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Friday, January 28, 2011

The Mobile Cashier: Mobile Payments Enhancing Service Levels

The mobile world is exploding like crazy and the possibilities seem endless at this point.  Our phones are much much more than we ever anticipated, and often times it seems we are seeing the reality of those Jetson or "Back To The Future" things.  I still keep my eye out for the car that will fold up into a briefcase.  And I definitely want the skateboard that flies.

Anyway, as consumers, paying for things in all honesty has always been a hassle.  Standing in lines that move slowly and getting fidgety while you watch the person at the register fumbling through what appears to be their entire life in a bag to find their credit card or coupon.  Having to write checks to the repair man who then has to go back and process the check.  The world of wireless, mobile devices, and systems is beginning to break down these barriers creating new opportunities and improving service levels.  There are some really great things happening on mobile pay services both in stores and mobile businesses.

Visit the Starbucks Website
Starbucks has been extemely successful and always plagued with lines while you stand listening to the order of the "double skinny something something that I can't pronounce".  With an app for iPhones and tied in with their customers' Starbucks Card, customers are able to order and pay right on their phone which generates a barcode  the customer scans at a scanner at the counter.  Not only does this make things more convenient for the customer, wide adoption makes perfect business sense since it automates the cashiering position and reduces rings freeing that time up for fulfilling orders.

Visit the Square, Inc. Website
Contractors and on-location business representative have always had challenges in regards to billing and often had to experience lag times in actually getting paid.  Today's smartphones are providing a solution . . . take payments on smartphones.  Square, Inc. is becoming an emerging leader on this front.  With an account and iPhone, iPad, or Android phone; Square, Inc. provides the user with a free credit reader that plugs into the headphone jack.  The reader works in conjunction with the free app and produces sales tracking, an emailed receipt to the customer, and a lot more.  The system uses widely trusted VeriSign for account security.  Again, improving service and business efficiencies while not adding costs for new equipment (unless your field personnel don't already use iPhones or Android Phones).

In the retail world, in-store mobile ringing processes are emerging and being experimented across many sectors.  Stores have experimented using existing scanning equipment to scan orders, provide a card or slip to the customer, and the customer simply presents the slip/card to the cashier and pays.  Some stores are even experimenting with custom in-house apps for mobile devices (i.e. iPod Touches connected to credit card readers) to ring certain purchases which then connects and processes the information through internal networks.  All of which speeds the processes of finalizing the customer's purchase decisions improving the level of service and freeing up resources to improve the customer experience throughout the store.  It will definitely be interesting to see the register lines of the future.

If you are already using mobile payment systems, what have your experiences been?  Has it truly improved service levels and improved your efficiencies?  Were their barriers to startup and training?  What has been the customer reaction in terms of acceptance or objections?

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Florida Governor Rick Scott Holds Twitter Townhall

Florida Governor Rick Scott is holding a twitter Town Hall tonight at 7PM, taking questions from the citizens.

If you are on twitter, you can follow the questions and answers under hashtag #flgov or for your convenience, we're broadcasting the Town Hall below:

[ Townhall is no longer live as of 7:40PM. Hashtag results shown ]

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Future of Book Stores: It's Still About The Books

"...great books are weighed and measured by their style and matter and not by the trimmings and shadings of their grammer." - Mark Twain, a Biography

Last weekend I had the great opportunity to speak to the Ancient City Writers (a chapter of the Florida Writers Association) in regards to eBooks  and the opportunities this format opens up for them.  There are a great deal of barriers that ebooks breaks down for readers, publishers, and authors alike.  Just a few are:
  1. Readers have access to more titles than ever before and can get them on demand.
  2. The customizable reading experience such as changing text size gives visually challenged readers access to the same titles at the same price.
  3. Publishers are able to reach new readers and the opportunities are wide open to enhance books with things like embedded video and animation in childrens books
  4. Authors can now enjoy new publishing options with lower cost and no distribution barriers thorugh popular new services like Barnes and Noble's Pubit!

As eBooks grow in popularity and become more of a focus as a format, I constantly get the question concerning the future of book stores themselves.  The bottom-line is that book stores will continue to be around for a long time to come.  There are some things to keep in mind when it comes to ebooks that is often getting missed by consumers and industry speculators.
  1. eBooks are simply another format of the book itself.  Just as paperbacks or audio versions are another format.  Both of which when they came out were thought to be the future demise of the industry.  Sound familiar?
  2. eBooks currently comprise less than 10% of the billions spent on books today.  Studies show that at current growth rates, ebooks will most likely meet the demand for print books within the next 5 years.  Amazon's recent announcement that Kindle Books out sold print books with them was pretty much expected.  If you are a mail-order business that offers digital downloads, of course the digital download would exceed your hard-copy mail order business. 
  3. Book stores have been evolving over the last 25 years a great deal (i.e. cafe's, expanded product lines such as gift and accessories, and now digital products such as ereaders).  Companies that embrace change and continue to evolve, will do fine in the years to come.  
In all honesty, it is actually a very exciting time within the industry as ebook popularity to grows.  There are a ton of barriers for readers, book stores, and authors alike when it comes to print books.  eBooks offer great solutions to overcome many of those barriers for all three as mentioned above.
    Book stores are seeing a great deal of change today that is even more exciting.  The print-on-demand publishing model has become more and more popular over the last several years.  This option for authors offers a lower cost option to get their book published but does not guarantee the book would find it's way on to store shelves.  Often times, the book is order only reducing the possibility of sales.  Book Espresso Machines are beginning to pop up in chains and indie book stores throughout the country.  These machines bring the term "print on demand" to a literal sense.  When the customer requests the book, it is printed and bound within minutes for them to purchase.   Again, a much lower cost distribution system for the industry with great benefits for the consumer.

    It's going to be very interesting to see what comes from the book selling and publishing worlds in the next several years.  Just click here to check out some really cool publishing examples for children's digital books.

    Sunday, January 16, 2011

    Ocala, Daytona Beach... is Palm Coast next for Groupon?

    Launched in November 2008, Groupon features a daily deal on the best stuff to do, see, eat, and buy in more than 300+ markets.  This highly successful "Deals Website/Portal" recently announced the addition of Deals in Ocala, FL this week:

    Groupon is an easy way to get huge discounts while discovering fun activities in your city. Groupon's daily deals consist of restaurants, spas, massages, theaters, hotels, and a whole lot more, in hundreds of cities across the country.

    Groupon is also about to launch in Daytona Beach, and the website's Daytona Beach page is already live:

    Groupon's local representative in Volusia County, Phil Rapisardo has an active twitter account under @GrouponPhil, and he's talking about possibilities and launch there:

    The agressive expansion and selection of Ocala and Daytona Beach brings up the question: "Is Groupon launching in Palm Coast, FL soon?" -- Indeed, population, demographics, and consumer-purchasing-power-wise Palm Coast, Florida may be a natural next step for Groupon's expansion in Central Florida.  

    In December 2010, Groupon has reportedly rejected Google’s massive $6 billion acquisition offer and intends to stay independent.   As a hugely successful coupon website, Groupon is said to be considering an initial public offering (IPO) in 2011.  The company is reportedly meeting with securities firms interested in handling the sale, according to various sources on the web.

    Groupon's business model, and the power of Collective Buying, at discounts generally greater than 50%, makes it attractive for consumers and businesses alike.  Here's Groupon's pitch to businesses, as to why they should feature their deals through them:

    Have you been following Groupon?  Do you subscribe to any deals in any of the cities?  Have you made a purchase?  Please share your opinion in the comments below...

    Wednesday, January 12, 2011

    Why Are You Doing It? : Purpose and Mission First

    A CEO from a company I worked for was once asked by a popular business author, "What is the core function of your business?"  The CEO posted his response in an internal letter and determined our core function as getting customers through registers quickly.  I reread the article three times to see if I missed something, because here was the head person of the company not understanding the heart of the company that pumps life through it.  He asked for input, and I responded.  Whether my response struck a nerve or not I don't know, but he later posted it in another internal communication to the company and it is now the theme of everything we do.  Actually it was already the theme, and I just brought it to his attention and it's highlighted more often now.  It is disheartening at times when I come across leaders of companies and business people who struggle to identify the purpose and mission of their company.  It is like getting on a plane to go to somewhere just to get there and once you land . . . that's it.  This is the approach and one of the main reasons companies fail today in my opinion.  They are lost in terms of why they actually exist.

    Purpose is about understanding why you exist as a business.  My wife started in Real Estate at the worst possible time . . . the decline of the market.  She struggled the first few years like many people.  We went through all the advice of others, read the books and articles, so forth and so on.  I always thought something was missing.  When we came to a "crossroads" a few years ago and had to make a hard decision whether we could afford for her to continue, I asked her one question "Why do you want to do this?"  She said in frustration, "Because I just want to help people buy and sell houses.  I love doing that."  That was the 'something' that was missing.  She found her purpose, and then we formulated and put into place the plan that 100% focused on her doing that.  And she's doing that everyday now.  There are a few common pitfalls I find when people seek to identify their purpose and attempt to answer the question "Why are you doing this?":
    1.  To "make money" is not a purpose.  Money is a result of your efforts.  It's a resource to continue your operations.  It's NOT a purpose, because it's too vague and quite frankly is about greed and selfishness when business is about serving unselfishly.  Money as a purpose will never offer you a clear path to success or achieving your goals.You'll start down "the path" and will find your yourself constantly off-track.
    2. Don't be vague, but be short and to the point.  Your purpose is reason you exist and should be the theme which seeps into every aspect of your business day in and day out.  For example, "being the best in my industry" is not a purpose.  It's vague and has no heart to it.  And, yes, heart has a place in the business world.  "To help people buy and sell houses", "putting the book in the customer's hand", "providing office solutions for local businesses", etc. are all examples of laser-focused purposes.
    3. Be disciplined as you grow to never forget your purpose.  As businesses grow and get busier with a great deal of new things and factors "pulling" at it everyday, it's very easy to lose sight of why you are doing what you are doing.  Post it up on the wall right where you'll see it everyday if you have to.
    Now that you know why you exist and are doing what you do, now you can formulate your mission.  Mission as it regards to business is defined as "A brief description of an organization's purpose with reference to its customers, products or services, markets, philosophy, and technology."  This is where you truly define what your are going to do and hone in on some specifics.  Your mission should live and breathe in everything you do and every decision you make.  It should be alive throughout your organization and communicated to your customers.  From your mission you can then truly layout your specific goals which will keep you on path to fulfilling your mission. 

    Over the last few years I have heard time and time again the woes of business people and the impact of the "economy" on their business.  They are pointing fingers at everything and everyone to identify why they are struggling.  Then when I look further at what they are doing or even ask them, they have no idea why they are in the business they are in.  To use the cliche', if I had a dime for every time I heard "to make money" I would be a very rich man.  Obviously, "the economy" will impact that and my response is then go do something else.  The economy in my opinion can not be an excuse if you have never truly identified your purpose and defined your mission.  "The economy" is beyond your control and will effect each business and industry differently.  But if you are not controlling what you can such as understanding your purpose and defining your mission, I do not agree that it can be used as an excuse.  Real estate has its challenges and the economy has had it's obvious impacts on the industry.  We use that information to make business decisions.  There are down times and "the economy" pops up in conversation from time to time at which time I squelch the conversation and always go back to the purpose and mission.  That's when it becomes a conversation of what to tweak or change.  It becomes about what we can do and not about what we can't.

    I guarantee (and I never say that lightly) that if you truly identify your purpose and define your mission this beginning of the new year you will begin to see positive things happen in your business and life.  If you truly live and breathe those every day in every thing you do and every decision you make, you will see amazing things happen around you.  You will also find yourself rarely ever saying "the economy" or any other excuse for not succeeding.  If you don't succeed you will truly become aware of the fact that when you point your finger at others . . . there are three pointing back at you.  Success is never a guarantee, but if all you are doing is making excuses about things that are not within your control and not optimizing the the things you can control . . . there is no excuse for the lack of success but you.  Have a great 2011.

    Sunday, January 9, 2011

    Palm Coast Man Predicts the Iranian Plane Crash

    Bob Pickering is not a stranger to many Palm Coast and Flagler County residents.  He is an Emergency Management Technician working for the County Administration.  He is also a fun loving person and a train enthusiast.

    In his facebook post earlier today, he posted:
    " Last night I dreamed of a plane crash somewhere a big somewhere there will be one... somewhere. ...yes sometimes I hate this weird ability I have... but I have it."
    Here is his original facebook post from earlier today:

    Sure enough, one to two hours after his post BBC and Reuters started publishing the news about the passenger plane crash in Iran where 70 of the 100 passengers are believed to be killed.  The flight was by IranAir --flying from the capital Tehran, and it crashed near the north-western city of Orumiyeh, near the Turkish Border, an area in the West Azerbaijan province -- which was its final destination.  Here's more from BBC on the Breaking News.

    Wednesday, January 5, 2011

    Top 5 Marketing Mistakes NOT To Make in 2011

    Most of my marketing and advertising experience focuses around Real Estate, but as I speak with authors and other managers here and there I see some common "denominators" when it comes to mistakes in marketing and advertising that put up barriers to success.

    Most of the time I find people looking for this generic "Step-by-step" approach of "one size fits all" --especially when it comes to the Internet.  The truth is that "one size doesn't fit all" and that type of mindset should be avoided.  Let's take a look at the top 5 mistakes most make when it comes to marketing and advertising:

    1. "Marketing and Advertising are one and the same.
      Marketing is best defined as "telling the story of the product".  Advertising therefore is the mechanism in which that story is delivered to the consumer.  How one "tells the story" within the advertising is made up of a combination of things such as images, descriptions, features, benefits of those features, data, etc.  When you approach the two separately, you are able to develop a more comprehensive and effective plan.  When you simply lump the two together a lot often gets missed.  For example when my wife lists a property and we set out to get it sold for the owner; the marketing is about telling the story of that house through a package of photos, property information, description of the features and benefits, and conveying a sense of living there. 

      All of which is delivered through various advertising mechanisms and channels to potential buyers.  Office Divvy is a great example of a local company that does an excellent job telling the story of the unique service products the company offers through multiple advertising mechanisms and channels. 

    2. "Everyone is my target customer. There is often this notion that products apply to everyone.  I hear this a lot with authors of books.  Not every reader is the same, and every book written will not appeal to every reader.  Maybe everyone should read the book, but the reality is that everyone will not.  The same goes for other products and services.  If you are not sure exactly who your target market is, find a starting point from similar products or services.  As you venture out to deliver your message to them through advertising you may find your target market being something other than you initially expected.  At which time, you can tweak your strategies.  Books are a great example here.  "Harry Potter" was written for young readers.  The "Twilight" series was written for teens.  Both found a very strong adult reading audience as well although that wasn't what was originally anticipated.  

    3. "I Think People Will..." Strategies. 
      My wife and I have a little saying we go by when it comes to marketing and advertising, "It's about I know.  NOT what I think."  When you begin applying the "I think" attitude, you are basically applying only what you personally respond to and expect.  You are not everyone, and you are not every one of your customers.  To avoid this you have to look at the data and "listen" to what customers are telling you through the data to effectively deliver your message.  For example, there is this blanket notion sometimes that all buyers are online in Real Estate. 

      Contrary to this assumption are year-after-year surveys that show that about 85% to 90% shop online which leaves about 10% to 15% that are not shopping online.  Therefore, our advertising strategies must accommodate both online and offline methods to capture the widest possible buyer audience.  We do not stop placing signs on lawns for instance, but we do seek ways to enhance those signs based upon consumer behaviors such as adding smartphone scannable QR codes.  Did we decide to do this simply because we "thought people would use that"?  No.  We made the decision based upon the fact that consumers in many industries are utilizing QR codes provided on products to get more information. 

    4. "Attention always gains you business." 
      Gaining attention alone is never a guarantee that you will gain business.  In fact, some attention can create undesired results and actually lose business.  I've come across blogs by professionals that are plastered with the industry they are in and the topics are filled with negative political perspectives that have little or nothing to do with their industry.  Sure they may have created attention, but have not attracted business because the message has no relevancy to the actual consumer.  In fact, they are probably alienating more business than they realize.  The notion of "Brand, You" comes to mind here as well and not one I find is executed very well often times.  When it comes to the individual, I focus more on building reputation based upon the expectations of consumers.   I find that when individuals start focusing on this "branding" of themselves they tend to get overly creative and the message of benefit to the consumer is never effective.  Brand focus in my opinion is more effective when it is built and centered around the message of relevant and beneficial products and services to the consumer.

      Although my wife (Kathleen West) is, the site and the services it provides are a brand in and of itself designed to provide visitors with the best possible local Real Estate shopping experience blending her in with the services the site provides. 

    5. "Advertising is an expense." 
      All businesses have necessary expenses to keep the business operating.  But not everything a business pays for is an expense.  Advertising is one of those things, and should be approached as an investment.  Like any investment an individual or business makes, you should expect a return.  For example, if I spend $100 on a print ad with a coupon discount and I receive a large response that increases my sales 20% over last year . . . the ad has paid for itself and provided a return.  Now if I spend $100 on that ad and never receive any response, my advertising is an expense and should be re-evaluated.  So you need to measure your business advertising and know which mechanisms are delivering a response from consumers which will allow you to maximize your investment and provide the most return.  The difficult thing here too is that not all advertising returns are so direct as the example above.  Some of those returns may be more indirect or realized over time.  For example, business cards are still relevant and handing them out is a beneficial means of advertising.  You may not immediately gain business from the recipient or the recipient may pass it on to another who ends up doing business with you.  Therefore, when it comes to business cards I look to get as many as possible at the lowest cost with the best appearance.  The investment is low and the return is therefore huge.  
    So if you are revisiting your marketing and advertising initiatives for the new year, take a moment to see if any of those items are you.  Now's the time to make a change and get off on the right foot for great possibilities in 2011.

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