Madison Avenue & Modern Medicine

From a New York Times review of Remaking The American Patient by Nancy Tomes: “Patients actually morphed into consumers long before health insurance and the Internet were invented, even before the turn of the 20th century … It was back in the 1920s that doctors’ offices first loaded up with machinery in order to impress patients with ‘new and improved’ medical care.”

“The first timesaving questionnaire for patients to complete in the waiting room was introduced in 1949 … Drugs have been enthusiastically hawked from the dawn of advertising. In fact, the drug industry pioneered the use of many of the most aggressive tools, like national ad campaigns, direct-mail ads, product placements and infomercials … Doctors were already complaining in the 1920s that patients just wanted drugs, not good advice. In the 1950s, the American Medical Association warned that doctors should learn to negotiate with a pickier generation of consumers.”

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Is The Deck Stacked Against Disruptive Innovation?

The Wall Street Journal: “Anshu Sharma, a venture capitalist at Storm Ventures, thinks he knows why so many companies that should have all the resources and brainpower required to build the next big thing so often fail to do so. He calls his thesis the ‘stack theory’ … the mistaken belief that” building something new is a simple matter of “moving up the stack.”

The “stack” is a “layer cake of technology, one level of abstraction sitting atop the next that ultimately delivers a product or service to the user.” IBM, for example, “moved up the stack from making things that compute to selling the services that computation enables … Google tried to move up the stack from search to social networking.” Apple apparently hopes to move up the stack to make electric cars.

According to Mr. Sharma, failure to move up the stack happen when the company lacks empathy for its customers and doesn’t understand its customers’ wants or needs. It’s generally easier to move down the stack (e.g., Tesla builds its own batteries because it knows its own requirements). Uber would be more likely to succeed at building its own cars than General Motors would be at creating a ride-sharing service. That’s because “Uber has the advantage of knowing exactly what it needs in a vehicle for such a service.”

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Tech Startup Life Can Be Brutish and Short

The Economist: “Software firms are supposed to be a paradise for ‘talent.’ Not only are their workers fabulously paid, but they are showered with perks as well … However, a career as a software developer or engineer comes with no guarantee of job satisfaction. A survey last year of 5,000 such workers at both tech and non-tech firms by TinyPulse … found that many of them feel alienated, trapped, under-appreciated and otherwise discombobulated.”

“Only 19% of tech employees said they were happy in their jobs and only 17% said they felt valued in their work … 36% of techies felt they had a clear career path compared with 50% of workers in areas such as marketing and finance; 28% of techies said they understand their companies’ vision compared with 43% of non-techies.”

“Tech firms that offer lavish perks to their staff do not do so out of the goodness of their hearts. They offer them because they expect people to work so hard that they will not have time for such mundane things as buying lunch or popping to the dry-cleaners … The tech industry offers fabulous rewards for a fortunate few … But the industry is also rife with disappointments: endless toil that produces meagre returns; and dreams of reinventing the world that turn into just another tough and insecure job.”

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GE: Perfect Homemade Pizza For Just $10,000

Business Wire: “Perfectly crisp crust. Browned, bubbling mozzarella. GE’s Monogram Pizza Oven brings restaurant-quality cooking capabilities to the home kitchen, enabling home chefs, entertainers, families and pizza enthusiasts to recreate their favorite pies—from the perfect Neapolitan to New York style and everything in between—quickly and with ease … the Monogram Pizza Oven brings authentic old world taste to today’s high-end kitchens.”

“The Monogram Pizza Oven was developed through FirstBuild, a new model of manufacturing that challenges makers around the world to ideate and help design innovations in home appliances … The Monogram Pizza Oven is available May 2016, with an MSRP of $9,900.”

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Going Mental At The Car Rental

Customers can have very different car-rental experiences at Payless and Budget even though both are owned and run by Avis Budget Group, according to The New York Times. David Segal, writing in the newspaper’s “Haggler” column, relays two high-contrast anecdotes. The first, involving Payless, is the story of a 50-minute wait and then driving off in a “filthy” car only after arm-twisting a supervisor to get any car at all.

Filing a complaint afterwards via Twitter yielded no response, an email resulted only in a bounced message, and an online service-desk inexplicably pronounced the issue “closed.” An apology was received and a full refund promised only because The Times intervened.

Meanwhile, a Budget customer who was given “a car smaller than the one he reserved” didn’t have to make a fuss or ask for anything. He simply described his bad experience in a routine customer-satisfaction survey. The next day, he received an email with an apology and promise of a refund check for the price difference. In other words: “One part of this company is taking care of consumers; the other is ignoring them. The secret to good service is no secret to the Avis Budget Group. It is just a secret that nobody bothered to share with Payless.”

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Bitter & Esters

The New York Times: “Except for maybe that final celebratory phase, home brewing seems to be a solitary endeavor. But at Bitter & Esters, a home-brew shop in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, hopeful brewers discuss all parts of the process with like-minded beer aficionados, from the minutiae (and there is quite a lot of detail) to the merrymaking when an especially good batch is turned out.”

“I know there’s a picture of a guy brewing by himself,” said John LaPolla, an owner of Bitter & Esters, on a recent evening. “But it’s really not like that. It’s a community.”

Although Bitter & Esters is not a tavern and does not have a license to actually sell beer, “we can give tastes educationally,” Mr. LaPolla said. And they educate, liberally. The shop offers about 10 classes a month, with options for beginners through advanced brewers. Those classes, Mr. LaPolla happily admits, are “brilliant marketing.” “We make our own customer,” he said.”

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Your Mouse Says You’re Angry

The Wall Street Journal: “Santa Claus probably knew if you were naughty or nice, but your computer mouse knows whether you are angry, fearful or stressed. The part about the mouse, at least, comes from a new paper by researchers at universities on both sides of the Atlantic. Building on prior research into mood and muscle control, the scientists show that bad feelings increase the distance and reduce the speed of mouse-cursor movements, which could let computers detect users’ emotional states from their clicks.”

“The scientists found that mouse movements allowed them to detect the presence of negative emotion with 82% accuracy … One obvious application for these findings: Web developers could alter their pages based on which areas or tasks seem to induce telltale cursor movements indicating user unhappiness. Companies might even build in automated apologies—or notify customer service—when a user’s mouse movements indicate that a frustration threshold has been reached.”

“Why do bad feelings influence mouse movements? The scientists think that negative emotions impair the brain’s processing capacity and undermine users’ ability to focus.”

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Get Your Pencils Ready

cassetteAt some point, while few were looking, the cassette tape crossed the great divide from a commodity to an experience. Steve Stepp, president of cassette-maker National Audio Co., attributes this to “stubbornness and stupidity.” Anyone who ever owned cassette technology knows it as unbelievable junk that jams, breaks and otherwise frustrates the task for which it is intended.

It many ways, it’s not unlike vinyl, which has also made an unlikely return. Warping, hissing, popping, skipping. Who doesn’t love that? Both comebacks are a function of the rise of CDs, then MP3s and now streaming, and the relative nothingness of the experience. As Bob Dylan once said of the CD: “There’s no stature to it.” Would love his thoughts on Spotify. (I, for one, love it.)

Some claim that these old analog media have a “warmth” that digital does not. Okay, but at least a bit of that warmth is that of nostalgia and, with cassettes, the warm hand of making and sharing mix tapes. It’s also about the importance of “things” as a part of the experience, and vice-versa. If that’s true for the cassette, then it can be true for just about every commodity.

We buy experiences as much as things, and today, it seems, even more so. Those trees we acquired over the holidays: Were they “things” or experiences? How many old iPod boxes do you have squirreled away in your closet? It’s all in the unboxing. With the rise of cassettes, a surge in pencil sales is sure to follow. Artisanally sharpened, of course. A mountain of things are just aching for an experiential rewind.

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Beyond Experiential

Without question, a brand’s advertising and its visual identity are part of the brand promise and experience, or at least can be dressed up to appear so. However, it is critical to distinguish between brand experiences and the brand experience.

Brand experiences can be fun moments for the customer. This might be an event of some kind, often referred to as “experiential.” As brands move away from traditional advertising, they move toward “happenings,” increasingly involving social media. It’s a remarkable video or clever tweet that goes viral.

These types of transient experiences constitute much, if not most, of what drives marketing today. It is all very cool, and can make even the dullest brand seem hip, but it still comes down mostly on the side of making promises as opposed to keeping them. It’s the 21st century version of a 30-second television commercial. Don Draper is alive and well, and living on YouTube.

Here’s the thing: Of what value is a momentary, fun, marketing-infused experience, if the day-in, day-out experience with the product or service falls short? It’s limited, at best. At worst, it can be fatal, given that nothing exposes a bad experience faster than good advertising.

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What is Serendipity?

While serendipity often involves accidents, it is not accidental, or passive, writes Pagan Kennedy, author of Inventology, in The New York Times. The term itself was coined in 1754 by Horace Walpole, and was based on “a Persian fairy tale about three princes from the Isle of Serendip who possess superpowers of observation.”

In other words, “serendipity … is something people do … That’s why we need to develop a new, interdisciplinary field — call it serendipity studies — that can help us create a taxonomy of discoveries in the chemistry lab, the newsroom, the forest, the classroom, the particle accelerator and the hospital.”

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