The Consumer Matters is the blog of Leslie Grandy, aka Gearhead Gal.  My passion is creating and delivering compelling products that delight customers through simple and elegant user experience design.

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Entries in Brand (21)


Guest Post: How Luxury Brands Can Prepare for Affluent Millennials

This guest post is written by Lior Levin, a marketing consultant for a company that provides a to do list app for businesses and individuals, and who also consults for an inspection company that offers various Pre shipment inspections in China.

Millennials, meaning those between the ages of 18 and 29, are easily the fastest-growing market for luxury goods. Not only did they spend 31% more on such goods in 2011 than they did just one year prior, but due to their age, they have the potential to continue that growth for a lot longer than their older counterparts.

Clearly, Millennials are going to be a core target for luxury brands, however, they also pose an interesting set of challenges. Simply put, Millennials don’t buy luxury products in the same way as baby boomers or other generations nor do they value the same things in a luxury brand.

If luxury brands are going to appeal to Millennials, they need to start thinking about how to shift their marketing and their message to prepare for a very different type of consumer with very different wants and needs.

Luxury Alone is Not Enough

One of the biggest differences between Millennials and boomers is that, for Millennials, saying that a brand is a luxury and pricing it accordingly is not enough to convince them to buy.

Previously, buying a luxury good was as much about showcasing wealth as it was buying a superior product. Simply pricing something higher and marketing it as exclusive was enough to get most luxury buyers in the door. However, Millennials want to know what they are getting for the extra amount they are paying and how it will benefit them.

A recent study by Luxury Society found that shoppers favored quality, craftsmanship and design over brand name when promoting a luxury brand, making these elements key to showcase in any promotion.

If you can’t convey clearly why your brand is worth more than cheaper alternatives, Millennials will not be likely to spend their money with you. They simply feel no need to show off their wealth and will gladly buy a cheaper product if they feel it’s of the same quality and meets the same needs.

The Human Element

Luxury brands that do well with Millennials, such as Whole Foods, do so in large part because they focus on the human element of selling and marketing.

This includes both telling the story behind their brand and their products (including how and where it was made and who made it), but also treating the customer with respect and looking out for their best interests beyond merely trying to get the next sale.

Whole Foods stores tend to be warm and inviting places, Apple Stores tend to have legions of well-trained staff, and they do so not to ensure that they maximize sales, but to provide the best customer experience possible.

However, this appeal comes at price. Whole Foods doesn’t carry a lot of high-margin brands that don’t fit with their image and Apple Stores tend to have a lot of wasted floor space. But like all human connections, it’s a matter of give and take. The brands that give more to their customers will find them more willing to buy from them.

Brands that have thrived on being exclusive and unapproachable are going to have to change their customer-facing operations to better appeal to younger consumers that seek out a more human connection with what they buy.

The Use of Technology

Obviously, Millennials are much more comfortable with and eager to use technology than their older counterparts. Millennials grew up in a post-Internet age, and they expect the brands they buy, especially luxury ones, to be tech-savvy as well.

This use of technology isn’t just about how brands promote to customers, such as with online campaigns or high-tech in-store displays, but also about how they communicate and maintain contact with them. Email newsletters, text alerts, live chats and even video conferencing are just some of the ways brands can keep in touch with customers or have their customers contact them.

Luxury brands need to be where their customers are, and this means online, on social media and on mobile devices. This not only increases convenience for the customer, bringing the brand to them rather than the other way around, but it helps keep the name relevant and modern, two things Millennials value.

If a brand can’t stay current, it’s likely to be left behind and forgotten by younger customers.

All in all, Millennials are far more demanding of luxury brands, and they don’t necessarily reward the brands that they do purchase with an increased amount of brand loyalty. Millennials, as a group, tend to enjoy exploring and trying new things, even if it means leaving behind a brand that worked hard to get them as a customer.

Turning Millennials into customers isn’t going to be a matter of creating an exclusive group and daring them to join. Even the wealthiest Millennials don’t feel the need to flaunt their wealth or be a part of a “club”.

Millennials want facts to back up their purchases, a real human connection with the company they’re buying from and to have access to their brand wherever they are and whenever they want to.

Providing that is going to mean making a major shift for many luxury brands but those that can do that, such as Apple, will be able to ride the wave of the fastest-growing and, most likely, longest-lasting growth segment for luxury goods.

Those that don’t, such as Cadillac, will likely find themselves being viewed as antiquated and struggling to reach a younger audience as their current target market ages.


Lessons From BlogWorld: What Goes On In Vegas Shouldn't Stay There

So you couldn't make it to BlogWorld and New Media Expo this weekend? Don't worry, though, because I had a Technorati press pass and headed to Vegas to get a little taste of the South Pacific...Ballroom, that is. The Mandalay Bay Hotel Convention Center served as host for the event, and while hotel guests toured the Shark Aquarium a couple of hundred yards from the conference, bloggers and digital marketers dove into the deep end of the social media pool. Corporate exhibitors like the U.S. Army, Ford, Southwest Airlines and Kodak shared space with Co-Tweet, Radian, Rackspace and Tungle,to participate in the business of conversational media.

Interview with BlogWorld Co-Founder Rick Calvert

If you search for job openings with the keywords “community manager,” LinkedIn will return over one thousand results. According to Rick Calvert, co-founder of Blogworld and New Media Expo, the popularity of job listings on sites like Linkedin or Monster is an indicator of how bright the future is for social media in corporate America.

“Companies know they need Community Managers,” Calvert says, “because they know they need to engage with their customers in a range of ways through social media, even though they are still learning how to manage those conversations.”

Education remains a primary goal for Calvert and his Blogworld team. “These attendees reach a global audience of over 250 million people.” he pointed out. “Their influence is undeniable.” In an interview conducted halfway through this year’s Blogworld event, held in Las Vegas at the Mandalay Bay Hotel Conference Center, Calvert indicated that attendance has doubled in the last three years of the conference, but at 3000 attendees, what’s billed as the World’s Largest New Media Conference, is still pretty small given the nearly 200 million blogs that have been created worldwide.

Calvert acknowledged that it is hard for corporate marketers to know what technology platforms will stick with consumers; Calvert admitted even he “missed the point of Twitter at first. I wasn’t sure if it had real value or would turn into FriendFeed.”

Education is why he says he is committed to growing the conference over time.  Read more...

And more about my experience at BlogWorld on 



Social Media Managers: The Loyal Customer's New Best Friend

In these budget minded days, my husband and I have been trying to use our miles and rewards points whenever possible to fund our leisure travel. We have found for most of our programs there may be fewer flights or rooms available, or longer blackout windows when we can't use rewards. But, with some planning, we can redeem our miles and points for discounted or free rental cars, hotel rooms and flights when we want to take a vacation.

Not every program, though, we participate in is easy to leverage, and my husband's accrued Aeroplan miles from years of Air Canada travel have been consistently difficult to redeem, especially since we live in Seattle, which is not a huge hub for Air Canada or its partners any more. On a recent trip to Los Angeles for a family member's college graduation, we were fortunate to finally be able to use the miles to book three nights at the Sheraton Universal City, a Starwood Group hotel. Often, rooms we are assigned when we book with mileage plans are not the best in the house, but generally I feel "rewarded" for being a loyal customer, even if I have a view of the air conditioning compressor or the parking lot. Often a basket of fruit, a bottle of wine, or a coupon for a free continental breakfast greets us to acknowledge our relationship.

This visit, our stay required four nights, but our miles only could get us three nights. I reserved a fourth night with a credit card. My challenges began when I called Starwood's reservation line to link the two separate reservations so we would not have to check out of the room or change rooms during our stay .I was told that wasn't possible for Starwood to do, because of the fact the Aeroplan reservation was not visible to them.

When we arrived at the hotel on a Sunday night at 8P, there were seven people in line to check in ahead of us. Although the sign at the head of the line indicated it was the Starwood Preferred Guest line there was only one queue for all front desk interactions, and one very busy clerk. Apparently, all guests were Preferred...or not.

I stepped up to the counter after a few minutes of seeing guests who had been in line ahead of us vocalize their frustration at how long it was taking to get checked in, and I asked the concierge if help had been called to expedite our check in process and service other front desk services, like lost keys and late check out requests. While he assured me the Marines had been summoned, my husband hissed at me to get back into line, saying, "Don't piss him off, we'll get a crappy room." I complied, largely because he was talking through gritted teeth, signaling to me he meant business.

When we got to the desk, help finally arrived, too late for our benefit. We asked the clerk if he could link our reward and paid reservations and we got the same negative response as we did when we called. "You will have to check out and then check in again. You will have to give us the credit card at that time." We then asked for a parking pass to enable us to enter and exit the self park garage, and the clerk told us none was required.

After 40 minutes of waiting in line, and after a brief 50 foot walk to our room, my husband began his "I told you so" routine. Our room was probably positioned in the worst location in the hotel, directly adjacent to the hotel lobby, next to the public restroom, looking onto the top floor of a parking lot structure, and 100 yards from the Hollywood Freeway. But that wasn't the half of it. The safe in the closet was on the top shelf, above my head, which meant it was approximately 5'6" above the ground. When I placed something in it, the entire safe slid off the shelf and right towards the bridge of my nose. Holding it entirely in my hands, I saw it would fit into my suitcase - or a thief's - with no trouble.

That thief, by the way, could have had an easy time breaking into the room, because the balcony sliding door was ajar about 6 inches, flooding the room with the sound of freeway traffic. Closing the single pane door wasn't adequate to drown out the trucks and sirens, so we turned on the air conditioner hoping the fan would make it hard to notice.

Within about 2 minutes the air conditioner let out a bang, and continued the same jarring noise to signal startup and shut down through out the night, making for an incredibly restless night's sleep, but clearly distracting us from the tractor trailer rigs barreling by our window.

Being near the lobby meant we were very close to the business center, but despite asking the hotel operator twice how to get an access code to log in to the hotel's wireless, I never got connectivity, free or paid, through my iPad's wifi connection. But I had no trouble hearing all of the conversations from the drunk Lobby Bar parrons who used the Women's Room on the other side of our shower wall.

The first time out of the parking garage, the attendant asked for our parking pass, which, of course, we were told we wouldn't need. And when we returned to the room after the maid had cleaned, the toilet paper holder was broken. My frustration was boiling over and landed in my Twitter stream. As I was preparing to convert from our Aeroplan room to a paid night in this room, my Starwood Preferred Guest identity kicked in, and I was questioning my loyalty in a big way. Just then, my message to the Twitterverse landed on @Starwoodbuzz, who asked me to send a direct message detailing my troubles.

Since the morning of the fourth day, when we were supposed to check out and then check back in, was also the morning of graduation day, we were on a tight schedule. In an effort to save time, I called the front desk, and asked them to convert the room to my credit card. The clerk told me I had to come to the desk. Fearful there would be a long check out line, and another 40 minute wait for service, I persisted in asking for some Gold Preferred Guest service, asking the clerk not to require me to have an unpredictable element in a day that my family needed to go like clockwork. But at this hotel, the Starwood Preferred Guest line doesn't seem to really exist at the front desk, so I was finally escalated to the manager for support.

Fortunately, this is when my experience finally turned. Four days into a rather horrific - albeit free - stay, there was a light at the end of the tunnel. Whether the person monitoring Twitter for @Starwoodbuzz carried influence and pleaded my case, or the manager felt a sense of responsibility for our experience I had not seen up until then, I can't say for sure. But the difference in customer experience when employees who provide service take accountability for how their customer's journey unfolds is remarkable.

To begin with, the manager began by offering to move us, but when we suggested that would be disruptive, she immediately offered to cover our stay. Because of the parking problems, she also took off the parking fees. She said she would immediately send maintenance to the room to repair the safe. This woman was all about solutions and action. She offered to provide us complimentary breakfast the next morning at the hotel restaurant. Since my intent was never to take advantage of the hotel, I didn't want to appear greedy and so I declined the breakfast, graciously thanked her for the handling of our bill, and asked her to hold on sending the safe repair team till we left the hotel for the day shortly thereafter.

When I later returned to Twitter to thank @Starwoodbuzz, I found a message from the Tweep already waiting in my inbox, informing me that several hours before they had indeed contacted the front desk manager to address my concerns.

Monitoring social media for dissatisfied customers gave Starwood the opportunity to quickly repair a damaged customer relationship. As a customer, I felt rebuffed at the front desk, but supported by a faceless, yet responsive online persona who quickly heard my specific concerns and appeared to act to address them. Ultimately, the Twitter monitor was able to help the property manager care for a customer when onsite staff did not.

The challenge in managing a service enterprise is consistent and predictable customer interactions, and the hotel manager was lucky to have a virtual support team to get the train back on the tracks. But clearly, training should have happened to educate or empower the front lines to provide similar solutions, making it unlikely any customer would ever want to insert a disparaging tweet into the online dialogue around the brand.

I recounted this story to a family member, and they asked me if I really would go back to this hotel just because I got a free night to make up for a crummy experience. "If the hotel is bad, why would you go stay there again?" And to me the answer is simple: customer loyalty isn't about never screwing up, it's about how you recover when you do. For the effort that was made, I am certainly willing to give them a second chance to make a different impression.



For A Day, Ashton Kutcher And I Had the Same Number of Followers

Was it an accidental search for fellow fans of an eighties rock band or the nefarious hacking of a hidden Twitter application command that bankrupted celebrities like Ashton Kutcher (@aplusk) and Perez Hilton (@perezhilton)  of millions of followers today?

According to Gizmodo, a regular Twitter customer in Turkey claims to have accidentally stumbled upon a way to force any Twitter user to follow you. By simply entering the word "accept" with a username - for instance, type [accept oprah] into the Twitter status field - anybody could get themselves followed by people like Oprah, Jack Welch or even Kim Kardashian. The action is similar to adding "RT" before a username to repost a user's status.

The value of a follower is a hotly contested topic in marketing circles these days, and having celebrities follow you is a sign that a fan may have gotten the attention of a star. While the bug was being investigated by Twitter, followers were set to zero, and the notorious celebrity leaders of the Twitter pack had to laugh off their sudden unpopularity.  Wrote @bodhielfman "I have more followers than @aplusk." In addition, marketers who measure the success of their campaigns by fans and followers had to do a day of client-side vamping to manage the fall in metrics that normally would be considered catastrophic by most brands measuring the reputation and reach of their social media spend.

Later in the afternoon, as following counts were returned to users profiles, there was still damage control to be done, since it appeared forced followers were still showing up in users' lists that they hadn't really joined. @ConanOBrien posted the disclaimer, "if it ever says I have been following more than one person, I have been hacked. I'm a completely monogamous Twitterrer - I only follow Sarah Killen."


If only Tiger had tweeted instead of sending SMS, he could have said someone just co-opted his account.


Favorite Tweets of the Day

A weekend reading list o' links, brought to you by the folks I follow on Twitter...

@rcrwirelessnews RCR Special Report: Mobile Marketing's Promise: A Universe of One. Sponsored by Mobile Marketing Association.

@SignificObs Concept? Rocks. Writer? Rocks. Cause? Rocks. Bid on one of the last @SignificObs @girlswritenow (via @R_Nash)

@communiquepr Social Media Contests Have the Power to Drive Massive Awareness & Engagement |

@mcuban The Bifurcation of Twitter: In case you haven’t noticed, there are now 2 Twitters. The first Twitter operates just...



What's So Hard About Naming?

Does an operating system need a catchy name? Perhaps assembling some words that sound like conversational English might be helpful at minimum.

We Love Nitrozac & Snaggy!


Favorite Tweet of the Day

 Time to Rewrite Brand Playbook for Digital (via @adage) Branding online must simultaneously address behavior & technology.


Favorite Tweets of the Day - Fun With Infographics & Consumer Behavior

RT @thejordanrules: Very cool interactive visualization - The mobile intent index - a useful tool #stats -

RT @9swords: 20 incredible infographics, interactives and data visualizations

Amazing motion-graphics visualization video from @jess3 on State of the Internet - @techcocktail (RT @GeniusRocket)


Did Google Use Apple's TV Ad Playbook?

For advertisers, the Super Bowl  is as much the “big game” as it is for sports enthusiasts. This year that was more true than ever before, because the televised broadcast brought a record 106.5 Million viewers.   In the post Internet bubble, fewer new technology companies are using the expensive, broad-reaching television broadcast to build brand awareness, opting instead to make their dollars work harder at measurable activities that convert to sales.   That leaves the door wide open for established brands like Budweiser, Coca Cola and Doritos - the ones that can afford the lofty ad rates - to use the time to create entertaining, “talked about” vignettes that enforce the meaning and positioning of their products.

Despite the Super Bowl being a mecca for established consumer brands, Sunday’s game was the first one to include an advertisement for Google’s dominant product, search. Many have commented on why the company chose now to run the ad, and whether the company’s virgin effort at broadcast advertising was meant to prove a bigger business agenda in the advertising community. For me,  the ad was most notable because of its use of the product to tell a brand story.  Among a sea of ads that used slapstick, animals, and underwear, the Google commercial seemed to take a strategy right from Apple’s advertising playbook for its initial foray into television.

Five plays I saw called:

1. Use the product to tell a story.  In the Apple spots, a friendly narrator tells the story of a customer journey, ending with the line “there’s an app for that.”   The Google ad tells the story of adventure, discovery, love and family through searches. Each step in the journey has a solution in the Google results set that advances the customer’s story.

2. The product is the hero.  People are a distraction in Apple ads, and while iPods used to feature silhouetted dancers, most Apple commercials now are about the apps. Except for the disembodied finger, for the iPhone, it’s all about the software.  Google’s spot starts with its iconic home page filling the screen, which is only replaced by its familiar results pages.  The television stands in for the PC, and the audience looks right over the shoulder of the searcher entering terms and phrases, just as I peek into the iPhone the finger points to and swipes.

3. Be gender neutral.  Although the Super Bowl tends to attract advertisers with a propensity for frat humor and belly scratching, Google, like Apple has, tried hard not to offend men or women.  The story in the ad is universal, and while it is clear a man is entering the searches, women in the audience can appreciate the romance of Paris, and the happy ending of beginning a family.

4. Lather, rinse, repeat.  The world believes all touch screens use the gestures that Apple’s iPhone does.  The constant repetition of the gestures within the commercials, played in frequent rotation during popular television programs, trained the audience even before they purchased the device.  Within the Google ad, the searcher performs the same activities several times over – enter search term, then click on results.  

5. Don’t go for the cheap joke. It was an ad about romance, and the cursor skated across - but never clicked on - the “I’m Feeling Lucky” button. Sure Apple has done its share of cheap jokes in the Mac versus PC story arc, but, in the categories Apple dominates, iPod & iPhone, Apple doesn’t disrespect their leadership position with skeezy parents or slapstick jokes.


Creating Brands Through Experiences

Thanks to @kristianindy for the permission to embed this slideshow I discovered on Slideshare.  By way of complete disclosure, I can't vouch for the capabilities of  Kristian Anderson + Associates, and the presentation, I presume, is intended to represent the capabilities of his agency.  Nonetheless, I do appreciate the point of view it shares around the intersection of customer experience and brand, so I include it more for how it concisely and aesthetically sums up what I believe. Enjoy.




Brands Get Built Through Operational Design


Is This a Real Good Experiment? [Video]

It seems the easiest way to create a viral video, like this one from Blu Dot, is to use a hidden camera to film someone doing something when they think no one is watching. America's Funniest Home Videos, You Tube and Facebook have made a cottage industry out of laughing at other people's secret single behaviors.

Innovation firms like Ideo also consider this "consumer anthropology", or ethnography, essential in their market studies, and critical to develop their point of view in the fuzzy front end of new product development.

I question the actionable insights in the above embedded video, and am curious to understand if anything about this story sells more Blu Dot product. Maybe it's meant to be just entertainment, but in this economy, how do you build a brand your consumer doesn't understand? Uncovering a new behavior, like curb scavenging, is intriguing, but it's only useful as fuel for innovation if it drives a business agenda. What's the business agenda of building your brand on a story about people who "co-opt" anything from the curb, not just Blu Dot chairs?


Favorite Tweet(s) of the Day

Interesting reading today from the Twitterverse

@brandchannelhub The Ten Brands That Will Disappear in 2010

@timoreilly Google Android:on Inevitability the Dawn of Mobile,& the Missing Leg

@thinkbig_blog Consumers are more discerning, critical & design-centric than ever. Brands must be as well – or face irrelevance.

@julespieri Funny little indirect jab at consumer culture. via @TheOnion - New Device Desirable, Old Device Undesirable


Aol. aOL. aOl? What does it all mean?

Emphasis and intonation can change the meaning of a simple question. 'How ARE you?' may invite deeper conversation than 'how are YOU?", which may sound like a reflexive response to a greeting. In writing, bold and caps provide emphasis. Color and font evoke emotions and memories of happy times or overt authority.

There were plenty of good reasons to update the AOL look and feel, beyond the spin-off. Read more...


Great Products Can't Mask Lousy Service Design

One of the many consequences of how businesses are coping with the economic downturn is the way they deliver service through retail storefronts. The pressure on bricks and mortar retailers to compete with ecommerce sites on price is obvious from the minute you walk in the door - from the product quality on the shelves to the fewer people around to assist you on the sales floor, the physical world is threatened by the low margin world of the Internet.  Though bricks and mortars stores need to operate more efficiently to keep competitive, they still need to remember the service experience can be a valuable differentiator worth paying for.  Over on, a post entitled Why Don't Retailers Copy the Apple Retail Model suggests the Apple experience in retail is nirvana. "There’s no lines, no frustration, just pure satisfaction'

I have lamented the way product quality has suffered from manufacturing and supply chain cost-cutting measures to grow margin, and cutting out the "middle class" of products. Apple has engineered quality from the manufacturing line into the front lines. Every detail matters. But quality may not be the only victim when a company shifts focus onto increased profitability without providing increased customer value.  With today’s tough business choices, many brands are losing their core equities simply from the lack of innovation on the service experience.  When policy and process become the defining attributes of the service experience, customers generally don’t win.

Would You Like Vinyl Siding With Those Earrings?

A great case in point was a recent experience I had with my husband at our local Sears. Through good times and bad times, Sears has stood for quality tools and appliances. My husband buys Craftsman as much because of the kind of service Sears provides for out-of-warranty repairs as he does because the products are durable and dependable. If anything does happen, he knows the company will stand behind their products. When our pressure washer recently went on the fritz, they fixed it in half the estimated time. We went into the repair center to pick it up, but were amazed at the journey we went on once we walked into the reception area. The lack of design thinking applied to our interactions as customers was readily transparent. This was an experience designed from the inside out. 

Find out how Sears could design a better service experience by reading the full article here.


Great Products One At A Time - My Interview with Jules Pieri, Founder,

I met Jules Pieri, founder and CEO of and an innovator in social commerce, through my network of networks. (You can explore the Daily Grommet widget embedded in my site.)  I followed links through some of my favorite design and business sites that led me to her website, Being an avid online shopper, and because I live in a city where designers mostly invent new things to do with fleece, I’m probably more inclined than most people to stop and window shop at new places I find on the web. I really enjoy discovering special gifts that way, buying something for a friend they’d never find themselves.  But the problem with shopping online is that it is so impersonal, so hard to be sure you are buying from a great manufacturer who cares about quality.  It’s awful when the pictures don’t reveal a “feature” of the product that makes it frustrating to use after you get it, or that the materials make it hard to handle.  Admittedly, for commodity purchases, I might shop a local store and find a better price online, having investigated the substance of it on the store shelf at the mall.  But with handcrafted merchandise and locally made products that don’t have bricks and mortar nationwide distribution, that method of evaluation doesn’t work.

Perhaps because I am an ex-filmmaker, I was delighted to find that The Daily Grommet creates little movies for each product, revealing stories about its creators and purpose, and conveying personal experiences the The Daily Grommet’s discovery team has had while using the product in their daily lives.  The experience is one that immediately resonated with me, because the entire premise of The Daily Grommet is to help people really assess how well a product will meet the expectations they should have for enjoying a great experience from their purchase.

The Daily Grommet staff provides this service almost as a trusted advisor for the consumer.  To thoroughly investigate a product, The Daily Grommet puts a lot of time, energy and expertise into telling each product story.  Therefore, the team produces only one Grommet story per day, an unusual model for driving loyalty and revenue in online commerce.  With Amazon and Walmart selling anything and everything online, and since any little mom and pop store in a small town can set up a digital catalog with a web address and a PayPal account, I was curious to understand what Jules was thinking when she started the company.   Read my interview with her here to find out how she connects products and customers.

Q & A with Jules Pieri, Founder and CEO of marketplace for inventive consumer products.  In her own words: RT@julespieri I'm also an industrial designer, a mother, and an amateur cultural anthropologist.

Gearhead Gal wants to know... With so many places I can shop online today, what is the one true thing you believe that converts browsers who visit your site into shoppers?

The product stories.  A casual browser on our site will find products they’ve never seen, and their stories are compelling.

But can I say a second true thing?  I think it is unusual to see “real people” who know what they are talking about explain products.  New visitors to our site say, “I don’t know what it is, but there is something so real and honest about what you do.” 

How are you sure the product stories that resonate with your discovery team will be successful in the consumer marketplace?

We aren’t!  We just take chances and have guts.  And because social media tools and technologies are at the heart of our business, we do have the unique opportunity to watch and see if a story is submitted to us from a variety of people and sources.  In fact, we want to amp that up and make all that interaction more visible.  We’d like to give our community exposure to the submissions—we get a flood of ideas from people and these ideas are too much behind the scenes right now.

Beyond that, we purposely pick products that are also just plain fascinatig and perhaps not mainstream, and because they might surprise someone.  Our job is to keep a person interested, not to make them buy something every day.  It’s much harder to earn a person’s attention than to get a credit card payment.

And, at the end of the day, if the “fringe” products do happen to appeal to an individual, they create a pretty deep bond between that person and Daily Grommet.  A good example of that was a hand-forged cribbage board we featured last year.  I loved the artist and his craft…we had no idea that cribbage players are rabid about their game.  It sold out in minutes.

As a businessperson, how can you forecast appeal for a product when meaning and experience are subjective to consumers? 

We can’t.  It’s even more complicated than that because we are dealing with a new product every day.  But we can see patterns and we work with those as best we can.  And we can solicit feedback from our community. 

But here’s the thing, consumer products people have to have strong instincts and ability to read the general cultural zeitgeist.  People who haven’t built careers doing that are intimidated by the subjectivity and confidence it takes.  We aren’t.  And we are delighted to have direct access to the opinions and ideas of a massive number of people via social media.  We never had that earlier in our careers.  It used to be called market research.  It was slow and expensive.  This is fast and almost free.

If your site was evaluated as a Grommet by your own discovery team, how would the service you provide to your customers measure up?

Cool question.  Well, we would be hard on us.  We’d give it an especially close look if it was submitted by someone who loved Daily Grommet and could tell us why.  We would evaluate the “freshness” of the finds and the “truth” of the stories.  In other words, the accuracy of the Daily Grommet promise.  We would order a few products and test them.  We would submit comments and customer service questions, and a few new Grommet ideas, to see if these “Grommet chicks” were the real deal.  We would watch the quality of EVERYTHING.  That process could take a couple months.  And, after that, Daily Grommet would be a shoo-in.  

We would “get through” because we ARE the real deal.  You should see the emails my partner Joanne crafts when she REJECTS a Grommet.   They are so human and concerned and often quite detailed.  She gives advice and tips for improving the product or business.  The same thing when our COO Patti gets a random customer service inquiry.  And same thing when we talk about a possible Grommet. Our conversations are energized, respectful, and honest.

Sundance Catalog, Red Envelope and other merchants share their “product stories” and they promote more than a single product per day.  Why only one per day?

People are busy.  We just want Grommet to be a tiny daily adventure, not a huge time sink.  And you can’t get more attention and mind share from someone just because you have more to say.  There is a natural limit to a person’s attention span.  And, at the end of the day, I just like the “Ahhhhhhh…..” relief of telling someone “Here.  Just think about this one thing.  Nothing more.” 

Beyond that, we are maniacal about each story.  Getting it right.  We would need a lot more people to do more than one a day.  You are killing me. 

Some products you sell directly from your site but there are others which launch another website to complete the transaction.  Doesn’t that add risk by introducing variability in your branded customer experience? Don’t you risk losing your customer’s loyalty in the hand off?

Absolutely.  You caught us in the middle of a transition. We realized that people were getting confused and lost when we sent them off to other websites.  It was a good way to start the business, but not great for building a reliable customer experience. We actually are simplifying our site and catalog to mainly take the orders from Daily Grommet.

But we do really like web services and custom configured products like Mix My Granola, and Tia’s Sandals, where you can build your own sandals from recycled saris.  We will always have to send people off to those “configuration” sites directly.  But they will be a minority of the Grommets. 

I see a variety of Grommet categories on your site, but not all categories have the same number of Grommets. What categories seem to generate the most candidates for Grommets and why?

Categories which foster problem solving:  gadgets, gear, health and beauty.

Innovation is becoming such an overused term by companies these days, just like business process re-engineering was in the 90’s.  How do you keep from ensuring the products you curate aren’t just fads?

Fads are shallow.  Grommets are not.  They are truly inventive and borne of passion.  I guess we could get caught in something that gets turned into a fad by a major marketing campaign, like the Sham-wow.  But not likely.  One test of that is if we find a Grommet for which no one on our team is willing to do the video.  That’s a shallow idea.  Like that kooky Snuggly blanket.  We would have died of embarrassment if we had to do that video.

You’re an industrial designer with a fine arts degree and a Harvard MBA.  What do you think is the piece of business advice you wish they’d given you in your training as a designer?

Don’t let the MBA’s bamboozle you and have all the fun.  A design training is excellent preparation for starting a business. 

As a product designer in today’s economic climate, what are the most important things to be thinking about if I want my product to be deemed “Grommet-worthy?”

People are very demanding of the end-to-end performance of a product.  They look for green and social enterprise benefits, they look for domestic job creation and manufacture, they look for product creators with real personal commitment to their inventions, they expect solid design and manufacture and customer service, and they expect you to have a story that will make them care.  It’s a tall order.  That’s why it’s so hard to become a Grommet.  If I had to isolate one quality, though, it would be offering a true and compelling story for your product.  Don’t send it out in the world naked and defenseless with just a thin little price tag for armor.

Find more about Jules Pieri on   or on her blog.



Favorite Tweet(s) of the Day

It was a good day on Twitter for looking at my world from different angles...

Disruptive #innovation seals emotional connection @dailygalaxy:How Warner Bros Introduced Sound and Forever Changed Film ...

The power of brand proximity @fastcompany: Mac to be displayed alongside Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo. #Apple opens at Louvre

Interesting look at the Voice of Your Customer RT @technorati @EileenOBrien @emarketer 70% of bloggers polled talked about products/brands & those they love or hate

RT @thinkBIG_blog: Designers have always known this. Glad to see others are catching up...

RT @timleberecht: Thirty conversations on design


Who's Minding This Store?

Even locally, brands need someone to protect them. Is Starbucks testing Beer Yards now as a product extension? At least someone tried to match the Starbucks style guide...(Address of real sign in caption.)Lancaster Avenue, Wayne, Pennsylvania


Mobile Apps - What Are They Good For?

Listening to the industry leaders speak about the application market in mobile, I am convinced the debate around the mobile web boils down to two camps - those who believe that applications will replace web browsing and content discovery and those that believe it won't. At the root of this tension appears to be two things: 1) whether apps will be valuable enough to consumers to monetize to the degree long tail websites have been for advertisers, and 2) how to measure success of an application after the initial transactional download.

As I hear the various stakeholders - carriers, application developers, content publishers - debate how the value chain must develop to service revenue goals, I am struck by how mobile applications serve so many purposes for marketers. For some, mobile apps are simply a part of an integrated marketing campaign, meant to service new customer acquisition goals. Other mobile apps help national advertisers localize offers through the use of the phone's GPS or cell tower coordinates.  A mobile app may simply add new chapters to an existing consumer-product brand story by offering opportunities to create or retain loyalists in a deeply entertaining or innovative way with the brand.

So, mobile apps - what are they good for? Read some of my thoughts after Rutberg WI09 here.