Starbucks Gets It

In the last post I reference Google’s tool for soliciting ideas from users. I pointed out several things that I think need to be addressed in order to make the tool useful. But rather then complain about the concept I want to point out someone doing it the right way. The site I’m referring to is My Starbucks Idea. The concept is pretty much the same as what Google is trying to accomplish. One thing to note, this is not a magical Starbucks concoction that would be impossible to replicate. They are using Salesforce.com’s Platform As A Service (PaaS) product called Ideas. Wasn’t that the Easter egg dye we used as kids? I digress.

Once you have an account you get one vote per idea if you choose to vote. It can be positive or negative. This is actually a recent addition and one this community begged for early on. Where Starbucks excels is in the way users navigate through the ideas. This site has been up much longer than Googles so there are over 490 pages of ideas. Clearly this isn’t practical for normal users to mess with. The solution was to provide several navigation options.

Search
This is essential since many people coming in may expect that their idea has already been submitted. The more votes an idea gets the more likely the company will notice it and try to address it. This makes working through the system much faster for people that want to be quick.

Categories
The ability to quickly navigate to a Category is displayed in two ways. One is a drop down selection and the other is in the left hand navigation. Redundancy is nice as it gives users two ways of getting to the same spot with fundamentally different methods. I could go on about this one, but I’ll save that for another day.

Quick Links
The links under the main navigation is an additional method of getting to some highly visited pages. The options are: Popular Ideas, Recent Ideas, Top All-Time and Comments.

User Comments
The key here is allowing for customer discussion. This isn’t a suggestion box with blind voting, but rather a lively discussion area. Obviously Starbucks is not basing their decision to do something based purely on the customer feedback. However, the feedback provides excellent insight into what customers are looking for and expecting. Especially the loyal wants that want to keep giving their money to Starbucks.

Communication is 2Way
The central component here is that Starbucks is engaged with their customers. This isn’t just a community sounding board that employees are monitoring. They actually participate. They will comment back to customers in discussions. Users feel like they have a voice and are being heard. Not just commiserating with fellow coffee drinkers.

Google can get there, but if you are looking for a solution for your company I would argue that the Salesforce.com solution is great. Just make sure you are prepared to commit resources to engaging the community.

Google wants your ideas…for free!

I have tried to come to grips with this concept for several days now. So rather than just keep wrestling with it any longer I need to just get it out of my system. Last month Google announced the plan to solicit users for ideas on new products. On the surface this seems harmless, engaging and even fun. But after applying further thought to this and reading through the feedback on this post, I’m wavering. Here’s why.

Nothing comes free
This is brought up in several comments. Anyone with an idea worth anything isn’t going to just hand it over to Google or anyone else, right? I contend the answer is that they will. Passionate users will gladly free-up ideas if they think they are part of the process or team. Also, many people realize that they are not going to have a chance of seeing their vision come to fruition for a number of reasons, they are not experienced, do not work in the industry, do not have resources to start, etc. Therefore, they sacrifice profit, for the potential bragging rights.

Flawed System
Another comment to the post talks about the system and how it is flawed. If you rank ideas by popularity then the more popular ideas will only continue to grow. Additionally the task of wading through the garbage becomes more tedious. At the time of this post the stats are: 6,481 users – 2,193 ideas – 125,156 votes. Now this would indicate that every third person submits an idea. On average every person is dropping 20 votes.That means you are not going to get much action past the first few results pages. New ideas will struggle to see light if they get buried.

Bad Ideas
Many of these “ideas” are not really ideas. So you end up with things that do not necessarily fall under the Google Product influence. Since the current suggestions are for mobile you see many users suggest things that might be useful or make sense but if the hardware or carrier is unable or unwilling to move then you set an expectation that the idea might have merit based on the popularity and number of votes. When the idea does not come to be who gets the blame. I contend Google will get the blame because they are the ones soliciting ideas.

Manage the Ideas
This might seem like a sounding board for some people to post user issues, bugs, and other issues. If you do not manage these “ideas” by directing the user to the appropriate documentation and removing the idea it is just adding more noise for people to sort through. There are plenty of examples of people announcing their approval of a product or service without any real useful data. This might be good for the development team, but provides little value in moving the products forward.

I like the concept that Google is using to reachout to dedicated users to get feedback, but they are really going to need to work on the tool in order to make it useful for true product development. Imagine trying to wade through this mess. What could be a great opportunity turned into an administrative headache.

Is “Innovation” dead?

There is an interesting article in Business Week written by Bruce Nussbaum that is a great conversation starter. He asserts that the use of the term “Innovation” has essentially killed any value the word once held. He uses the term in a broad sense, not just in terms of a web product. His suggestion for replacing the term is “Transformation”. The focus would be on monetizing interactions in a post-consumer world.

I tend to agree with Bruce that the term is overused and implies that there can be a hefty amount of baggage that goes with the term. But I do not like the term “Transformation” this has a negative connotation in my mind and I would be resistant to this term. This sounds like a nice way of downsizing. Kind of like “redundancy” it sounds practical and impersonal.

Many of the comments are great and well thought out too. Siamak Salimpour points out that the “innovator” is not dead and must continue to do their job. Several others point that there changing the name isn’t going to do any good and you just have to educate everyone.

I like change as much as the next guy, but we have spent far to long trying to get the concept of innovation drilled into the marketers heads to switch things up on them.

Happy New Year

Ah, the break was great and I really enjoyed the downtime to recharge the mental batteries. This is going to be an interesting year. New President, the economy, gas prices down(for the moment), and more.

I am looking forward to a challenging but rewarding 2009. There is much to look forward to this year some good and some bad, but in the end we will grow and learn.