Today I faced a situation that has made me think about what should qualify as creativity and innovation.
As a bit of background, I've recently been researching German language schools to find an upcoming course that fits my schedule and my budget. I thought I had found one that would be a good fit, and sent an email to them asking about the classes. However, I had some additional questions and wanted to see the school for myself, so I went there myself today.
That's when it became strange. In their email, they had indicated that I could get a cheaper price by signing up for a 12 week class, so when I was talking with the office attendant, I asked about their pricing.
She quickly got up and retrieved a brochure from under the desk. Sliding it to me with a conspiratorial look on her face, she told me that the prices were a "little different" for the students who registered in their office versus the prices for students registering by internet.
But when I glanced down at the paper, I saw immediately that the prices weren't just "a little different".
The woman obviously expected me to be thrilled and delighted at my good fortune for qualifying for the cheaper price by coming into their office. She thought I'd be grateful that she had told me about the cheaper price and even more excited about attending their school.
Except I'm not delighted: I feel deceived and disgusted that the school was so ready to take advantage of me.
I doubt their integrity as a business and now the value of their teaching methods.
I even doubt the quality of their school--if they feel the need to overcharge new students by 220 euros for not coming in to see their school first... how good can it be? They must not be expecting many return clients.
Granted, the chief clientèle of a language school do not return for session after session.
For that reason, grossly overcharging students who register online probably does not hurt their business. If the students ever find out about the price, it will be long after the money is safely deposited in the bank (and nonrefundable). Plus, with clients coming from many different countries, it's unlikely that students will spread word of the language school's duplicity enough to impact their incoming registrations.
So, please tell me what you think about this.
Is it innovative thinking? Is it creative to figure out how to squeeze the maximum amount of money out of your customers? Is it innovation when a company finds and exploits a weakness of their customer (in this case, their distance from Germany when signing up for the class) or is it something more sinister?
What should a company do when its competitor comes up with an amazing product that everyone wants?
Sprint just issued a list of anti-iPhone talking points (pdf), while Verizon Wireless apparently decided to take the high road with a confidential internal memo telling employees specific ways to trash the iPhone's capabilities.
At this point, there is absolutely nothing Verizon or Sprint can do to stop the iPhone's arrival. On Friday, no matter what, the iPhone is hitting the stores and certain customers will jump to get their hands on it.
So, Verizon Wireless and other providers have only a few options...
Verizon and Sprint are facing a big choice this summer as the iPhone enters the market and changes customer expectations. But it's also a big opportunity for them. As Seth Godin wisely wrote today on his blog:
The iPhone is a gift for every cell phone marketer in the world. Why? Because it creates a problem where there was none before. Now, a cell phone is not just a phone. Now, a phone is worth spending money on. So, since Apple created that 'problem' in my mind, how are you going to solve it?
He has it exactly right. The iPhone has just completely redefined the cell phone market.
It showed that people want phones that are better, do more, look good and are easy to use. It is also showing that people will happily pay a lot of money for a new, innovative phone that blows the others out of the water.
It's a great moment for innovation in phones.
So, now the question is, who can come up with the next phone that everyone has to have?
"Verizon is Evil" photo thanks to www.gizmodo.com
One thing I really love is finding ideas that are just begging to provide value for someone.
They present it simply as a quirky novelty gift--a coffee mug with a ring as the handle, that comes packaged in a mock jewelry box designed to open up like an engagement ring. Like this, it's a fun present for a couple getting engaged or married.
The moment I saw this product, however, my mind started spinning. The idea itself is cute, unexpected and made me take a second closer look.
Then I thought, "What if the ring wasn't just a standard loop with a rhinestone, what if it was real?"
A real diamond ring on a coffee cup would definitely stand out.
How could this actually work though? Obviously, a real diamond ring on a coffee mug isn't the greatest idea. It's a little expensive for a ceramic cup, and people want to wear rings all the time--not just when they drink coffee.
A fake ring, with a synthetic moissanite stone, would be an option. However, the big question is who would want such a thing and why!
In fact, ring coffee cups could have marketing potential for jewelry stores.
Here are a couple examples of how they could use the cups and why they would want to:
In the Jewelry Store
When couples come in to buy engagement or wedding rings, they usually don't want a hard sell. A wedding ring store could make their customers feel welcome by inviting them to have a cup of tea or coffee, and then presenting several different coffee cup ring options in their presentation boxes.
Not only would this help the couple relax, it would also give the store a chance to put models of the most beautiful (and expensive) rings in front of the customers in a fun, friendly manner. Then they could get down to the business of selling... already knowing that their customers have been impressed by examples of the best rings right away.
Many companies give out "freebies" to promote their products or services. Usually, it's something useless, but the companies that give out useful or unusual, eye-catching items can get a lot of attention.
The ring coffee cups could be an good freebie because it's something people would use on a daily basis and it's eye-catching enough to get attention. Coffee mugs are always popular anyways, because people use them, and this would help the company stand out.
On College Campuses
Recently, coffeehouses have become popular meeting and socializing places on collage campuses. College students frequently spend hours there meeting friends, doing homework and just sitting around drinking coffee. Many of those same college students, especially in smaller cities, will be getting engaged and married soon after they graduate.
Jewelry stores could take advantage of this by donating cups with a variety of imitation engagement rings to on-campus coffeehouses. This would get their name in front of students on a frequent basis while letting the students "try on" rings for fun. They also have the advantage of appearing generous and environmentally-friendly because of their donation.
The advantage of using a ring coffee cup is that it isn't traditional advertising.
The design of this coffee cup begs drinkers to slip the ring onto their finger for fun, and that gives it potential. What jewelry company wouldn't love to get people trying on their rings everyday?
Of course, this isn't the only one way that the ring coffee cup could be expanded beyond a novelty gift.
Does anyone have any other ideas? What else has this made you think about? Please share them below.
Recently, I've been reading a lot and have come across some ideas that would normally prove that the creators are out of their minds.
The Freakonimics Blog shares a story about a gas station owner in California who had obviously let the high prices rampant across San Francisco go to his head. His Shell gas station was charging $4.33/gallon of gas. And it wasn't just the market price--the gas station across the street was charging $0.70 cents less per gallon.
|Then, I read on the Fast Company Experts blog that some airlines, including British Airways, are literally thinking backwards. They're exploring the idea of seating half the passengers backwards on their flights.|
Finally, the New York Times reveals that when Whole Foods designed its new stores in New York City, the company deliberately made the check-out line long... very long! Instead of having multiple checkout lines like all the other grocery stores in NYC, Whole Foods has only one winding line to service the entire store.
Luckily, those ideas aren't as nearly as crazy as they sound.
The reason gas prices are so high at that particular station is that the owner is protesting what he considers unfair business practice by Shell Gasoline. He raised the prices so that the station wouldn't sell a thing and so customers would associate Shell's brandname with extremely high prices.
Nor is it so stupid to create alternative front-to-back seating on airplanes.
Not only are backwards-facing seats safer in an accident, the new arrangement would also give passengers 2 extra inches of legroom and a whole armrest to themselves (without the usual battle).
It would also allow airlines to add 50 seats to existing planes, which might make them stop complaining of bankruptcy. (Unlikely, but I can dream.)
And Whole Foods didn't commit market suicide in New York City by going down to one checkout line.
In fact, Whole Foods' customers are thrilled because they wait for less time. That one line goes to multiple checkout stations, so customers never have the bad luck to get in the "slow lane". Even when the line reaches over 50 people, Whole Foods customers usually breeze through their checkouts in about 5 minutes.
It's usually not a compliment to say someone is thinking backwards, but today I'm thrilled to make a couple exceptions!
Anyone else have any examples of fantastic backwards thinking?
Facebook, the beloved social site of us young folk, has come under attack from a new and very dangerous quarter.
Recently opened up to everyone everywhere, Facebook is being swarmed by hoards of the most-feared beings known to young people.
Yes, that's right. It's horrid, it's tragic, it's the end of the world as I know it and the loss of my freedom... it's the invitation from my mom asking me to be her friend on Facebook.
It's happened to me, and it's happening to other poor innocent students right before my eyes. What's worse, many parents are reporting their conquest gleefully on their own blogs--not only crowing over their victory, but winning more supporters over to their wicked cause!
And this catastrophe doesn't look like it's going away. Try searching "Facebook for Business Professionals." The results are terrifying.
According to all the business professionals who are diving in, Facebook is a soon-to-be-hot-location for networking. The invaders are gleefully posting their photos, putting in their college affiliations (with <gasp> graduation dates over 10 years ago) and forming groups! They're even writing on walls.
Eric Kintz of The Marketing Excellence blog writes that HP has over 3000 employees using the site, and that Facebook's fastest growing subscribers are 25 years and older! He closes with a highly-dangerous invitation to join him "as a friend on Facebook."
Pittsburg's Business News section reports on how professionals are now diving into Facebook, beginning with the oh-so-true statement: "Receiving an e-mail invitation to become the friend of a thirty-something year-old man on Facebook.com might at first be a bit unsettling."
Unsettling? I think I would choose a slightly stronger adjective to describe how nerve-wracking it is for my Mom to have the ability to read everything my friends write on my wall.
Before, when it was just school administrators and recruiters who were searching Facebook for indiscretions, it was easy to barricade myself behind a filter. But how do you tell your mother (or father) that you don't trust them enough to let them read/write on your wall?
Attention Young People: We desperately need creative ideas to escape the tragic implications of this invasion on our territory!
For the moment, I have a quick and dirty solution for those of us who are torn between having our fun and personal page, or putting up one that is "Ok for Mom/Bosses."
Facebook's primary weakness at the moment is its blatant claim that "Everyone can join." So, lets take advantage of that to create an auxiliary Facebook account for networking.
And the problem is solved!
By the way, Mom... I'd LOVE to be your friend on Facebook now! ;-)
Do you see an impossible situation or an opportunity?
Where I grew up in Minnesota, the dogs frequently ran free through the woods of our neighborhood. It wasn't surprising to see Buddy or Cassie on my walk to the bus stop each morning, and I could always count on Ralph to find any balls that went missing in the woods.
And then there was the black lab who always enjoyed coming up to our door in hopes of terrifying my cat. He was funny, always running back and forth in our yard to get attention, but I'm afraid Patches never appreciated him.
So, now that I live in a city, I always feel a little bad when I see big, energetic dogs walking quietly next to their owners. I wonder if they ever get the chance to run, or if their lives consist only of 3+ walks/day at regularly-scheduled intervals.
But I've never thought about how to make the situation better, I've only thought that bigger dogs just aren't meant for big cities.
Luckily, not everyone thinks like me! Where I simply saw a mismatch, others saw an opportunity.
Today the New York Times ran an article called "They Take the Bounce out of Bowser" about the "dog running" services that are popping up in big cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York City.
For not much more than the price of a regular dog-walker, long-distance runners will take a dog out for a fast-paced jaunt around the park.
(Photo from www.nycdogrunners.com)
I think this is a really good idea on many levels.
Reason 1: It's great for the dogs.
Big dogs have a lot of energy and don't do well when they don't exercise enough. Some gain a lot of weight, others get behavioral problems and others are never tired enough to sleep through the night and drive their owners crazy.
One of the dog-owners in the NY Times article reported that their dog had so much energy that would break out of his cage at 4am and bring live mice to their bed. (Yuck!)
Reason 2: It's great for busy dog-owners.
Many people don't have the time or the ability to take their dogs for runs, but they still own dogs that have a lot of energy. For them, it must be a tremendous relief for their dogs to finally get the exercise they need on a regular basis.
Plus, for working owners, having a dog runner is much better than sending their dog to be cooped up in a "doggy daycare" or having Fido go on a walk that leaves him bouncing with energy by the time they come home.
Reason 3: It's great for the runners.
Many dog running services employ people who would be running anyways. Some are marathoners, others long-distance runners, others were in the military and all of them are thrilled to earn money doing something that was already on their schedule.
Of course, there are disadvantages--having to carry plastic baggies for example--but most dog runners enjoy the companionship, the extra money, and the knowledge that they're helping dogs.
Reason 4: It's a great example of how finding a solution to an everyday problem can lead to a great business opportunity.
The New York Times reports that dog running services are gaining in popularity everyday. One service, Running Paws, has over 150 canine clients and employs 24 runners. Their business grows 20% each year.
In San Francisco, dog running is becoming so popular that dog walkers are losing business! Why? It's great for the dog, it's less stress for the owner, and it's a lot more fun to say "Fido has a dog runner".
Owning a big dog in a big city is a problem for many people, but they aren't always willing to get an easier pet. That's why dog running is a fresh idea.
It would be really easy to say "People who live in a big city shouldn't have big dogs." It's more creative, however, to say "What do dogs need to be happy and healthy in a big city and how can this be turned into a business opportunity?"
Kudos to the dog runners who saw this potential!
Wouldn't it be nice to be able to schedule creativity and come up with marketable ideas on a regular basis?
I just finished listening to a podcast about how to become someone who has killer ideas on a regular basis. It didn't excite me because I didn't agree with one of its major assumptions:
The podcaster quoted a recent study by the Product Development and Management Association that said it takes 11 ideas to come up with 1 idea that will be a commercial success.
So, the podcaster built on that number and somehow came up with the estimate that 110 concepts turn into 11 qualified ideas. Then, of those 11 ideas, 3 or 4 will be good enough to go into development, which will turn into one successful product per calendar year.
And there you have it:
If you can think of 110 concepts a year, you'll be well on your way to creating the next iPod, or Starbucks or Wii.
I'm not sure I agree with that. Creativity and innovation is a very unpredictable process--and it cannot be broken down into a simple mathematical equation such as x Concepts = y Commercial Successes.
What does make sense:
Thinking of many concepts/ideas will increase the likelihood of coming up with killer ideas.
What doesn't make sense:
Assuming that if someone has 110 concepts that lead to 11 ideas that meet high standards, then they can expect one commercial success.
The fact is, not all ideas are created equal. Even though the Product Development and Management Association reports that there is an average of one commercially-successful idea per 11 ideas, this isn't a guarantee. Nor can a company or a person launch a killer innovation every year just by coming up with 110 idea concepts. It might take them 500, or they could do it in 5 concepts.
If only 110 concepts guaranteed a successful product, I'd make a numbered list right now and start writing down everything!
Among all entrepreneurship ventures, restaurants have the highest rate of failure. Much of this is due to their high labor costs--but there's also the challenge of distinguishing themselves in a very crowded market.
It's rare to see a restaurant that is new and unique without also sporting a hefty price tag. But it is possible.
Last week, my father and I traveled to Berlin and came across a new restaurant chain that not only thrilled us so much that we went back two more times, but also impressed me with their creative take on the dining experience.
The restaurant, Pasta Vapiano, bills itself as the future of "fresh casual dining".
The food certainly is fresh--in fact, some of the herbs are picked off the plants as you watch--but that isn't the part that impressed me.
Vapiano is interesting because they have completely streamlined the dining experience. There are no waitresses, reasonably-priced food is made to order as you watch, you can sit anywhere you find a space, and you carry around a little card that keeps track of your purchases.
Vapiano's innovative style gives them more of an advantage that you would think. They've eliminated more than the cost of employing servers, they've also taken away most of the dining elements that annoy customers. Guests don't have to wait for their server, they aren't waiting for their food and they can see that it's fresh off the stove. Plus, they don't have to sit in a "bad" location just because that's how the restaurant is seating.
What particularly impresses me, however, is that Vapiano has managed to use those characteristics to create a quality restaurant that doesn't feel like a cafeteria. Its atmosphere attracts young people, businesspeople and shoppers, quite a different demographic from most self-serve restaurants.
One of my favorite parts of traveling is discovering new ideas and concepts, and it never hurts when that fresh idea is accompanied by great food. It's very rare to encounter unique dining experiences at a price point that's affordable on a regular basis.
For most people, buying a new computer can feel like going into a restaurant and being presented with a menu in a different language.
My new laptop, is described on Best Buy's website like this:
Investigating further, I noticed that Best Buy helpfully clarifies some points:
12.1" WXGA active-matrix TFT-LCD widescreen display with TruBrite technology and 1280 x 800 resolution...Intel® Graphics Media Accelerator 950 with 8-196MB dynamically allocated shared video memory...5-in-1 bridge media adapter supports Secure Digital, MultiMediaCard, Memory Stick, Memory Stick PRO and xD-Picture Card...Secure Digital slot supports SDIO...and built-in Intel® PRO/100 10/100Base-TX Ethernet LAN with RJ-45 connector; V.92 high-speed modem.
Excuse me, I don't understand computer! Do you speak English? To be fair, Best Buy is not the only computer store listing computer specs in this way. All of them do it!
But Best Buy is currently redefining their in-store marketing to appeal to "Jill". A recent Washington Post article about this, In Retail, Profiling for Profit, writes that
"Jill" is a code name for a soccer-mom type who is the main shopper for the family but usually avoids electronics stores. She is well-educated and usually very confident, but she is intimidated by the products at Best Buy and the store clerks who spout words like gigabytes and megapixels.
So, if "Jill" is one of their ideal target markets, why are they still throwing around the gigabytes, megapixels, and unexplained abbreviations?
Best Buy could solve this issue with one very cost-effective and easy-to-implement modification to their stores: a simple translation sign or flier that explains the different computer terms in ways that "Jill" can understand.
Take some of the pain out of it for "Jill", keep her from looking stupid in front of her kids, and make sure she gets the right machine for her needs so she feels positive about Best Buy. Plus, it would help your employees serve customers better by answering the most basic questions, and demystify the computer buying process for all of us out there who don't speak "Computer Science".
All it takes is a simple sign. Is Best Buy up to the challenge? And can you think of any more ways Best Buy could make their stores user-friendly for us regular buyers?
(One quick kudos to Best Buy for widening their customer focus--it's more than the other computer stores are doing!)
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