Group Project Reflections

The main skill I gained from this course and from the group project is how to dig for insights, or at least, how to begin digging for them. One semester is definitely not long enough to really understand a persona deeply enough, especially considering obligations to other courses that take away from dedicating more time to this project. I really enjoyed the initial stages of coming together and brainstorming as a group what our perceptions of our persona Allison were based on the minimal facts were given on her. Then, actually conducting a focus group with this customer segment was a good experience as well. I’d moderated focus groups and been a participant in a couple before, so that part of gaining insights wasn’t all that new to me. What was new was when we used projective techniques to extract information that wasn’t directly given to us, but had to interpreted on a more psychological level. We used photo journals, asking several women in our target segment to send us five pictures of things that symbolized what got them through their day and what their dreams and aspirations were. We also asked them to send us a print screen of their Bookmarks bar and their online calendar or physical planner if they felt comfortable doing so. Being able to see how things were organized in their lives and to decipher what was actually relevant and personal to them without being too intrusive was a challenge, and these insights helped us to redefine what our initial thoughts were and to create a prototype that would actually be useful to them based on the insights we had gained through interview and projective methods.

Secondly, working on this project with my teammates helped me to better understand the importance of the Business Model Canvas to the success of a prototype. Usually I am much more oriented to an idea and the concepts rather than the details, so being able to figure out how to address different parts of the canvas proved to be an interesting challenge and a good learning experience for me. The Business Model Canvas consists of the key activities, value propositions, customer relationships, customer, revenue, channels, key resources, costs, and key partners. All of these things are elements we must consider when figuring out how to market a prototype to a certain customer segment. Some of them focus more on insights gained from research conducted on consumers (i.e. customer relationships, value propositions) while others are more business-oriented (i.e. costs, key resources), which made for a nice mix of both conceptual and detail organization. My team’s persona was a single, educated, working woman named Allison who was in her early 30’s, and we were given the task to market a prototype to this kind of persona with KVUE as our client. After learning about our customer through secondary and primary research, we were able to gain insights on certain value propositions, customer relationships, channels, key activities, and key partners that would be relevant to Allison. We were then able to create (to the best of our ability) a prototype based off of these findings that would be catered to Allison while being profitable for KVUE. The revenue, key resources, costs aspects of the Business Model Canvas are more independent of the persona, but equally important to the success of the prototype’s distribution.

While filming a video for presentation was a nice way to be creative with our presentation, it did feel like there was more strain being put on us despite the intention to give students more time. While filming does not take too long depending on how well-planned out the script is prior to shooting, editing a video can be a strenuous task. My team members and I felt that giving a formal presentation would’ve used our time more wisely and been more beneficial. Also, having the name of the client available to us from the beginning rather than later would’ve been more helpful as well. While I agree that not knowing who the client is until after the persona has been researched allows for better brainstorming without the restriction, in the real world, you will know who your client is before you even begin to research the persona. My teammates and I were confused about what direction to head in with our project until near the end when the client was revealed, so having that anchor would have been more beneficial to the project.

Despite how hard it is to coordinate schedules among other downsides of group projects, I almost always feel that team projects help me learn material better because it is a collaborative effort. Being able to simulate a real-world problem made the material more relevant and tangible to me. Definitely at times I would need clarification on certain elements of the project, most notably the Business Model Canvas, and being able to discuss these aspects and bounce ideas off of each other was helpful in expanding my understanding of the material. Though we did struggle with the revenue aspect of the Business Model Canvas (and that was quite frustrating), we were able to talk out the other parts of the canvas and it helped me to confirm that what I thought applied to something like cost structure or value propositions was what someone else also believed. This project certainly made me feel like I had something to take away from this class, and it’s unfortunate that the main resource we lacked to see it all the way through was time.

 

Real Simple

Real Simple is a magazine that I’ve recently become an avid fan of due to a focus group I helped to moderate. One of the girls in the group continuously raved about how this magazine made everything so nice and simple for her, so I had to check it out and was not disappointed. The magazine addresses all the aspects of a woman’s life, from smart fashion and shopping to interior design, health and beauty. I decided to check out how the magazine was doing for using a couple of social media research tools through Zeitgeist, among them Google Insights for Search (beta) and Google trends. On Google trends, a search for the company’s website showed the following graphical data:

The site has seen a relatively flat trend in the past two and a half years with a gradual growth and currently a downward slope, which is curious. I would’ve thought considering the current state of the economy that users would be more inclined to go on the site and find ways to save their hard-earned dollars. The United States comes far ahead of the rest of the regions that access the site, with nearby neighbor Canada coming in second and the United Kingdom following third. A hypothesis I have on why the Real Simple website has witnessed a decline in daily unique visitors is that there is a lack of social interaction on the site. There are no comment sections on any of the articles, probably to keep in line with the “real simple” philosophy. Lots of comments on articles would probably add clutter to the site. However, because of that, there is less traffic being driven to the site for users to interact with each other. Based on the Groundswell chapter’s social technographics ladder, this lack of social interaction automatically eliminates the creators and critics from participating on the site. However, while these two categories of online users cannot participate on the website, they can still drive traffic to Real Simple. For example, creators will probably have their own blogs where they can make references to Real Simple if the entry is related to something they are writing about. Critics could indirectly interact with Real Simple by commenting on these creators’ blogs. They may be persuaded to visit the Real Simple site if the blogger they follow has something interesting to say about the site as well.

The top search terms for those who visited the site include “real simple,” “martha stewart,” and “williams sonoma” which gives us an insight into the kinds of things visitors are interested in. Martha Stewart and Williams-Sonoma certainly carry kitchen-y, domestic connotations, and Williams-Sonoma most definitely has an upper-class association since its cooking ware is of high quality and price.  As I am new to Real Simple, I didn’t expect to see anything else I was interested in show up in the top ten search terms. However, top search term #9,  pinterest, was the most relevant to me. I go on pinterest pretty much every day, and it does make sense that those who are interested in the simple layouts, nice design, and organization that pinterest offers would also be interested in Real Simple. This connects those who go on Real Simple and pinterest to the collectors cateogory on the social technographics ladder.

It’s also interesting though that a lot of the top ten terms are attributed to high-quality, high-price brands such as Banana Republic, Anthropologie, and Missoni. Initially I assumed that those who used Real Simple would be concerned with design and low pricing (since many of its articles are at cost-effective ways to dress, design, etc.), but I realized I may be wrong about that initial assumption now. This data reinforces the idea that people who check out Real Simple are looking for simple, clean concepts, but not necessarily simple, low-price concepts. Also, a quick look through the sites that Real Simple recommends buying interior design items from also confirms that simple does not equate to low-price like I had initially assumed.

Lastly, in terms of the reasons for visiting this site, I would say that the creative impulse mentioned in the Groundswell chapters would be the definitive one. Although the Real Simple site does not allow for collaboration and social interaction on its site, it does have a Facebook fan page home to approximately 150,000 fans who regularly check the page for updates and can make comments on articles and even consumer-generated photos and links posted to Real Simple through that social medium. People love to see what everyone else has come up with and to comment on designs and ideas that they think are brilliant, after all. This also helps fans and Real Simple interact with each other directly. Now that I think about it, perhaps the reason why the frequency of daily unique visitors to the site is so declining is because the majority of these visitors would rather interact with one another on SNSes like Facebook. Once in a while, when an article is posted, they may click on it and go to the site that way, but otherwise, most of the impressions for Real Simple will be on its Facebook fan page.

Real Simple also maintains an active Twitter page with an even higher following fans (approximately 300,000), and the magazine company makes it a point to post articles from their website and to interact with its fans. However, the interaction on there is minimal, keeping consistent with its name, which brings up a point I want to make, and that is that the brand personality should match with the brand behavior. I feel like Real Simple has done a splendid job of keeping consistency across Facebook, Twitter, and its own website when it comes to keeping information nice and simple for its audience to consume.

Austin 360

Today, I shall be exploring a Business Model Canvas for Austin360.com. I’d never heard of Austin 360 until this assignment was given out, to be honest, so I figured I should pick that local media provider and research a little about it.

Customer Segment

Upon scouring the home page of the website, I was immediately overloaded with a bunch of information. Where to even begin? I guess the header would be a good starting point: “Austin TX entertainment, events, food, movies, music.” A little bit of everything, essentially. There are even blogs at the bottom of the home page if you’re looking for more content to digest. The tagline for the site, “what austin does” pretty much summarizes who the mass market is (as if the name Austin 360 wasn’t obvious enough): Austinites. Considering it’s Austin 360 and not Austin 45, it appears as if the niche market for this provider is just about everyone with an interest in being active with the community. There are tabs at the very top of the homepage that link to Hookem.com, a site that is most likely geared toward the UT community, or The Statesman. Considering that Austin is a highly community-oriented city, young/college-life centered, fit and healthy, perhaps a niche market would be adults ages 25-34 who have at least a bachelor’s degree or higher and are very active and in-the-know with their community, based on the demographic statistics pulled from the City of Austin. Also just by viewing the banner ads on the home page – for example, the Hanes one – I can tell that my guess is probably accurate based on the young models used in the advertisement. Considering that this age group is prone to getting most of their information via social networking sites or just online in general, having grown up with that lifestyle, it makes sense for Austin360.com to be available and accessible to them through this online vehicle.

Value Proposition

Austin 360 definitely has a little bit of everything to offer to this niche market of 25-34 year old college grads, all in one convenientlocation. At the very top is the weather forecast along with traffic news, perhaps to make it easy for readers to decide what to wear and what roads to take as they’re looking through the rest of the site for  all the many tabs, nicely organized for readers to get to what they want right away. The latest events, the newest movies, the hippest restaurants, etc. are easily and instantly searchable through the very top of the page, reflecting the active lifestyle of this customer segment. Right beneath that is the news with thumbnails for each main article, making it convenient for readers to give a cursory glance to it and decide quickly if the piece interests them or not. I find it interesting that blogs are at the very bottom of the home page, indicating that these people lead busy lives and probably don’t have time to look through blogs in the first place. So at the bottom it goes.

Customer Relationship

Relationships between Austin 360 and its customers is maintained mostly if not completely online by the looks of things. Consumers can subscribe to customized e-newsletters to get their daily, weekly, or even monthly digest. Austin 360 also maintains an active Twitter feed, aligning again with their busy consumers. It constantly updates with news of what is going on around Austin, and it’s obvious that it’s not just rambling to no one with a hefty 25,000 followers, approximately. Based on these facts, Austin 360 is the go-to guru for people to go to in order to quickly and thoroughly get an assessment of what is going on around the Live Music Capital of the World.

Channel

The most efficient way to reach this customer segment is through the internet because 1) these people are on the go, 2) they probably own smart phones and have access to mobile data plans. As I said earlier, Austin 360 also maintains an active Twitter feed, so consumers could easily subscribe to these updates on their phones as well. There’s no need for a tangible version of this information, and that probably saves Austin 360 printing costs.

Revenues

As with many online sites that provide free content to its subscribers and the general public, Austin 360 also generates its main source of revenue through advertising. Under its Privacy Policy section, the site states that it relies quite heavily on advertisers to sponsor it. Of course, these advertisers are able to collect data on whoever goes through the site and/or clicks on their ads, but most of the advertisements are actually related to the site itself, and there is really only one area on the top right where a banner advertisement unrelated to the site is seen. It’s quite nice that despite relying on advertisements for income, Austin 360 still maintains a nice, clean layout, which will certainly contribute to a healthy customer relationship.

Growing Trends: Mobile and Casual Gaming

I grew up with the occasional video game making its way into my life. Well, that’s an understatement in several ways. I started playing well-known games like Mario Bros., Frogger, and Spyro when I was in elementary school and moved onto role-playing games (RPGs) like the Final Fantasy series, Kingdom Hearts, and Xenosaga as I got older. A lot of how I met my closest friends (and even my boyfriend) had to do with a love for the same series. I never considered myself a hardcore gamer despite how much time I spent playing them. Compared to the StarCraft types who would hold LAN parties that lasted days with no sleep, I felt like an amateur. I categorized myself more as a casual gamer… until quite recently.

The exponential growth of simple gaming apps such as Diner Dash or Fruit Ninja on smart phones and iPads, or portable games on Nintendo DSes with Cooking Mama created a brand new niche market of what could really be called the casual gamer. And it’s not limited to just gaming consoles, either. Social networking sites, most obviously Facebook, have witnessed a major flood of free gaming apps for the casual gamer. Does Farmville ring any bells? How about Words With Friends, or the other slew of fun, easy-to-play games from companies like PlayFish and Zynga?

What’s even more interesting is that with the advent of casual gaming, scores of older, female gamers have made themselves known. Typically, when one thinks of gaming, the visual of a geeky, 15-25 year-old single male who likes to chomp on Doritos and use “leet speak” comes to mind. Not any longer, huh?

Based on this article, the biggest trends in casual gaming that have lead to its widespread success are being 1)  free to play (and especially in this current double recession, who doesn’t have free as their favorite number?), 2) multi-platform/mobile (play the same game from your Facebook to your smart phone to your MP3 player, even), and last but certainly not least, 3) social. These games are parallel with the social networking trend. Friends, family, and acquaintances alike can play with each other and have fun. Of course, one of the factors I feel this article has forgotten is the ease of use that comes with casual games. You can be a grandma or you can be a hardcore gamer; these games don’t require a lot of technical skill, and that’s definitely appealing to groups of all ages, backgrounds, and expertise with gaming. 1 in 3 American adults now plays some form of casual game, and of those, 80% in the 18-34 age range play them regularly. Astounding.

As I fall somewhere between a hardcore gamer and a casual gamer, I have opted to categorize myself as a “semi-formal gamer” (cleverly coined from my best friend). I have played Words With Friends recently (and have found that I’m just as terrible with it as I am with Scrabble), Poupee Boutique, Pet Society, and a range of other free game apps through Facebook. I never really thought too much about how easy it was just to start the game or even discontinue it until now. If I were to stop playing Xenosaga for a few months and come back to it, I’d have to relearn all the bells and whistles before I could fully get back into the game. Also, being an old-school gamer, I’m used to playing just from a single platform like the PlayStation (2), though the multi-platform capabilities are appealing to me as well. And of course, the social aspect of these casual games makes the experience very enjoyable and memorable (if not a bit time-consuming as well). What else is interesting to me is that I see people like my parents dabbling in these games (even if they’re not too savvy with how Facebook itself works) when I’d grown up hearing them tell me that games were for kids and that they weren’t enjoyable when they were an adult. That kind of mindset has obviously taken a bit of a turn for them with the rising trend of casual games.

Because this is a relatively new phenomenon, there are a lot of questions I have and a lot of answers I would want to discover about this topic, especially with how it relates to the consumer insights course I am currently taking. A few of them include:

  • What factors play a role in why casual games are so appealing to consumers beyond the ones that were listed in this blog? How about nostalgia? Games like Oregon Trail are now free-to-play on Facebook; how much of an effect does that have on somebody’s interest in a game? Does it have any at all?
  • What other platforms could appear in the future to make casual gaming even more accessible, engaging, and sociable?
  • Is it important to target specific groups for casual gaming? There are hardcore gamers, “semi-formal gamers,”  casual gamers, and/or those who would never think of touching a game controller, all with a variety (or lack) of gaming backgrounds. If not, how can/do gaming companies make casual games interesting for everyone? What’s the insight behind that?
  • Will factors such as ad sponsors for these free games be counter-productive and turn consumers off eventually? Will people be willing to pay for games to avoid ads?

There is definitely a lot to explore on this growing trend and the role it is taking in our everyday lives.

Customer Experience – The Melting Pot

The following is a description of a customer experience I had with my best friend at The Melting Pot restaurant in Austin, Texas in 2010:

“I have a Groupon for The Melting Pot that Juliann can’t use. You wanna check it out?”

My best friend Kim waved the offer in the air as I considered. The Melting Pot was one of the nicer, fine dining restaurants in downtown Austin where dinner and dessert consisted of fondue entrees. I wouldn’t have gone there normally since it was pretty pricey, but with a Groupon, how could I refuse? It sounded like a good deal to me. If I didn’t like it, at least I knew not to go there when I wouldn’t have a discount.

“Sure.” The following weekend, the two of us headed down to The Melting Pot for the very first time – me with my camera which I brought to all my outings because I like to catalog my memories – and we would leave with no less than a five-star impression of our experience there. The very first thing we noticed as we entered the restaurant was that everything looked really nice. It felt like a romantic place you would take your girl out to on your one-year anniversary, or something along those lines. But hey, going there with your best friend with a Groupon also worked out pretty well.

We were seated promptly, and soon afterward our charming waiter Bobby arrived on the scene. Well-groomed and dressed in a black dress shirt and slacks, he spoke to us as if he’d known us all his life, placing well-crafted menus before us and asking us if this was our first time at The Melting Pot. When we admitted to being neophytes, he gladly introduced us to his recommended choices while keeping the conversation casual and pleasant. What made the dinner even better was Bobby’s explanation of the vegetable bourguignonne base for our Seafood Trio, how long to stew vegetables and meat inside of the pot, and all these other little tips and tricks that only an experienced fondueist would be able to relay to novices like us.

As the night came to a close, I asked him if it’d be alright to record when he would pour Bacardi 151 rum into the chocolate in order to light up our Flaming Turtle dessert. He was all for it and even offered amusing commentary as he performed for the camera. When our checks for the night came in, we left thank-you messages on our receipts for Bobby; it was the first time I’d felt so inclined to write something more than a tip for a waiter. But hey, he’d made us laugh, feel good, and gave us more than just a well-served dinner in a fancy restaurant. He gave us a memorable dining experience reflective of the sophisticated casualness (or is it casual sophistication?) that The Melting Pot had to offer its customers.

The following Experiential Marketing Framework breaks down this dining experience into Sense, Feel, Think, Act, and Relate: 

SENSE: The Melting Pot’s environment stimulated the visual senses the most out of all five. You would think olfactory senses would play a bigger role when it comes to a restaurant, but my memory of the experience is recalled mostly by visuals. I remember the way our waiter was dressed, his pristine, shiny name tag which read “Bobby,” the color of the menus which matched the walls, and the simple, minimalistic design of the logo on the top center of the cover. I remember private rooms off to the side and the marbled tabletops. I remember the way the Bacardi 151 lit up the chocolate a brilliant blue as it was poured into the fondue dip. This could all be because I am used to taking photographs of everything, and so my mind has started to function in the same way.

FEEL: My entire experience at The Melting Pot was highly pleasant and enjoyable; even if I don’t recall how the food tasted clearly, I remember laughing, feeling comfortable, and really enjoying my dinner. Therefore, I associate a good time with friends with that particular restaurant now. I would recommend going there to other people just because of the great service.

THINK: Because we were new to this experience, Bobby helped us navigate the selections on the menu and dutifully answered all of our questions, explaining what bases were used, what healthier options were, and what recommendations he had for us. In the process, Kim and I learned a good amount about fondue and dipping and were able to make educated choices on our entrees as a result of that experience.

ACT: My experience at The Melting Pot affected the way I would dip my fondue, or rather, the way I saw fondue. Up until then, I’d associated fondue with things like parties, get-togethers, and other really casual sort of settings. Now that I’d been exposed to fondue dipping in a fine dining restaurant, I began to realize that fondue could be quite the sophisticated affair, especially with such an attentive waiter, well-prepared vegetables, meats, and desserts, and long fondue sticks that solidified the classiness of it all.

RELATE: Having such a charming and wonderful waiter allowed my best friend and I to treat him and be treated as wanted guests, and on a deeper level, as companions. This sort of experience falls back on and reinforced my previous association of fondue being a casual affair with friends.

Persona – World Discoverer College Undergrad

The following is a brief description of a persona named Tess Charette, who is a World Discoverer College Undergrad:

Ever heard of the quote, “The world is my oyster?” Well, that’s definitely true for Tess Charette. Oh, you haven’t met her? That is quite bizarre! Tess is a 21-year-old undergraduate student majoring in public relations at a top tier university in the United States. She came from a small country town with the determination to be a self-made woman; this big step into city life initially gave her culture shock, but ultimately, because of all the exciting and new experiences she was exposed to, her passion for travel and culture was ignited. Being young and educated grants one the perfect opportunity to really get out there in the world, and Tess is one to take advantage of all the opportunities the world has to offer. She wants to work for non-profit, join the Peace Corps maybe, intern abroad in London, and always, always travel during summer and winter breaks. Peru? Sweden? Brazil? “Yes, let’s go!” That’s her motto. It’s just too boring to stay in one place for too long when the world is waiting for her next love affair with it.

Entering her senior year as an undergraduate, Tess has acquired a hefty amount of traveling experience and is therefore a true woman of the world. Her way of dress has changed dramatically since her first day in college – she now dons long, bohemian skirts, has dyed her hair from blonde to brown, accessorizes with colorful bangles, and has multiple patches stitched on her backpack which proudly display all of the countries she has conquered on her quest for multiculturalism. This vivid way of expressing herself makes her very easy to spot on campus.

 She loves encouraging everyone she meets to travel, and is very eager to share her experiences and provide suggestions and advice on good places to visit (as well as what places to avoid!). No matter what, she has a certain charisma about her (even when tired out working multiple part-time jobs in order to pay for her travels) that makes her entirely approachable and likeable. She is usually open to discussing political, worldly matters in the classroom due to the knowledge she’s acquired traveling outside of it. Her friends are global, as she’s been to every continent except Africa and Asia by now (that means they are definitely on the list of go-to places, though), and she keeps in touch with them like the diligent young woman she is. Because of all of these factors, she is a go-to person, and her opinions and advice are heavily influential amongst her peers.

The jobs and internships she has taken on reflect her love for new places and new things; she has worked as a public relations intern for an art museum, as one for an advertising agency in London, and has also worked the odd shift here and there as a waitress at a pizza restaurant. Despite this variety in work lifestyle, all her coworkers and bosses have the same overall perception of Tess – she is a hard worker, she is animated, and she is a great asset to the businesses she employs herself in. Outside of travel, her interests also include serving as a philanthropy officer for a spirit squad and attending to her female pet bunny who she has named D’Artagna as a homage to the Three Musketeers.  

As she nears the end of her enlightening college experience, she has decided to serve in the Peace Corps for a couple of years in order to see the world a final time before she will settle down for a public relations career; however, this is all very tentative and susceptible to change, much like Tess herself. She is an experiencer, after all, and is not afraid of mixing it up a little.

The type of marketing to this kind of persona will probably be most effective when emphasizing new, stimulating experiences. Price is also especially important to personas like Tess because 1) she is a full-time student and 2) she likes to travel a lot. Budgeting is therefore a major concern for a world discoverer. Reaching out to a world discoverer will prove highly beneficial to marketers as well, as these kinds of personas typically have their own blogs and Twitter pages to record their experiences, have many followers, and are highly influential with their peers.