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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Discovery Weekly: The Spotify Experience

“Automated music recommendations are hardly new, but Spotify seems to have identified the ingredients of a personalized playlist that feel fresh and familiar at the same time,” reports Quartz. “That’s potentially a big advantage over competitors like Pandora, Google, and Apple, which largely have the same bottomless catalog of music but take very different approaches to picking the best songs for each user.”

“We now have more technology than ever before to ensure that if you’re the smallest, strangest musician in the world, doing something that only 20 people in the world will dig, we can now find those 20 people and connect the dots between the artist and listeners,” Matthew Ogle, who oversees the service at Spotify (said) recently. “Discovery Weekly is just a really compelling new way to do that at a scale that’s never been done before.”

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If Apple Made a Washer-Dryer

Business Insider: “With the Marathon washer/dryer, the goal is to collect enough data to figure out that one perfect temperature that works for 90% of laundry loads, the same way that the Apple design aesthetic is just perfect for the vast majority of users.

From there, you can start thinking about all kinds of science-fictional stuff. For instance, a Marathon spokesperson says that it’s not out of the question that one day, the machine could identify the stains on your clothes and automatically apply the best treatment.”

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Open Content

The New York Public Library is releasing “more than 180,000 photographs, postcards, maps and other public-domain items from the library’s special collections in downloadable high-resolution files — along with an invitation to users to grab them and do with them whatever they please,” The New York Times reports.

“We see digitization as a starting point, not an end point,” said Ben Vershbow, the director of NYPL Labs, the in-house technology division that spearheaded the effort. “We don’t just want to put stuff online and say, ‘Here it is,’ but rev the engines and encourage re-use … It’s the old library mission: Take it and run, and make it your own,” he said.

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Where Groceries Thrive

Fortune: An online startup called Thrive is attempting “to offer natural and organic goods at the price of the conventional non-organic equivalent … Thrive prices products to only cover the company’s costs to fulfill and ship, instead making the bulk of its money through a subscription model. The company charges a $60 membership fee, pegged to the cost of a Costco membership.”

“It’s Whole Foods-type products at Costco-like prices,” says co-CEO Nick Green. Thrive sells only non-perishables. “It’s where no one else wants to play,” Green says. “Fresh food is a blood bath right now. We said, let’s look at the part of the grocery that really shouldn’t be in the grocery store.” Thrive launched about two years ago and now has “about 150,000 members.” “We can’t scale the infrastructure fast enough to service the demand,” Green says.

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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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Under Armour’s Healthbox

Wired: “Under Armour was founded on a simple idea: Make athletes better. To do that, it’s turning human performance into a big data problem. The company is betting on the notion that the right hardware, the biggest dataset, a lot of machine learning, and powerful motivational tools can make everyone better, faster, and stronger. It’s betting that technology doesn’t exist solely to make us lazy, to bring everything to our door with the push of a button.

The centerpiece of that bet is a $400 kit, announced today, called Healthbox, that provides a scale, an activity tracker wearable, and a chest strap for measuring heart rate. The company also is updating Record, its mobile app, making it a 24/7 real-time barometer of your fitness and health. These tools, combined with three apps Under Armour has purchased in recent years, provide the most comprehensive ecosystem of fitness products yet made.”

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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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The Fairway Trajectory

“Fairway kept expanding—stores in more places around New York—and they aimed more at the median shopper,” reports Pacific Standard. “Gradually, the store lost its edge, its quirkiness. With great size comes great McDonaldization—predictability, calculability. “Like no other market,” says every Fairway sign and every Fairway plastic bag. But it became like lots of other markets, with ‘specials’ and coupons. Coupons! Fairway never had coupons. Or specials.”

“In the first months after the private equity firm took Fairway public in 2013, the stock price was as high as $26 a share. The other day, it closed at $1.04.”

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