Monday, August 08, 2005

To Net stores, it's all about personal touch | NYTimes CNET

To Net stores, it's all about personal touch | CNET News.com

The nuts and bolts of customization of physical products via the internet. One internet player cafepress claims it can produce from 8 million different designs onto products such as T-shirts, mugs, etc... all shipped within 24 hours. Millions of niche products.

The secret is to enable the direct transfer of the data of the internet order to the machinery of production.

Customers can upload their own artwork and create a complete online store for their creations. As the "substates" are limited to what cafepress has available in a way this can be thought of as a new form of low run custom printing on 3D shapes.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Trust thy Internet neighbor | CNET News.com

Trust thy Internet neighbor | CNET News.com

Interesting recap article about networks of trust on the internet

In 1999 I co-founded efavorites one of the earliest internet based systems for combining user generated content with most of the aspects and functionality of what is now known as social networking to create networks of trust. The content was called favorites (people, places, and things) and postings were to a structured taxonomy and seachable database.

Later we built systems which allowed reveiws, recommendations, and ratings to be"bolted on" to the existing online catalogs of our customers through a pioneering (at the time) real time publishing system based on XML, EJB, and J2EE. Content was not only associated with specific items but also specifc people whose collection of content associated with items became a profile. Thus, the user could easily navigate from the item review or recommendations to the author's other content to evaluate its relevance and trustworthiness to the user

In a nutshell we are most often known and can be evaluated by what we like and who we associate with-Are they like me and can their advice be trusted?

We found that an 80/20 rule applied to active contribution of new content. 80% of the content was written by less than 20% of the users. A smaller number were the active networkers connecting friends to each other and the content. This distribution is not suprising given the theories of Malcolm Gladwell and others in The Tipping Point who identified certain personality types as naturally sharing and passionate guru types, often with multiple areas of interest and others as having vast networks of often fairly superficial connections.

Blogs, reviews, recommendations, and social networking profiles can offer businesses wonderful tools to not only connect with customers, discover emerging niches (see my post on the Long Tail) but also serve as vehicles to present their own brands' in-house and customer gurus expertise in a near real time, personalized and trustworthy fashion for public or even internal (customer service and product development) purposes.

See also the articles from trendwatching.com on which covers in detail how consumers are seeking their own Twinsumer via the web to help them make decisions.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Tour du Mont Blanc

The Tour du Mont Blanc is a 6-10 day trek of approximately 100 miles around the base of the Mont Blanc, Western Europe's highest mountain at almost 16,000 feet. The trail goes through France, Italy, and Switzerland and features varied and spectacular scenery. (See some pictures below)

While the climbs are arduous the footing is generally much smoother than in the White Mountains of NH and there are no technical climbing areas. And, at the end of each day huts with showers, beer, wine, great food, and friendly fellow hikers can be found to recharge the battery and rest the feet. Huts are reasonably priced at about $50 per night with dinner, breakfast, and bunk room accomodations. About $10 more per person for rooms for 2-4. Reservations are a good idea. The Cicerone guidebook described below includes all the phone numbers. We used a mobile to call ahead when we determined where we might end up for the night.

We completed the trek in 6 days at the end of June 2005. Doing the Tour in 6 days is tough involving 10 hours per day of steady hiking. Of course, more leisurely versions are possible with most completing the trek in 10 days or so. Ideal timing is last week of June as snow is mostly off the passes and the crowds reasonable.

The trail features multiple "variations", all listed in the guidebooks and on the maps. Do them all if weather permits as often they cover somewhat higher routes and are truly spectacular. The variations include the Col du Tricot, Col des Fours, Col Sapin, and the capstone the Fenetre d' Aprette.

Click to view map-# indicate location of end of each day of our trek in 2005. See pics below

Guidebook: Cicerone Guide Tour du Mont Blanc is the best English language guidebook. Series also includes other superb English language guides to treks in the Alps and elsewhere. Of course there are any number of guided trips, some as we saw complete with donkeys to carry gear. REI, Wilderness Travel, etc.. all organize such treks. This said it is easy to go "unsupervised".

Gear: Travel light. We somewhat overpacked. Good non Gore-Tex (due to heat) light hiking boots are vital, trail running shoes possible but not recommended due to time on the trail daily. Otherwise 2 or 3 rapid drying t-shirts, shorts, wool socks, a fleece, and water proof shell are all you need. Do bring a pack towel and soap for those great end of day showers. A light weight sleeping bag liner is essential for the huts. Plan on a hydration bladder or a Nalgene and bike bottle. We clipped the bike bottle to the pack sternum harness for on the go sips. Wrap a decent amount of duct tape around a water or sun tan lotion bottle. Duck tape is fantastic for blisters and fixing just about anything. Quite literally there is no need to carry much more than would fit in a decent sized daypack. Note of course that doing the Tour earlier in June or in the fall might mean somewhat warmer clothes.

To give readers a day by day feel for the adventure:

Day One

Col des Montets (France near Chamonix) to Refuge de Belachat above Chamonix


Bouquetins Mountain Goats Prancing above Chamonix

The view from the Refuge de Belchat towards the Aguille du Gouter on Mont Blanc

Day Two

Belachat to Refuge Nant Borrant above Contamines, France.

Stretching before setting out from Refuge Nant Borrant-Best Food!

Day Three

Nant Borrant to Refuge Elisabetta near Courmayeur Italy

On the way to the Col de Seigne and Italy

Approach to Refugio Elisabetta near Courmayeur, Italy
Day Four

Refugio Elisabetta to Refuge Bonnatti in Italian Val Ferret above Courmayeur


Day Five

Refugio Bonnatti to Champex Switzerland


Refugio Bonnati

Who says hiking has to be miserable
The bar at the Refugio Elena. We stopped for an expresso on the way up the Col Ferret

Hikers headed up Col Ferret towards Switzerland from Refugio Elena

Day Six

Champex Switzerland to Col de Balme over the Fenetre d' Arpette

The final climb -Col de Balme Switzerland

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Mass Customization and the Long Tail

One way larger companies can address consumers' inceasing demand for customized "made for me/build your own" products and thus hopefully create their own long tail niches is through leveraging the internet and manufacturing technologies . And interestingly, at least so far, these initiatives require rapid, flexible response and thus US or Americas based manufacturing. The online presentation of the product as built by the consumer provides a rapid and full visual of at least the look of the product.

Four current initiatives by major brands come to mind. Nike ID and Timberland's Boot Studio both allow customers to design the colors of footwear (sole, uppers, laces, stitching, etc...) for about a 10% premium over the standard product. Nike ID offers a wide variety of models for different sports, you can even build the shoes on a large screen in Times Square using your mobile while Timbeland is focused on customizing its classic boot. LL Bean has a similar offering based on customizing its boat totes.

Honda has launched a mass customization program for its VTX1800 Extreme motorcycles:

"Imagine this one-of-a-kind opportunity to customize just about every aspect of your VTX1800. Start by choosing between five unique body Styles. Complement your Style selection with numerous factory-assembled options in the Build Specs section. Pick out one of several exclusive paint schemes in the Colors section. Then, to top it off, select from a wide array of Honda Genuine Accessories available through your Honda Dealer."

All of these initiatives clearly illustrate mass market brands creating mass customized products. The benefits include the positive feeling customers get from having a product made for them as well as the advance insights into preferred color and styles for their more mass market standard lines. These initiatives can also offer mass brands the opportunity to create their own dynamic nimble niches. And by building to order they can avoid gambles on what combination consumers really want, avoiding inventory costs and ultimately costly sales.

These internet based approaches to selling and building products also present interesting opportunities for new kinds of physical retail environments where the store becomes more of a showroom for look and feel, demonstration, and trial with the products ordered "online" at the retail store or sent via email or to a mobile as a link in an SMS message for further consideration and purchase. Just consider the efficiencies gained by the retailer, the touchpoints created bridging the online and physical world and most importantly the choices offered the consumer.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

NEMO Equipment Tents

NEMO Equipment

A great example of the potential of the Long Tail (see my 4/1/2005 post) to capture a segment of a growing niche, ultra light outdoor equipment. Nemo, which has just launched its first tents which are incredibly light and are raised in about a minute. See the video. In addition to truly innovative design including air support instead of conventional poles Nemo has also presented itself with a first rate web site, won the grand prize for innovation at the world wide sporting goods show in Germany, and managed to equip the Nike Balance Bar advernture racing team.

They have combined passion, technology, hard core users, internet visibility, and PR to give themselves a shot at success. Not bad for a few guys in a mill in Nashua NH.

On the cautionary side of the "tale" the first tents are expensive and they use the highest performance fabrics which due to outdated flame resistance regulations in 7 states do not permit them to be sold in those states. Thus while their superb product, web site, PR and a core of appropriate high end dealers gives them the potential "infinite shelf space" of the internet the dirty yet real details of the physical world will at least temporarily create some friction to their sales in the marketplace.

Friday, April 01, 2005

The Long Tail

www.thelongtail.com
Fascinating blog by Chris Anderson of Wired, actually the blog will become a book. The Long Tail of the marketplace or the curve leading from high volume "hits" with little variety to lower volume but greater variety is the province of a multitude of niches. The Long Tail has been enabled in recent years by the internet, advances in design and manufacturing technology and of course passionate users who can now get the word out.

These factors have given products infinite shelf space and the ability to rapidly morph. The contention is that this rapidly evolving commercial space is growing, with many small niches gradually increasing the overall volume of the tail. Important implications for start-ups who must realize that their niche may never become a huge, classic hit and for larger players who must now continually offer fast moving innovation, mass customization. and/or spend mightly on marketing and traditional shelf space-or see their volume continue to shrink.

Clearly The Long Tail is evident in categories such as download music and other products stored and sold entirely in a digital realm as here essentially the most traditionally obscure tune is just as likely to be bought as a hit from a major artist as they both share virtual shelf space equally and fans can direct friends to the product easily via the internet. This said The Long Tail and its implications is just as applicable to niche products of all sorts including those more physical in nature.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

reveries - marketing insights and ideas

reveries - marketing insights and ideas

I have been getting the Reveries Cool News of the Day free newsletter for years. 3 quick stories from the world of marketing, often culled first thing in the morning from leading newspapers. Quick read and always informative.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Classic XC Ski Race, aging athletes, and the power of the Internet to remove some of the mysteries of waxing

This past Sunday I raced a cross country ski race for the first time in about 20 years.
The race was the 50km Great Glen to Bretton Woods Nordic Adventure http://www.greatglentobrettonwoods.com/. Spectacular course which included 2 climbs of 500 and 1500 vertical feet with fast smooth downhills and some great views of Mount Washington before the snow started to fall. The Ibex Breakawy jacket (see my winter gear reviews below) was fantastic as with temperatures in the mid 20's, with long long sweaty climbs followed by very long fast downhills. I was always comfortable.

XC skiing is a great sport for aging athletes and particularily runners whose knees etc... can't take the pounding. I was amazed at the performance of the over 40 athletes including some of my old Dartmouth friends who out raced most of the youngsters!

Now to the waxing... XC ski waxing and particularily kick waxing has always been a mystery and a challenge. It still is but there is now lots of help. Internet weather sites and online wax wizards such as www.swixschool.no which will, with easy simple videos, show you how to prepare skis as well as another another swix page http://www.swixsport.com/waxwizard.asp?Lang=ENG&Sport=1 which will, based on the temperatures and humidity you found on the weather sites, give you specific instructions on which glide and kick waxes to use.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Harris Farm-A great place to XC ski between Portsmouth NH and Portland ME

Harris Farm www.harrisfarm.com is a family farm near Biddeford ME with not only 40K of great XC ski trails but large dairy herd, farm store with milk and meat from the farm for sale. The whole family is involved on the farm and at the touring center demonstrating that with the right approach and creativity family farms can thrive. Of course Harris is blessed with great terrain for trails and farming and a location near populations.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Springwise.com

World's leading source for promising new business ideas, concepts and innovations.

Related to trendwatching.com in that springwise presents concrete new business opportunities and actual businesses around the world related to the trends from trendwatching. Springwise site and their monthly newsletter (easy read and very well put together) focuses on business to consumer and emerging retail concepts. Ideas are collected from a worldwide network of trend spotters. In particular I find the world view of the site fascinating.

Friday, February 04, 2005

TRENDWATCHING.COM Newsletter | Global Consumer and Marketing Trends


http://www.trendwatching.com/newsletter/

This is a most useful newsletter. Based on insights and material contributed by a large network of trend spotters around the world trendwatching synthesizes these threads into well documented (examples, pictures, etc..) categories and even suggests approaches and other opportunities to ride these trends.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

First Run in the Pearl Izumi Seek Trail Shoe

To much snow here in NH for the trails. Ran with the Seek on the roads. Superb upper fit,like a slipper. I can feel what the front of my foot is up to over the terrain, yet I am very well supported in the midfoot. I am a heavy heel striker and found the combination of the crash pad and frame supported firmly yet with great cushioning, unusual as most with most shoes it is either firm support or pillow cushion. Felt like the shoe was guiding me forward, faster, and with some sense of actually having feet, instead of the usual feeling of a cushionned board on my feet.

The Float is the road cousin of the Seek.
Info at: www.pearlizumi.com

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Gizmodo

Gizmodo
This is one of my favorite websites/blogs. Not only all the latest electronic gadgets but innovative products of all sorts. The go to site for new stuff.

Monday, January 31, 2005

My Running Gear Winter 2005

I have been running, hiking, and skiing for over 30 years in all seasons and over all kinds of terrain: rugged White Mountains of NH, Idaho, Swiss Alps, cities. I am crazy about gear!

Jacket: Wool nylon blend Ibex Breakaway. www.ibexwear.com
Truly remarkable stuff. Front doesn't even look like wool as the nylon and wool are woven together so the wool is on the inside. Very windproof. The back where the sweat is greatest is a lighter all wool. Beautifully made and can be worn for many, many days without...stink! Performance wool is coming back strong, especially where it is blended with synthetic fibers.

Long underwear: Craft www.craft-usa.com
Have worn Patagonia capilene and Pearl Izumi Xstatic for years but this year trying Craft Scandanvia which I am finding superior as its slightly furry surface seems to wick and dry remarkably fast.

Shoes: Pearl Izumi Vis IQ www.pearlizumi.com
Pearl Izumi is new to running shoes (3d season) but their offerings are highly innovative. Uppers are essentially seamless and without all the extra trim and stitching. The material is woven differentially to support where it needs to. and the claim of fewer blisters is true. Great styling with clean lines.
I can't wait to try their 2005 shoes and especially the Seek, their new trail shoe. Pearl Izumi is demonstrating that a newcomer with a clean sheet of paper and a thirst to innovate can differentiate themselves in what is largely a me too, after Nike is done, industry heavily relying on a few sources of production shared by many competitors.

Apple-#1 Brand, Product, and Execution Champ, with some help from FedEx

Why was Apple voted just recently the #1 Global Brand by 2000 marketing professionals? Well we all know about the cool products. Customer satisfaction and strong financial results don't just depend on cool products. Apple learned the hard way that to truly succeed you have to excel in logistics, bold new channel choices (retail-Apple Store), and the "wow- that's cool" factor.

My recent Apple story is a demonstration they are truly firing on all cylinders.

Dec 16th I ordered an iPod mini for my son from the Apple web site. The first wow: they offered free engraving and free shipping. Making a mass produced product personal builds an even stronger bond between customer and brand.
Dec 19th Nathan's iPod shipped from...Shanghai, China via FedEx
Dec 23d iPod arrives in NH. The tracking shows a trip through the Phillipines, Anchorage, Indianapolis, and Boston. A huge wow, I have told friends the story over and over again.

My take: as Xmas drew near there wasn't enough time to ship into distribution for last orders so they were ready with direct from production line to my door in a week...from China. Truly remarkable logistics and coordination via the web. I am sure these last orders were the surprise in Apple's results and very profitable. And, by partnering with FedEx they compressed time to my door dramatically to capture all the remaining sales momentum in the key season.

Finally, when we took a look at the mini fine print on the clip we noted the very clever "Designed in California USA, Assembled in China", a succinct snapshot of current reality.