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 consumer (8)


Favorite Tweets Of The Last Week

After taking a few days to listen to real, flesh and blood humans discuss the future of digital technology, I tackled a backlog of commentary from the Twitterverse. Here are some of the nuggets I found buried in my stream.

Genius! RT@cshirky My next book will be 'Wikipedia Brown', about a boy detective who solves crimes by getting his friends to do all the work.

Consumers with an income of $100,000 or more are among the most likely to use coupons /via @adwise << interesting!

RT @emarketer Case you missed this: How Consumers Balance Openness and Privacy -



Technology-driven Innovations May Not Be All Bad

As an Apple veteran, I understand that is not always helpful to ask users what innovations to go build because it does not always result in an earth-shattering, inventive solution that meets their needs. Marketers who have learned from Steve Jobs do not look for mainstream user validation to identify the next new thing.  Don Norman, a noted User Experience expert, design professor and former Apple fellow, further explodes the myths around need-driven innovation in his post, "Technology First, Needs Last."

He writes, "Major innovation comes from technologists who have little understanding of all this research stuff: they invent because they are inventors. They create for the same reason that people climb mountains: to demonstrate that they can do so. Most of these inventions fail, but the ones that succeed change our lives." In supporting this perspective, Norman goes on to show the evidence by pointing to revolutionary innovations like the telephone, radio and the Internet that changed our lives but came from the minds of inventors of new technology, not end users.

In his debunking of the myths perpetuated by designers, researchers and marketers, Norman has made some controversial statements to drive home a core insight for businesses in this difficult economy: research matters most when the consumer understands the concept and can refine it.  While social anthropology provides useful insights around consumer behavior, even advanced influencers generally start with tools that already exist in their lives. They may evolve how they use these tools to service new purposes or capabilities.  But technologists often erect the original framework for consumer-driven innovations to occur.

The problem for business today, though, is that R&D budgets to nurture big inventions have been hit hard as companies struggle to maintain revenue and grow profits. Social media gives marketers and designers more immediate access to feedback that looks actionable, and costs less than market research did just a few short years ago. Consumers can point to iterative improvements that can trigger a design or process innovation that can save companies money or increase loyalty and satisfaction. But inevitably this feedback leads to improvements that can be characterized as cheaper, faster, easier than existing solutions.

We'd all agree the ideal outcome would be that a statistically relevant group of mainstream users would be able tell you the same original thing they need you to go build. Then they'd put their money where their mouth is by purchasing it. But, of course, if it were that easy, every product from every company would be a game changing innovation like the photocopier, fax machine, CD, web search, DVR and cell phone.

The conclusion I'd draw from Norman's post is that companies need to enable both types of innovation - revolutionary and evolutionary. And they must understand where the consumer's insights are going to lead them. Technology exploration may lead to "crazy applications" which the market may reject initially as impossibly impractical. But from that invention's failure can come the most valuable consumer contribution for an innovator - the practical clarity of what not to do the next time.




Mobile Apps vs Mobile Web - Is It Really a Competition?

There seems to be a raging debate in the mobile marketing arena about which will be the winning platform for mobile advertisers – the mobile application or the mobile web browser. I’d actually say it isn’t a fair fight.

Mobile applications should optimally use a process of integrating with the hardware and/or user interface of the software operating system, generally through application programming interfaces and a transaction engine or download manager, like the Apps Store or the Android Market. The browser, on the other hand, has limited direct access to hardware components (e.g, GPS, camera), yet depends on the software operating system for enablers like video playback. Browsers appear as a standalone application for retrieving and viewing standard web content on smartphones. The browser often requires a zoom-in to position content for reading, and different sites may or may not optimize page layout for a mobile experience, let alone for a particular device, screen size or aspect ratio. Apps tend to have a fixed layout purely intended for mobile display and can call a browser to support visualizing data outside the application UI.

The web provides a familiar metaphor to consumers for discovering content. App stores often have a merchandising architecture intended to promote new apps, top apps, of favorite apps. After that, a consumer must understand the categorization and information hierarchy to directly discover an app, so in either case search becomes the valuable solution.  It is possible from a web page to promote a downloadable app, and on Android devices there is a setting to enable downloadable apps from outside the device marketplace to have access to the device. In this case, a consumer might have an affinity with a brand, content or web service and see that there is solution to extend that relationship to their mobile device.  Added utility – capabilities enabled my the mobility of the user – can be a strong driver for a consumer to choose a mobile app.

For advertisers trying to leverage mobile, the notion that these two distinct user experiences require the same kind of consumer engagement is faulty.  The audience who doesn’t yet have an affinity for a brand won’t necessarily be motivated to discover an app on the shelf of the mobile device store unless it is highlighted and merchandised in the equivalent of a store “end-cap.”  Even though creating the mobile experience could be a tool to convert that consumer as a customer, it will not be enough to simply develop the app and get shelf space.  

First, an advertiser, publisher or content developer will need to determine the goal for their mobile experience – acquisition, loyalty, transactions, consumption – and then determine the right technical environment for accomplishing that goal.  If browser rendering can degrade an experience, then a mobile application can solve that. If there are hardware or application APIs that need to be leveraged, than an app will be better suited to integrate with them than the browser will.  If a mobile application is a desirable course of action, it does not mean that the mobile browser should be forgotten.  Consumers may still discover and engage with your brand through your website on their mobile device, and your application should at minimum be promoted, merchandised and supported through web pages, rendered in their device browser.

The initial choice for brands developing a mobile strategy shouldn’t be mobile application or mobile website. Mobile strategy must start with the consumer, and the relationship you hope to develop with them to engage with your brand. That likely leads to choosing to leverage both approaches.


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


Could Amazon buy Hulu? WTIA Predicts for 2010

The Washington Technology Industry Association 2010 Predictions Dinner was held tonight in Seattle and that meant an entertaining evening of crystal ball reading and supposing. Is Twitter mainstream enough to make revenue and a profit in the next 12 months? The Seattle technology community is skeptical unless someone acquires it. That prospect was not wildly expected. Is Google going to end up with a stock price north of 700? The sentiment was much more favorable. The panel thought Google was poised to continue it's innovation trajectory with Internet services driving their technology across mobile and home electronics, going way beyond the PC.

One area the panel avoided was VoIP and wifi, which given their mention of Google's phone plans, and the momentum locally around Clearwire and nationally around free wifi, it was a little surprising not to see the topic emerging as a more mentionable factor in the panel's 2010 vision.

But no surprise, folks in Washington Technology are pulling for Microsoft to come through on Windows Mobile and Amazon Fresh to succeed where Home Grocer before had failed. A prediction that Amazon will acquire Hulu, was based on a belief that paid content is inevitable.

The common thread through this evening's postulations and hypotheses is the consumer. In past incarnations of these dinners, IT managers ruled. Today it is about the market for end users. Irrational as these business predictions may seem to you, the fact is the thing that matters most is the consumer.

Kudos to John Cook for corraling and unleashing the panelists using the right balance often lacking in moderators.


First Citizen Journalists, and Now Citizen Designers

The power of social media to enable news to spread quickly is something we have understood for a while now. Breaking news headlines that race across Twitter and Facebook and status screens on your phone today are instrumental in saving lives, avoiding disasters and catalyzing change.

Should that same power be applied to improving the quality and agenda of product designers? For years, I have worked with designers who have tried to keep a mystique about what they do, separating themselves from the common Dilbert-cube masses through their discerning eye and high brow approach to the process of design evoution.  But with the emergence of design thinking as a viable business approach to creating sustainable innovation and differentiation for companies, there is a burning need for empathy for design processes among the cube crowd. courtesy of

In a non-corporate world, consumers also are fed up with low quality products that don't work as merchandised. They've taken to their social media soapboxes to catalog their woes, their bitterness and their disappointment with design for design's sake. Without formal design training they can tell you where you've missed their expectations, and show you how they have to work around the flaws designed into their product to produce a better outcome for themselves. More importantly they advise their circle of friends how to solve their problems with technology, too.

In his new book, ""Glimmer: How Design Can Transform Your Life and Maybe Even the World", Warren Berger describes this phenomenon of "citizen designers". He asserts that the power of the individual consumer to influence product design through accessible technologies and tools has dramatically increased in just a few years. This direct connection to the products which consumers love and hate creates new and diverse interactions for manufacturers, which can and should inform design.

Read more about the book in an interview with the author on, or check out the book in my Favorite Reads section on the sidebar.



What is Open?

It has been a day to listen to industry leaders talk about the topics around breaking down the walls erected by the "soviet ministries", AKA the wireless carriers. Great panel at the Open Mobile Summit, moderated by Walt Mossberg. Guests were AT&T CTO, John Donovan, Palm SVP Michael Abbott, Google Internet Evangelist Vint Cerf, Adobe CTO Kevin Lynch. Conversation kicked off with a question about where in the value chain or technology stack manufacturers or developers or networks need to open. Does open require access to every component of a product's architecture? Is fragmentation simply a verticalized solution of a horizontal technology?

Also, some discussion centered around the semantic web, creating an open Internet data model, and the individual consumer's control of their own personal data history.

IMS is seen as a driver of a converged data model and is expected to require policies around the handling of consumer data to ensure security and privacy.

VoIP is a a hot topic when the industry talks about access, which is a consequence of open systems. It is still obvious that there is no shared perspective in this group.

Another interesting topic was the challenge for a user to see how their data moves around the open web and in and out of mobile devices with them. In a world of federated statuses and shared address books, consumers do get benefits from open (APIs and shared logins), but what happens to their personal data along the the way?

Wasn't Open ID supposed to provide this? As Vint Cerf reminded folks "Innovation is useless unless adopted," which Open ID has not been. So what credentials will emerge to help consumers protect themselves and their personal identity in the wild west of open mobile?


Drinking Too Much Kool Aid

I am delighted to be in the San Diego area this week attending the Rutberg Wireless Influencers conference. Not only is the weather amazing, it has been a great way to feel the pulse of the wireless industry during a very interesting time in the consumer adoption curve for broadband data on mobile handsets. As the industry continues to predict the trends and possible winning technologies in the areas of location based services, mobile payments, mobile advertising and paid content, consumers are assumed to be ready and interested in each and every innovation that technology enables. 

Business models forecast unbounded adoption of smartphones within the next two years. Venture capitalists vote with their dollars and business development leaders consider that proof positive that they were correct about the next new thing simply because they've been funded. But where's the consumer in this discussion? The industry leaders must remember that while they may wish to influence consumer behavior, they can not prescribe it; consumers look for value and they need to simply understand the benefit they gain from changing to their existing behaviors or engaging in a new one.

Because over the years I have attended many conferences like this one in a variety of exotic locales and resorts without my husband and have been unable to convince him they weren't all boondoggles, this time I agreed to bring him along. He is not a technologist. He is a former COO who recently retired after the sale of his motion picture equipment rental business and lives comfortably amongst the laggards on the opposite end of the technology adoption curve than me. He reads every instruction manual, and doesn't know the difference between an email and a SMS message on his phone. "Aren't they all messages?" he'll lament. He's the guy that says "no", whenever his PC asks "Are you sure?" after he performs a deletion or submits a change. He's never sure.

Seeing the industry through his eyes, as he mingles at the receptions and social activities that supplement the conference experience, has been incredibly helpful. I know him to be a bright and capable leader, who has started business and worked in large companies. And yet he still doesn't purchase apps or pay for content or buy ringtones on his phone. His mobile device is not where he focuses his attention when he is bored. The perspective he offers me has been invaluable. Where I see possibilities, he has seen broken promises. Great intentions are not enough for him. He needs great execution. He needs an experience he can love. Which always reminds do I.