Crossing the Threshold of Easy

For years, I read about Skype, and enjoyed the concept, though I didn’t use it. Didn’t have the need for free point-to-point Voice-over-IP, given my calling patterns and calling plans. It meant a little bit of trouble – hooking up a mic/headset, calling through my computer – not hard, but it was a few steps I didn’t feel like taking.

The quality of VOIP kept improving, however, and many people signed up for Skype accounts. Then they added video. Now that’s interesting – but again, it meant hooking up a webcam, doing an initial setup, taking some steps to use it – a change in workflow. Nah.

easyAfter managing to spill some coffee on my laptop keyboard, I had to buy a replacement Dell, and this model had something new to me – a built-in webcam and a built-in mic/audio system of reasonable quality. Finally, I re-considered Skype, because it had crossed the Threshold of Easy – a quick download, and it just worked. Plus it gave me something new: on-demand and free video calls.

I’m not tech-shy, but I’m not a first-adopter – I don’t chase gadgetry and spend lots of time doing configuration and troubleshooting. I want stuff to offer me some kind of benefit and at the same time, delight me with ease of use. That’s why I was so relieved to get rid of my cell phone and become an iPhone fan – it not only works, it leaps over the threshold of easy. By and large, the Tivo experience has been that way as well.

Over the years, I’ve had a chance to use, and sell, lots of products. Most suffered from a distinct lack of ease of use. Software interfaces designed by engineers who care only about functionality have been a particular grief. If you’re making my life harder instead of easier, you’ve already failed. Go back to the drawing board, and include a creative usability person in the ground-level design process.

If you’re going to create a product or service, put an awful lot of effort into crossing that threshold. It may well be the difference between something that garners a few percentage points, and something that’s a smash hit. Make it, not just able to do things, but EASY.

What are you a fan of that crossed the threshold of easy for you?

Taking the iPhone plunge

OK, I finally did it.

iphone-sm.jpgTired of a cell phone that wasn’t a great performer, and wanting to consolidate a number of functions (contacts, calendar, e-mail, music, etc.) into one device, I decided to shed the old technology garments and jump into a stylish new Apple iPhone.

I figured it was going to take a number of days to “figure it out” and bring the system up. Nope. In very little time, I had it activated, sync’ed up my iTunes music, connected to my Yahoo mail account, and easily explored many of the other wonderful functions of this very cool device.

First impression – where has the rest of the software design world been all this time? What a fabulous interface! As I have mentioned often to my clients, I am not at all easy to impress when it comes to interfaces – I’ve seen far too much user-hostile and non-intuitive design. The iPhone, however, is a delight to use – I was texting my 17-year old son in no time (and was he shocked when he found out I’d gotten an iPhone!) and my one concern – the flat-screen “virtual” keyboard – quickly became a non-issue when I began to use it. Sweet.

So, all you veteran iPhone users out there, help me out. What are some of the best tricks you’ve found? What are the free downloads and other goodies you’ve come across that you’d recommend? Tell the world (well, OK, at least ME) in the comments how I can better use this thing. Because if there’s such a thing as love at first sight when it comes to communication devices, I think I just took the fall…

Pharma Web Branding, Part 2 – GlaxoSmithKline

In my continuing series on how pharmaceutical companies engage the public with their brand on their website homepages, this week we’ll take a look at http://www.gsk.com (last week was Pfizer’s turn!)

gsk-logo.jpgGlaxo became a Top-5 pharma company through a merger strategy. SmithKline Beecham joined Glaxo Wellcome to create…well, you know the tale. Merger mouthful. Most people now find it easier to refer to the company as “Glaxo” or as “GSK” – my bias is well-known about munging together a bunch of legacy names to come up with a run-on-sentence for a name.

And, I will admit, that when the merger occurred and the new GSK logo was unveiled, I found it to be an underwhelming moment in marketing. My first impression: an orange guitar pick. And to this day, that is all I see.

Turning to the public website, in the browser title bar we see this tagline: “Improving health and quality of life.” As with so many pharma companies, absolutely bland, obvious, and non-distinguishing. That phrase could be used about bottled water, vitamins, exercise machines, and a book on therapeutic massage. Sigh.

Nonetheless, the website itself has some reasonably engaging design features. Unlike Pfizer’s, panned last week for trying to say too much, the current GSK site presents a compelling “story” front-and-center: The Menace of Malaria. The two brief blurbs, with accompanying graphics (the mosquito is very effective), draw the reader in to explore further. By focusing on ONE thing that GSK is actively working on, the site makes it easier to dig in.

Of necessity, for a major pharmaceutical company, there are many links and potential destinations, and this site does a pretty good job using smaller navigational areas to direct the users to various areas of interest. The drop-down boxes toward the bottom right are a particularly effective way to give choices without an overwhelming, in-your-face list. Since there are so many choices, it might be a good idea to use simple rollover technology to provide brief snippets of information when people mouse-over the menu items (for instance, why would I want to take the survey?)

Below the graphic shown here are some other helpful links, including recent news releases, Quick Links, up-to-the-minute stock prices, and an RSS feed for newsreaders (every company should be doing this nowadays).

Yes, the site is a bit busy, and the type quite small in many places, but for a company this size, it’s difficult to know what to leave out on the home page. GSK has done an admirable job making a large amount of information accessible without it being overwhelming.

Sweet Success

From an article in Entrepreneur magazine (print, not yet on-line) with the above title:

cake-shells.jpgWhen Lori Karmel bought We Take the Cake, a Fort Lauderdale, Florida bakery with lackluster sales, she wasted no time turning it around. Her strategy: Amp up its image…She set out to add what she calls the “wow” factor. “We had very high-quality cake, but our image just didn’t match,” says Karmel.

She brought in a cake designer to create eye-catching edible works of art. Now the cakes are shaped like everything from designer handbags to skateboards. “The design grabs people’s attention,” says Karmel. “Then they taste it and are hooked.”

—-

You can see how this plays out on their nicely designed website.

Let’s face it, cake is (by and large) a commodity. However, make it an individualized, multi-sensory experience, and it becomes something else entirely. A success story.

Washing my Hands of the Brand

I’m not picky about “personal care” items. However, there is one brand of hand soap that has broken through the commodity of clutter; one brand that actually makes me look forward to washing my hands.

Bath and Body Works antibacterial soaps.

Why?

First of all, they look great. The packaging design is modern and nifty, and the soaps themselves typically have some color variations that add texture and interest.

Secondly, they smell great. We’ve tried several varieties, and they have all been interesting (my favorite: cucumber melon). After I wash my hands, I smell them – because the scent is wonderful.

Do I care about the antibacterial part, or about vitamins E and B5? No, not really. I just enjoy the sensory experience of the soap – far more than any other soap I’ve used.

“I’d like some Moskowitz, please!”

For years, I heard the ads on the NYC radio airwaves. “We don’t arrange loans, we make loans! We write the checks.” It was the M.L. Moskowitz company, pitching their services.

Suddenly, a few years back, I began to hear the same pitches but under a new name. Equity Now. Somebody at this company “gets it.”

If I’m in the market for a home equity loan, I’m not looking for a Moskowitz. I’m looking for a loan against my equity. Now. Many companies make the mistake of branding their organization with the name(s) of the founder(s). Big mistake. It’s not about you. It’s about me, the customer.

They took the company name, and, by re-branding, aimed it properly – at the felt need of the audience. With a more-than-implied promise – NOW.

Since I’m compulsive about these things, I listened carefully to make sure that I had, indeed, witnessed a smart branding move. Sure enough, at the end of the radio blurb – “Equity Now is an M.L. Moskowitz company.”

Have I ever called them? No. Am I likely to? Not that I can anticipate. But did they get my attention with that little branding twist? Sure enough. And now they have yours also.

My Most Popular Post – I Can’t Believe it!

Like most bloggers, I like to peek “under the hood” and see which posts generate the most traffic. And, since search engines drive so much surfing these days, it’s particularly enlightening to see which terms are used frequently that draw people to my site.

Some of the searches are truly bizarre. Why my site comes up in response to certain word combinations (some of which I won’t reproduce here!) is sometimes a mystery!

But what query brings the most visitors? Dr. Pepper’s 23 flavors.

I did a post on this marketing campaign some months back, which I consider a brilliant move by the Dr. Pepper folks. In that post, I mentioned how this “23 flavors” theme creates a sense of mystery – so just what are these wonderful flavors?

And, sure enough, tons of people are searching the Internet trying to find out! They come to my site because I did a post – not because I can reveal the “23” secret! – but I suspect folks are rummaging around the web trying to find the answer to this puzzle. It’s a great marketing concept.

I don’t think it would work so well for bottled water, however…

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