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***Guest post by Kevin “Special K” Green***

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Foursquare (if you don’t know what Foursquare is, stop now and go back to playing Angry Birds) completely overhauled their app this week and launched #AllNewFoursquare. If you’re a long time reader of the blog, you may remember Monsieur Baguette’s unofficial rules of the game. And if you know Monsieur personally, you are aware that he is ADDICTED to Foursquare and it has spilled over to his family and friends. For example, our 84-year-old grandfather checks-in daily and our 7-year-old cousin knows more about the app than his mom! (Just kidding if you’re reading this, Aunty Joy, but if you’re not, he does!)

So to get back to the point of this post, I’d like to review the pros and cons of the #AllNewFoursquare.

The pros:

The new format is super clean and easy to use. Checking-in, adding a picture to your check-in, commenting on and uploading your check-in to Facebook and Twitter are all very simple. Although the share buttons are not labeled, any iPhone user can figure them out.

Check-ins with a picture or comment and user profiles have an improved look and almost made me forget what the old profiles looked like (they were too blocky and provided less info).

The ability to “like” or “dislike” a venue is interesting, too, because the ratio of likes to dislikes or dislikes to likes may sway your decision.

Lastly, the explore tab provides a more intuitive user experience. The feature not only shows you venue recommendations with their location simultaneously, but it is faster and visually appealing. Also, it is easier to choose the category of venues and locations and the suggestions change based on the time and day of the week. For example, it will give you shops, coffee joints and restaurants on a weekday and bars, clubs, theaters, etc. at night on the weekend – which is very savvy. I barely used the old explore tab due to the inaccuracy of the suggestions and the long wait time while the recommendations loaded. But now it’s great. And I doubt my Yelp app will be used any time soon.

The cons:

The running timeline and the check in “like” button. What is this Facebook??? Seriously, we love Foursquare because it was so different in many ways from “The Book.” If you, like me, have some rapid checker-iners, then your “Friends” tab will be clogged up with the same person checking-in all day. I don’t need to see that! If I could propose an additional redesign, it would be this one change. They could make it an OPTION to see past check-ins. This would appease the Foursquare-masochists. The “Friends” tab would show the most recent check-in and with a touch of the screen, you could see a person’s “timeline.”

Final thoughts:

Obviously, Foursquare did not lose me as a user due to the redesign. Honestly, I love the new look (at first I was a little disappointed) and the ease of exploring. But I feel that I will open the app fewer times each day due to cons listed above.

I ask that you don’t let my opinion influence how you use or don’t use the app. Hey, you might be a new user and absolutely love it or you may be my mom and tweet things like, “The new foursquare app stinks!” I recommend you check it out for yourself and let us know what you think.

Monsieur Baguette, how many baguettes does Foursquare earn for #AllNewFoursquare?

***Originally posted on Peppercom‘s About You blog – www.AboutYouBlog.com

ImageIt’s more versatile than salad dressing and more processed than pink slime; it’s Velveeta. And it could be (read: hopefully not) lurking around the corner to club ranch dressing over the head.

As a consumer, this is a nightmare scenario that became all too real after reading about ranch dressing-producer Hidden Valley’s new ad campaign. The slogan emblazoned on each bottle of Hidden Valley ranch is “The New ‘Ketchup’.” I, for one, am hoping that no one in the Velveeta science lab caught wind of Hidden Valley’s entirely unsurprising reasoning for its coup on America’s favorite condiment. Hidden Valley says about 15% of ranch dressing is used on foods other than salad and vegetables. Moreover, market research firm, NPD Group, pinpointed chicken, potatoes (including French fries), sandwiches, chips, and pizza as the most popular items to be smothered with a combination of dry seasonings, milk and mayonnaise.

After years of guerrilla warfare, Hidden Valley has taken ranch dressing’s battle for condiment supremacy to the front lines. Putting the clear consequences associated with a more broad use of ranch dressing aside, you have to credit Hidden Valley for zeroing in on and exploiting their audiences’ perception of its product. Their ad campaign speaks to experiences that consumers, mostly in the south, have every day and it proves the company is listening. I won’t be ordering a side of ranch with my Belgian frites, but it is a brilliant campaign.

Any communications or marketing campaign that resonates with a company’s customers, while attracting new ones, has to be grounded in genuine feedback. And my guess is that current Velveeta customers are eager to ladle or squirt its product onto more meals. Data consistently shows Americans care less and less about their health and what they eat. Velveeta has to see this as an opportunity!

ImageWhy stop at Velveeta Cheesy skillets – boxes of dried pasta, seasonings and pouches of liquid Velveeta sauce to which consumers can add meat and cook over the stove? Is what I would be thinking after the first major Velveeta product since 1984, against all odds and sound logic, has not coagulated since arriving on supermarket shelves in July. According to the Wall Street Journal, “the skillets captured more than 8% of the overall $138 million dry dinner mix category” after three months and Kraft’s Velveeta convenient meals business has realized a 40% bounce over the same time span. 

If Kraft starts paying more attention to customer experiences and pairs that knowledge with its market research, then you may find yourself reaching for a bottle of molten pasteurized prepared cheese product with “The New ‘Ranch Dressing’” on the label sooner than you think.

Is your iPad worth $2 billion?

***Originally posted on Peppercom‘s About You blog – www.AboutYouBlog.com

ImageThis is the question Apple is charged with answering. In other words, would the iPad have redefined the mobile computing market and Apple’s bottom line as the iTablet? It certainly seems like there is something in a name.

Apple’s latest legal battle featuring a Chinese computer-display manufacturer, Proview International Holdings Ltd., as the protagonist centers around who owns the trademark on “iPad.” According to contracts and e-mails provided to the Wall Street Journal, Apple seems to have purchased the trademark from Proview for approximately $55,500 several years ago. But now faced with an imminent bankruptcy, Proview sicced its team of lawyers on Apple and are hoping the notoriously biased Chinese legal system provides an easy payday. So far: mission failed.

Now that the iPad has become arguably the most successful consumer product in the market today, Proview has set its “go away” price at $2 billion. Is the name “iPad” worth it?

We certainly spend a lot of time discussing brand equity and what drives consumers to spend their disposable income. So I started to think about why people buy the iPad. Is it because of Apple’s brand or is it specific to the iPad brand? In this case, I think its Apple’s brand. That said, they should call Proview’s bluff and walk away from the trademark dispute. Proview would end up in bankruptcy, where they belong, and there would likely be no impact on Chinese demand for Apple’s product.

If I were working at Apple, I would suggest a rebranding of the iPad specifically for the Chinese market complete with a new PR/marketing plan. New name, new public relations strategy, new ad campaign, new customers, higher demand. Take this as an opportunity to communicate directly with one of the most important and fastest-growing markets in the world by customizing the product and the company’s message.

Large, multinational conglomerates today should just say no to a generalized public relations strategy coupled with mass-marketing. Apple has the chance to buck this trend. Too often companies search for the next PR/marketing campaign that they can set to autopilot. But, more often than not, it pays to understand your audience and tailor your product and services directly to them. You might just stumble across a new brand and a stronger communications strategy in the process. I truly believe that all politics is local.

Daily deal customers need more

Originally posted on Peppercom‘s About You Blog – www.aboutyoublog.com

Bleary-eyed, scrolling through the morning’s daily deal e-mails on my iPhone, one of them catches my eye. It is from “Daily News Reader Offers” the daily deal arm of the New York Daily News. Gone are the days of spreading out the Sunday paper of choice on the kitchen table (carefully avoiding the plates piled high with challah French toast) in order to artfully cut out coupons at the request of your mother. The customer experience has been reduced to treasure hunting in mass e-mails before sunrise and I believe this could be the albatross around the neck of companies like Groupon and LivingSocial.

Few companies have grown faster than the daily deal sites in such a short period of time. But rapid expansion often sheds light on flaws in the shadow of stacks of money.  A member of Stifel Nicolaus’s equity research team correctly identifies Groupon’s risky growth strategy in the Wall Street Journal, “Groupon’s ‘get big fast’ strategy to dominate the local-deals business is bold, potentially revolutionary and wrought with organizational challenges.” A stagnant stock price and growing customer fatigue will force Groupon, LivingSocial and competitors like the New York Daily News to retool its customer relations and deliver more than just an e-mail.

As I thought about it more, it became clear that the New York Daily News and other newspaper companies are well-positioned, in comparison to others, to take on Groupon and LivingSocial because they built significant brand equity over years of being the most reliable source of coupons. Creating an experience and customer trust was at the center of coupon insert success. And recreating this interaction with customers online is the most significant piece missing from the daily deal business model. Witty descriptions of each deal is not enough to change the perception that we are all just waiting for our daily deal trough to be refilled, so we can eat.

The daily deal market is crowded and competition to stay out of a customer’s spam folder will only get tougher. Ultimately, to gain on Groupon and LivingSocial, companies like the New York Daily News should abandon their copy-cat strategy and think about what customers wanted in the golden years of couponing. By reminding customers of whom they used to trust and creating a differentiated experience, I think that newspapers can be a formidable competitor.

One idea to get the New York Daily News team started: Instead of blast e-mails, develop a Zynga-like game that allows customers to create a profile online and connect to other social platforms, virtually clip coupons, earn greater awards, unlock badges and actually engage with its daily deal provider. I’m interested to hear about your experience with daily deal sites and what you think they can do to improve. So, what do you think?

Sweat beading down their foreheads as they race, elbows sharpened and raised, towards what has been unattainable so far, likeability. The Republican candidates for President of the United States continuously cannibalize their chances of being liked raising questions about what qualities the American public deem as likeable in a person.  Empirical research suggests that openness categorized by a willingness to discuss alternative ideas, have new experiences, and accept different perspectives is at the top of the list. Rather than figuratively chasing shadows, Republican candidates may benefit from a mystical experience courtesy of the hallucinogenic trigger in magic mushrooms (chasing shadows literally).

The latest research lead by a postdoctoral student in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Katherine MacLean, uncovered that the psychedelic drug may increase the key personality dimension of openness. Each of the study’s 52 participants “tripped balls” two to five times after being given a personality test.  All participants were subject to two additional personality tests, one about a month later and the second a year after their trip.

As the Presidential debate season builds to a crescendo, candidates are beginning to cope with the notion that openness and by association likeability are the keys that unlock the front door to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, not polarizing rhetoric and hate.  Throwing raw meat to the base in the form of support for the death penalty (Rick Perry), a lack of sympathy for the uninsured who are terminally ill under the thin veil of Libertarian idealism (Ron Paul), and disrespect for gay and lesbian members of the armed services who are on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan (every Republican candidate) may win you the Republican nomination, but not the general election.

The one potential contender with a firm grasp on this fundamental political philosophy is the Governor of New Jersey Chris Christie. His natural advantage over his rivals is likeability. His positions on the major issues are virtually no different than other mainstream candidates, yet voters across the political spectrum are drawn to him. And it is because they like him. He negotiates and compromises, both signify a slight openness. Today’s Republican pool is overflowing with piranha waiting to devour any openness and likeability. Fortunately for us Democrats, this is the precise reason why he will not, in my opinion, enter the Presidential race.

Until Republican strategists take time to scour the closest cow pasture, turn up the recently released remastered Grateful Dead live in Europe ’72 album, and open their minds, the Presidency will remain in Democratic hands. And that makes us at Monsieur Baguette optimistic because it proves that amidst the seemingly insurmountable challenges facing our society, more Americans than not are still looking for a leader that is open to new ideas, perspectives, and experiences.

I’ve been thinking about this for a while and finally decided to blog it because I’ve officially had enough. Why do people constantly update their Facebook and Twitter profiles with useless, everyday shit? “Ugh, so tired from work :(” “I hate the rain!” “Check out my new shoes… (pic attached)” Newsflash — no one cares. Wait a sec, people do actually care because they are constantly checking to see if that girl they met that one time on vacation got a new puppy. Is it cute? Oooohhhh what’s the breed? Roxy is SUCH a pretty name!

What happened to people being private and exclusively releasing personal information to the people that they actually talk to and really care about? What happened to secrets or exclusive songs and clothes and art?

I recently attended a concert and the band announced that the final song of their set is brand new, never heard by anyone and that this crowd was going to be the first (and possibly the only) people to enjoy it. Right then 60% of the crowd ripped their phones out and recorded the new track. I was optimistic that these people were going to continue to keep the exclusivity of the new song. I was wrong. The next morning I googled “new song live by _________,” and boom, at least 10 videos with thousands of views on YouTube. No longer is this song a secret. Do people not like being part of an exclusive group anymore? I truthfully think not.

Now, you can call me a devil’s advocate, a hipster, an asshole or a hater and it is what it is. But the one thing you can’t call me is dishonest. And I promise you; You will not see me post a picture of where I do business (aka my bathroom).

Disclaimer: Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare and other social networks are very useful if you don’t abuse them. Not that it’s a secret (pun totally intended) but people are going way over the top and I thought you should get a college student’s perspective on it.

Hipsters need love too

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