car In Tin Foil

So, what’s a marketer to do? I don’t have all the answers, but wearing both my consumer and marketer hat, here’s a few thoughts:

  1. I don’t think this can be solved by technology…alone.
  2. I think we’re going to see consumers become brokers of their own data. Imagine a BlueKai style approach for consumers. As brokers of their own data, consumers will get to choose not only what data they share, but with whom. They’ll also be compensated for sharing that data on a case-by-case basis.
  3. We’re going to see some type of dashboard solution provided by companies to show customers the data they’re collecting, why they’re collecting it, who it’s shared with (if anyone) and how to opt-out (along with the consequences of doing so) of that data collection. Google already does this, via Google Dashboard. I think others will follow suit.
  4. Custom, not creepy, will become a mantra. Using data to shape and inform the content, offers and advertising that are put in front of a consumer so that they’re relevant, helpful, interesting and actionable, is going to be the key. Using data in a way to trick, trap or incessantly interrupt a consumer, will become the path to failure.

We’re at an interesting and unique place in time. Never before has there been so much data, so many ways to collect it and so many ways to use it. When that data becomes something truly helpful, our trust in data integrity, increases. If you have a Nest thermostat, think about the moment, when the collection of your data, enabled your Nest to surprise you in a delightful way. Maybe it was coming home to your house, in the middle of Summer, on a hot day, but finding the inside of your home, cool and comfortable. Or, if you’ve ever used Waze, that awesome moment, when you were rerouted on a different path, to avoid a an accident that was causing traffic to back up.

We are all data now. There’s no denying this. We can track our steps, our heartbeat, the purchases we make, the beer we drink and the friends we talk to. The dawn of big data for the little guy, is here. What becomes of that data and how it’s used, will shape the type of relationship we, as consumers, want to have with marketers.