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Archive for April, 2012

Imagine arriving at a hotel, tired after traveling and being able to skip the front desk and head straight to your room. Sounds good right? Such a situation is the reality for guests staying at hotels, which use OpenWays.

So what is OpenWays?

OpenWays is a global solution provider of mobile access-management and security solutions, which is paving the way for Near Field Communication (NFC) technology by offering a solution that works with today’s cell phones. OpenWays provide a web-based mobile phone application that automatically adapts to the phone to offer hotel customers a secure way to access their hotel rooms.

This solution is currently being tested at selected Holiday Inn and Choice Hotels across the world. Guests staying at these hotels can download the application onto their smart phone prior to arrival. They then receive a text message with their room number and upon arrival can unlock their room with their cell phone. The application may also enable a customer to order room service or other hotel services from their phone. This video shows the process at Holiday Inn:

OpenWays cell phone compatibility

OpenWays is compatible with all cell phone network technologies. Current smart phone companies OpenWays support include Microsoft, Apple, Blackberry, and Google Android among others.

Why would a hotel purchase OpenWays?

Simply put OpenWays offers hotels the opportunity to provide a faster more convenient option to bypass the front desk at check in, potentially enhancing the customer experience. The solution definitely sounds like a convenient option to avoid waiting in line after a long flight or car journey. Using OpenWays also enables a hotel to save on the costs of purchasing room keys and it can be incorporated into an organization’s sustainability plan. The technology works in a way that locks could still have card slots for guests who are less technology savvy.

There is potentially no limit to how mobile technologies can continue to change and enhance the customer experience in many industries. But what do you think of OpenWays? Would you want to use your cell phone as your hotel room key? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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Virtuo at last year's Las Vegas exhibition

Earlier this month I wrote a post on Megabus, a long distance bus service that had experienced success in the declining transportation industry by rethinking the product and business model. In this post I am going to write about a company called TouchTunes, who have achieved similar success by recreating the old school jukebox.

TouchTunes has created a touch screen broadband connected machine called the Virtuo, which revives the jukebox. The Virtuo was described by a vending machine distributor as being “like an iPad on steroids”.  The machine has more than 20 times the song choice of traditional jukeboxes. In addition it has enhanced search capabilities even enabling customers to search for a song using part of a lyric.

The Virtuo’s operating system OpenStage facilitates the integration of social network sites. The latest Virtuo machines revealed last month contain PhotoBooth (enabling people to take pictures at the jukebox, which they can share on Facebook) and a karaoke service.

There is also a Virtuo app, which can be downloaded to enable customers to make their song requests on their phone without getting up from their seat. Some customers have even been known to queue up their song to time it with their arrival. This video sums up some of Virtuo’s capabilities:

Virtuo machines sell for $5495 and their average weekly income is $320 (almost three times the jukebox industry average of $113 in 2010). Songs typically cost $0.50 and double in price for karaoke.

Over the past 15 years the number of jukebox machines in the U.S. has declined by 40%. Helping to turn around the jukebox industry’s decline, TouchTunes expect to increase their number of machines from 52,000 to 60,000 by the end of the year. If you would like to see and try Virtuo, you can search for your nearest location on the TouchTunes website.

So what do you think? Will TouchTunes revive the jukebox? Share your thoughts in the comments section below. 

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Earlier this month, one time successful big-box retail store Best Buy posted a $1.7 billion quarterly loss and announced the closure of 50 stores nationwide. Following the news Best Buy’s CEO Brian Dunn resigned due to what the company referred to as “an unspecified personal conduct issue.” This news made many question if Best Buy has a future as a 21st century retailer.

Here are 5 reasons why Best buy is stuck at a crossroad:

1. Changing business environment: Best Buy’s business has stagnated due to changing macro-economic forces, accompanied by a shift in consumer preferences.

2. Not enough choice: Shoppers today can typically find more choices online from Amazon and other online retailers than they can find at Best Buy. Frequently the online retailers have lower prices too.

3. Jack-of-all-trades, master of none: When it comes to tech products Best Buy essentially offers a little of everything. Given this strategy, the store’s sales representatives struggle to gain specialized knowledge on products sold. If you want to buy a cell phone it is likely that you could get your questions answered in more detail from a cell phone provider’s store sales representatives than you could at Best Buy.

4. The rise of mobile technology is transforming comparison-shopping: Years ago shoppers would go from store to store comparing prices. Giving their size the big-box stores typically won. Today people can compare prices far faster and easier online at any time in any place.

5. Failure to adapt fast enough: Best Buy has made changes to react to the environment such as acquiring online music subscription service Napster in 2008 (later sold in 2011) and online movie subscription company Cinema Now in 2010. However, such changes have not been fast or successful enough to guarantee the company’s continued success. As a result Best Buy is still somewhat dependent on products that have since been digitized such as CDs and DVDs.

Another area where Best Buy has failed to adapt is their store layout of checkouts and security guards at the door. Such a layout is outdated and un-customer friendly. By contrast at Apple’s retail stores, customers can check out wherever they are in the store and can test new products if a wait is necessary.

So what do you think? How can Best Buy avoid the fate of other big-box retailers such as Borders, Linens ‘n Things and Circuit City? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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As anyone who has read my blog may have gathered, I love businesses that continually pursue new ideas and believe organizations need to embrace change in order to remain competitive in the long run. A few days ago I got e-mail from Bain Insights on a subtle approach to business change called Repeatability. Bain and Company have set up a website containing articles and research on this topic in support of a new book by two of their partners Chris Zook and James Allen called ‘Repeatability: Building Enduring Businesses for a World of Constant Change.’

The Idea:

The authors recognize that while 80% of high performing companies have differentiation at the heart of their corporate strategy, such differentiation can become excessively complex. As a company becomes more complex they may lose a sense of who they are and what they are good at, as they continually pursue radical change in order to stay ahead of the competition. Such an approach Zook and Allen’s strategic research suggests may not be sustainable in the long run.

The Concept:

Zook and Allen advocate a simple repeatable business model that can be applied to new products and changing markets. The concept requires an organization to constantly adapt over time building on their differentiation in a way that reinforces their strategic advantages and keeps everyone on the same page. Under this concept all employees should know what the company’s key success factors are and change is constant rather than radical and disruptive. This quote from the authors’ Harvard Business Review article sums up the repeatable business model concept:

‘Really successful companies build their strategies on a few vivid and hardy forms of differentiation that act as a system and reinforce one another. They grow in ways that exploit their core differentiators by replicating them in new contexts. And they turn the sources of differentiation into routines, behaviors and activity systems that everyone in the organization can understand and follow.’

In addition, learning systems are put in place to ensure continuous improvement can occur constantly.

Repeatability in Practice:

Organizations with repeatable business models do three things:

  1. They understand what their customers want.
  2. They translate their strategy into clear business principles that can be easily understand and adopted by employees and leaders from all levels of the hierarchy.
  3. They are wired to connect and respond to feedback, adapting accordingly to keep learning.

Lego is an example of a company with a repeatable business model in place. After years of strategic errors Lego developed clear principles and metrics in order to replicate and improve on past successes, while adapting to new markets and the changing business environment. Using their repeatable business model Lego were able to increase their profit margins by 40% creating additional value for the company, which they hope to sustain.

For more information on the repeatable business model check out Chris Zook and James Allen’s book: Repeatability: Build Enduring Businesses for a World of Constant Change.

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A few days ago I was fortunate to hear Dave Polivy owner of Tahoe Mountain Sports speak on content strategy and search engine optimization. Tahoe Mountain Sports is primarily a web commerce company (with one retail outlet in Kings Beach, CA) who have leveraged social media to grow their business.

As an e-commerce business Dave has always recognized that technology changes every day and that change is continually needed to stay ahead of the game. A few years ago Google changed its algorithms lowering many of Tahoe Mountain Sports product search result positions negatively impacting sales. Since the first 3 natural (non-pay per click) search results on any given Google search get the majority of the traffic, changes were needed to improve the positioning of their products. Since the Google algorithm changes rewarded current and timely content, the company decided to pursue a content strategy using their blog as the hub. Here are some of the elements of Tahoe Mountain Sports’ content strategy:

The Blog: Given the greater value Google places on websites that are linked to on other websites, Tahoe Mountain Sports chose to host their blog on a sub domain to improve their website’s ranking. The blog enables Tahoe Mountain Sports to demonstrate their products in a friendly and conversational non-sales manner (with the exception of the occasional ‘steals and deals’ posts). For example they have ‘adventure of the week’ posts on an outdoor activity and gear used is included and linked to. Posts typically align with the products and categories the company would like to come up first in, on a Google search. In addition, the company studies their Google analytics to determine what key words are driving people to the website, then creating posts that include the most popular key words to further drive traffic to the site. Given the timeliness of blog posts relative to the online catalogue, the blog post often comes up higher on a product search than the actual product page, giving the company a targeted short-term search engine optimization boost. To greater engage readers Tahoe Mountain Sports use different writers to add new perspectives and to vary the content and tone. Blog post writers are paid with store credit and such guest posts along with news aggregators syndicating their content have helped introduce the brand to a wider audience.

Facebook: Tahoe Mountain Sports have grown their Facebook following in two ways. First the company teamed up with cause based organization Leave No Trace to donate $1 for every person that liked their Facebook page. Leave No Trace educate people on how to enjoy the outdoors responsibly. Since Tahoe Mountain Sports sell outdoor gear the partnership helped extend brand reach. Approximately 2000 fans were gained from the campaign and traffic from the Facebook page to the Tahoe Mountain Sports website increased significantly.

The second way Tahoe Mountain Sports have grown their Facebook fan number is to team up with a non-profit or cause based organization and have semi-annual gear giveaways. Entrants must like Tahoe Mountain Sports’ page and the contests are typically set up to be hosted through the non-profit or cause based organization.

YouTube: Prior to the company creating a YouTube account they would receive frequent phone calls from people who had found their website, liked their prices but won’t sure if they could trust the business wasn’t too good to be true. To offer reassurance that the company is legit a cheesy about me video was created:

Creating this video eliminated 95% of concerned phone calls by making people feel more comfortable to order. Tahoe Mountain Sports also have product demonstration videos on their YouTube channel further improving their search engine optimization.

Google+: Tahoe Mountain Sports created a Google+ page to cover their bases. The company recognized that since it’s a Google product, Google will give it heightened awareness in search results.

Pinterest: In recent months Tahoe Mountain Sports have been building their Pinterest pages and experimenting to determine what works on this new platform. The company have received a lot of pins and it is driving a lot of traffic to their website.

Twitter: Tahoe Mountain Sports can also be found on Twitter sharing interesting content and engaging in conversations.

What do you think of Tahoe Mountain Sports content strategy and what tips do you have to improve search engine optimization? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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My Copy of the Zappos' Culture Book

Back in March I wrote a post on shoe and apparel web commerce company Zappos’ customer-centric business strategy. However, customer service is only one component of the Zappos’ success story. Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh attributes much of Zappos success to their strong corporate culture:

“If we get the culture right, most of the other stuff, like the brand and the customer service, will just happen. With most companies as they grow the culture goes downhill. We want the culture to grow stronger and stronger as we grow.”

In this post I intend to explore the ten values that have enabled Zappos to create such a unique and successful culture. The video below provides an introduction into Zappos’ culture:

1. Deliver WOW Through Service: Zappos is known for taking customer service to extremes. The company believes that the more they invest in their customers and the customer experience, the more loyal their customers will become.

2. Embrace and Drive Change: As a growing company the Zappos’ philosophy is that change is constant and unavoidable. In order to be able to react to changing market conditions, the status quo should be continually challenged.

3. Create Fun and A Little Weirdness: The Zappos culture is fun and a little weird. Visitors taking the Zappos company tour are typically greeted by employees blowing horns and ringing cow bells. This culture is not for everybody as Zappos’ recruiters recognize by using cartoon like job applications and bizarre interview questions to determine individuality in order to ensure candidates will fit with the company culture. Interview questions may include: What’s your theme song? What two people would you most like to invite for dinner?

 4. Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded: At Zappos both employees and the company as a whole are expected to be bold, daring and open to new ideas. One bold idea was for all employees to have the freedom to use Twitter, something many companies would be horrified by. No guidelines were given except to use one’s best judgment.

 5. Pursue Growth and Learning: Zappos recognize that it’s important for their employees to keep learning and be stretched in order to keep them engaged.

6. Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication: The Zappos’ culture encourages open communications between employees, vendors, customers and other businesses. As part of this philosophy managers are required to spend 10-20% of time with team members outside the office, improving communication, trust and possibly building friendships.

 7. Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit: Being part of a great team where people look out for one another, can inspire outstanding performance. As part of Zappos’ positive work environment employees even have the ability to give one another $50 for a job well done.

8. Do More With Less: The economic downturn has forced Zappos to demonstrate that they can do more with less. In 2008 like many companies Zappos had to lay off (124 out of 5000) employees, a situation they handled with integrity and transparency. The company released the news right after it was decided to mitigate stress and also announced everything that was going on, on their blog and Twitter. Employees affected by the move were given generous severance packages and overall public opinion regarding their handling of the layoffs was positive.

9. Be Passionate and Determined: The Zappos success story is founded on passion and determination to pursue a vision to take the company forward.

10. Be Humble: As part of creating a positive culture where employees can be happy at work, regardless of the situation employees are expected to treat others as they would wish to be treated.

To read Zappos’ employee perspectives on each of the ten values order the free Zappos culture book or consider purchasing Zappos Insights subscription service.

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BuyMyFace.com

Of all the innovative ideas I’ve written about in this blog, BuyMyFace.com may be the most bizarre. BuyMyFace was created in September 2011 by two University of Cambridge graduates Ross Harper and Ed Moyse. Faced with a tough economy and poor job prospects the pair created a one-year innovative project to pay off their student loans of £50,000 (approximately $80,000). Beginning on October 1, 2011, every day for 366 days Ross Harper and Ed Moyse are selling advertising space on their faces. Harper explains:

“Companies can literally buy advertising space on our faces. We then paint whatever they’d like: a message or logo onto our faces,”

Each day photographs are taken of the pair’s faces and posted onto the home page on their website. The video below sums up the experiment:

Advertising rates initially started at £1 (approximately $1.59) a day and have since increased substantially based on demand. The rate to advertise on May 1, 2012 for example is £900 (approximately $1425). At the end of the 366-day experiment the website will be transformed into an online calendar offering continuous exposure for all buyers.

By optimizing social media platforms Twitter, Facebook and YouTube and writing a blog, this human billboard experiment has been optimized into an effective advertising campaign. As crazy as the idea may sound it has been a big success. Robert Dinsey from Altitude Solutions Ltd. sums up his company’s results from using BuyMyFace:

 “The two days we sponsored through BuyMyFace remain the highest traffic levels our website has experienced this year, with a massive concentration of new visitors.”

Some of the sponsoring companies have sent Ed and Ross to fun innovative places to generate greater buzz. For example Altitude Solutions sent the pair Skydiving. While one of BuyMyFace’s biggest sponsors Ernst and Young sent them on a ski trip, which the pair documented in a youtube video:

Unique daily website hits have reached as high as 8,500 a day. With the website receiving press from all over the world. Harper and Moyse have also received job offers for when the project is over. Better still advertising revenues as of April, 15 2012 cover 69% of the pair’s student loans, putting them well on track of reaching their target.

While BuyMyFace could definitely use a Pinterest account to generate further traffic, the idea seems to have working exceptionally well. For more information on this quirky campaign check out the BuyMyFace website.

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