Are Laptop Stickers Unprofessional?

A few years ago, I started putting stickers on the backside of my laptop.

When I worked at Deltek’s GovWin, we were trying to find a way to get our members to talk to each other and network. GovWin is a networking and business tool that was originally conceived as a “dating network” to get large government contractors to partner with smaller contractors to do business. Yet, government contracting expos tend to be more about who you know and not really a place to brand yourself but a way to sell your company, its past performance and its capabilities. In some ways, it’s not unlike a healthcare fair at a local school. Dull but necessary.

The goal was to get more people to sign up for the free service and start networking at these expos. And a healthcare fair-like scenario with a lot of speeches or presentations wasn’t conducive for our goals. I snuck into a session and noticed that all the participants were on their laptops on big round tables. For the next expo, we created a simple sticker that identified the laptop’s owner as a GovWin member. If I could get a sticker on the back of a laptop for several 45-60 minute sessions, everyone on the table would notice that they weren’t a cool kid without that sticker. For current members, we’d simply verify their status on the network and give them a sticker. For those who weren’t, they’d signup in the booth and get a sticker. It was a way to tell people that they were ready to do business.

From all reports, we ran out of stickers.

To Stick or Not to Stick?

Not too long ago, I noticed more stickers on other laptops and I named the practice “laptags” as way to merge those who continue to rely on their laptops and their stickers as real-world social media-like hashtags.

There’s no best practices for how, where or how to professionally “laptag” your laptop but I’ve seen some great use of custom stickers informing people of the user’s Twitter handle, a Windows sticker on the back of a Mac (they were dual booting), a Slack logo and several tags used for cybersecurity. Laptagging might be viewed like NASCAR logos for the professional world. There will be those who love them and those who will hate them.

Yet, there are several people that I have spoken to who feel that, like the current critical view that LinkedIn is becoming too much like Facebook with more personal messages than professional ones. Most of the execs that I have met, often have sticker-less laptop (often their work rigs) and their personal devices are, for the most part, sticker-less as well.

I’ll admit that I have yet to come across an exec who said anything negative about the practice. But it is something to think about as a marketing person. When people align with a brand or product, a laptag can be a very effective marketing technique for the company’s brand as well as an amazing networking tool.

Currently my laptop has five stickers: one jokes about the overuse of hashtags, one promotes GamesForChange, one’s a funny gamer joke, one is a cool sticker for Reds (very nice ball bearings for my roller skates) and an Ethiopian flag (my daughter’s birth country). The flag one has stopped complete strangers to chat for a few minutes, scored me a free cookie once and improved my service at a local restaurant where I frequently used my laptop. Given that I worked in DC, where the highest population of Ethiopians reside outside of Ethiopia, it’s not a surprise.

The point is that I am going to experiment as I search for a new job. Can a few laptop stickers help get me land a new role? We’ll just have to see. For now, laptag if you want. Think of them like tattoos that you can remove without lasers.

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That Entrepreneurial Itch

Every entrepreneur I’ve spoken with has told me the same thing, “Your first company is based on that idea you just can’t shake.”

Yeah, I got one of those. A few years ago after my first layoff, I looked down at my iPhone and came up with an idea for a game that relied on an alternative input for character creation with a heavy social component. I sketched it out, named it, wrote notes for how the company would work, how it would make money and how to scale it.

We’ll call it Project A.

After spending a few months stewing on the idea, I was invited out to coffee with the father of one my son’s friends. He wanted to hear about my job hunt and we talked about where I might look. As with many conversations, I offer a great deal of ideas or alternative perspectives. He threw a few ideas at me to see what I thought. Turned out that he was a serial entrepreneur and moved into his next question, “What would you create if you had the money?”

So I gave him my elevator pitch on Project A. If I could pull together a team of programmers and others to work on it, he thought that he could get an investment group to help fund it as a beta project. He thought it had great potential to make a lot of money. He moved into a new range of questions: How much would I need to live, how long would it take to create, did I have connections that could do some of the algorithms that would be required, did I have a lawyer looking into getting a patent?

Yet, with a dwindling bank account, no job and a family, my priority turned to keeping a house, putting food on the table and keeping the lights on. Looking for the team would take too much time and finding the ones with the skills to create the technology would be difficult. Project A sits in a notebook.

Unlike most people, I had some experience. At a former job, I had pitched a completely different and unrelated product. We’ll call it Project L. When I pitched, I had the concept, awesome product name, built out how it would make money, how the marketing would work and where it would grow. It was my first pitch and I expected to fail miserably.

Halfway through that pitch, despite all my reservations, I got the green light. Research scientists started working on the early math. I was told to get ready to move out of my division as soon as Project L moved ahead. Then, one unexpected day, the CEO ousted all the development teams before the board ousted the CEO. The work stopped. Then a few months later, the company cut a lot of people and I was one of them. Project L was now trapped within the company forever (based on the advice of a law-minded friend who used to work for the company).

I’ve only pitched Project A to about 10 people and only one thought I was totally insane. What was once a simple idea for an iPhone game has become two related companies in my head. Hopefully my next pitch will be when I can finally give into that itch.

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The Death of the Smartphone

Recently my 12-year-old son asked, “Why do we call this a phone?”smartphone

He, looking down at his iPhone 5S, had a point. More often then not he’s not using it to call anyone. He plays games, texts, surfs the web and plays music. Not typical functions of a standard telephony device but a modern, very nimble communications device that merges together many functions in a small and powerful device.

Which got me to thinking, if our smartphones aren’t really phones any longer, what should we really call them? And from a marketing perspective, how would you reclassify billions of devices with a completely new term based on the functions we use “smartphones” for every day?

Oddly, as an old school tech guy, my first “smartphone”-like devices were Personal Digital Assistants, devices that replaced notepads, to do lists and some gaming functions. PDAs replaced paper.

Yet, the iPhone was the first successful mainstream volley into something different and a stroke of marketing genius. Combine the popular iPod music player with a multipurpose communication device tied to a massive distribution backbone and see what happens. It worked amazingly well. The smartphone replaced more than paper or PDAs, it replaced many different devices and tools.

We use our smartphones less and less for voice communications as VOIP services take over. So much so that even cell phone companies are having difficulty in keeping up with product demand for GBs per month and how to charge for text messages (which should be free).

Rebranding them isn’t easy. It needs to be short, Tweetable, SMS-able and simple. My suggestion would use a term we use every day and grow it. It needs to be all encompassing and roll up all the many things that we do on our devices. At the end of the day, we no longer just use our smartphones to talk, we use them to communicate in a variety of ways.

My suggestion is simple. We should call our smartphones a better,, more appropriate name. After a few weeks of marketing ideas and a list of long possibilities, my suggestion would be to rebrand a “smartphone” as a “Comm.”

A Comm is one less letter than phone and six less than smartphone (alas, tweetable). And given that most of the commercial websites that we focus on every day use .com, a variation wouldn’t be hard to market. Yet, Comms aren’t just for commerce, they would stand for Community, a way to use apps and networks to create communities of individuals that create new ways to interact and communicate. And it can be Common, a way to think less about walled-in networks and build smarter, more adaptable communities through a list of common APIs, platforms and applications.

Our smartphones really aren’t phones anymore, they’re Comms, devices that allow people to communicate in traditional, novel and new ways. And while paper, emails and text messages continue, Comms remove the analog behaviors of the past and finally embrace a fully digital today. Replaced by hard drives, cloud, interconnectivity and evolving ways to communicate.

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Forget Ultrathin, I Want a 48 Hour Laptop

ultrathinConsumer laptop technology is the fine art of balancing the needs of a market with the trends they perceive as desirable. Companies put a massive amount of money into researching those trends in the hopes of finding the Holy Grail feature that will get a consumer to buy their laptop.

I’m a consumer who prefers laptops with more CPU and GPU power along with the longest amount of battery life. Yet, while companies have made great strides in creating laptops that have computing power, battery life is still a major limiting factor. That’s where the balancing happens. Want more power? Then the GPU and CPU will be mobile chips. As those mobile chips push the laws of physics with their computing power to energy sipping ratios, they’re great for basic functions and apps but not for professional level programs and intensive video games.

And I applaud Razer’s upcoming Razer Blade ultra laptop that will offer the Razer Core accessory that delivers that option when gamers return home through the power of Thunderbolt. Yet, it can’t deliver everything while on the road.

The newer MacBooks seem to show that Apple is listening to consumers. Apple shrank the logic board in its laptops and filled the remaining space with custom batteries that will let it run for up to 9 hours. While I haven’t tested one yet, that’s impressive. It shows a clear engineering decision to deliver more energy in a smaller package.

Yet, why not have a different option? While laptops get thinner and thinner, why not give people an option to order an ultrathin laptop with a 24 or 48-hour battery? Same specs but no longer ultrathin, a thin laptop that would give those who go on long flights without power cords or those who roam to places without power a different option. Or having such a modular design would allow those who want an ultrathin most of the time the option to swap out the battery base with a longer lasting one when needed.

Power users would likely pay a premium for such an option but for the throngs of people fighting over the only power socket in an airport terminal, why not give power users thin laptops with massive amounts of battery life and the CPU speed they need?

So while I  watched The Verge’s CES 2016 coverage on the latest in ultrathin laptops, I’m not looking for something thinner, I’m looking for something that’s less about a cord and more about the freedom from them. Time to get laptop makers to notice that need.

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Hoverboard 2.0 From Amazon, Tesla or Razer?

hoverboardAs CES 2016 opens its doors this week, this is a show typically dominated by appliances and mostly TVs. But one of the biggest commercial successes of 2015 (and the 2015 holiday season) was the unbranded hoverboard. Yes, those Segway-like boards that are best known for catching fire and helping toss a few potential Darwin Awards finalists.

When Amazon decided to pull the plug on hoverboard sales for its vendors, it created a vacuum where consumers ignored the warnings and bought the hoverboards elsewhere, paying hundreds of dollars for a trendy device that is admittedly far cheaper than a real Segway but with a record of danger. In fact, Amazon asked people to toss or recycle boards out of safety concerns.

One of the big expectations in 2016 is that a “hoverboard leader” will finally emerge with safer battery technology and remove the fire danger of its batteries. Given Amazon’s push to create itself as a consumer electronics maker and considering the PR backlash from removing hoverboard sales from Amazon.com, it seems that Amazon could make an interesting PR pivot from banning sales to creating a new market for itself by working with its Chinese manufacturing partners to engineer safer hoverboards. Of course, given that the company’s consumer devices have incendiary names like Fire and Kindle, it would need to come up with a different naming scheme.

Another potential hoverboard 2.0 leader might come from Tesla Motors. The Tesla is a tech-minded person’s car and the company has engineering teams that already specialize in getting the most out of batteries and designing consumer experiences around its vehicles. Plus, Tesla’s shopping mall showrooms could offer an elite “Tesla Board” at those locations to increase revenue and interest, it’s a great way to build a safer board and massive brand awareness. Who wouldn’t want a “Tesla Board” vs. a brand-less board?

Another outlier is Razer. It’s a high tech brand that was featured in April 2015’s Fortune as “This gaming company is worth $1 billion, and you’ve probably never heard of it“. While the company is still a peripheral maker for gaming consoles, PCs and the growing list of wearables, Razer could easily apply its dark black, male-centric brand to a Razer Board. Given the company’s deep roots in gaming culture tournaments and gaming culture’s love of hoverboards, Razer has the relationships and engineering to potentially lead or innovate hoverboards into the 2.0 phase.

Of course, this is all speculation. Given the dangers and the legalities of creating a safer hoverboard 2.0, many big tech companies might simply wait for the fires to die down before they decide to enter the hoverboard market. While it might be too soon for hoverboard 2.0 to emerge at CES 2016, it is going to be a topic that’s bound to be discussed.

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Resurrecting Your Dead Site With Content Marketing

Business owners typically feel pretty good about their sites. They’ve spent the money to develop their site, see that it’s working, view a list of pictures of the executive staff, display current products and services and a way to contact you “for more information.” And without any complaint, those business owners assume that all is well.

I call these graveyard sites because, despite any money used to create them, they serve as a way to tell customers when your business died.  Name, catchy phrase, date born, date died and a mound. Take a moment to look at your site.

When did you last update your site? Are there old products still listed? Have you made announcements that aren’t displayed? Did you move? And, my favorite, is the date on your copyright this year? I term active sites as “gardens” that show that your business is alive, well and ready to work. Which one is your site?

The bad news for graveyard sites is found in the numbers. These sites usually offer a trickle of customers who seek general information about the company, its products, sales and support. Average sites generally have 5-14 pages. Site metrics show a steady monthly number with a few seasonal or holiday dips but generally average views.

So say a small business had a site with 14 pages (a rough average) created and designed for $5,000. Over the course of a year, there were 5,000 visitors who viewed 1 page. Your acquisition cost for the reader would be $1. Sounds ok, right?

This is where content strategy can change things. Say over the course of that year, you launched a blog with four pieces that helped better position your company as an expert. Smaller companies might have quality writers amongst their ranks but hiring an outside content expert is often a better investment because they can investigate what you do, find where you’re not marketing well and offer strategies for better web searches. The better the expert, the higher potential for creating blog posts that will outperform all the other content on the site. Say this costs $1,000.

Your site now has 18 pages with only four blog pieces live. This is where business owners begin to see the value of content.  Reviewing web site performance at the end of the year will reveal several things. First, those four pieces will likely be the most viewed stories on your site. Second, your total pageviews will increase. Third, your pages viewed per session rises.

Now say we go with a fairly conservative 7,500 pageviews per year success. Pages per session increases to two pages and the path that happens is often predictable, old customers still use the site for information (for the most part) but new customers use the blog as a way to enter your site and then click on your contact information. These new readers found you because they were searching for a solution, one that you might know how to fix. With the right information, that reader might buy your product or service. Readers who read more than one page are more likely to contact or remember your company when they need it. So at 7,500 pageviews, your cost per reader goes down to $0.80.  A lower cost for your website cost and you increased your company’s marketability for 20 cents less per reader.

This is simple overview about what content marketing can do for your site that doesn’t take into account the potential for people linking to your posts, commenting on them, sharing those links to broadcast your expertise. With those additions, cost per viewer decreases, knowledge about your expertise is raised and your business will improve.

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How to Retool Microsoft’s Entertainment and Devices Group

ms-devicesThe departure of two key members of Microsoft’s Entertainment and Devices group comes as a shock to those in the know. Robbie Bach, head of the group and its Chief Experience Officer J Allard are leaving the massive software giant (Business Insider). The Microsoft spin is that Bach is retiring and Allard himself says that he’s going to swap the 95% of his Microsoft life in for 95% of his personal life. Yet, when you look at the group’s successes, the list comes up short with only one success – Xbox 360. The list of failures is far longer by avoiding a full-on recall with Xbox 360s (due to a design/manufacturing flaw), Windows Mobile, Zune and the recently ditched dual touch screen Courier device.

Microsoft needs to come back. Here’s what it should do to start:

1)      Release a handheld gaming device that isn’t named Zune. As the iPhone proved, there can be more than one dominant player in the handheld market. Release a device with the same power as an iPhone but with a 3D graphics chip that makes games look Xbox 360 hot. Of course, make the device compatible with Xbox 360, Natal and add in major benefits for those who own both (faster leveling up for characters, special unlocks, etc. to start).

2)      Make DirectX open. While Microsoft’s gaming API really is a great piece of work, it only works on Windows machines, the newest version only works in Vista/7 and an older variant works on Xbox 360. And that’s the issue. Make it open and see if someone can port the API to Linux, Apple and Android machines. Of course, controlling the purchasing methods and security here would be key for Microsoft’s revenue stream but making sales on volume is better than building higher walls around the walled garden.

3)      Kill Games for Windows because it never worked. Seriously, it was a confusing marketing term that never caught on. Kill it and be better for it.

4)      Work with a TV manufacturer to create touchscreen TVs. I’ve played with Microsoft’s Surface concept and it really is amazing when you play. Now they need to get it out of the museum and into classrooms and homes.

5)      Buy TiVo. I love TiVo for their nice interface and so many other things that no other DVR UI has. Yet, TiVo lovers aren’t so hot for the new TiVo Premiere boxes which feel like more upsell than functionality. Microsoft includes TiVo-like software on nearly Windows machine, software that actually is good and it plays well with both my PS3 and Xbox 360. Of course, Microsoft needs to give TiVo some autonomy to create new upgrades. With Microsoft’s marketing muscle, and the option of releasing a TiVo/Xbox 360 hybrid, would be a worthy merger.

6)      Kill Windows Mobile. Seriously. I only have a single friend who uses Windows Mobile and he loves it. Interestingly, he works with Microsoft.

7)      Give away a million Xbox 360x units. The old box is flawed and many of my friends are on their 5th refurbished Xbox 360 after hitting the Red Ring of death. Solution: Come up with a better design, shrink the size down and give out a million of those to players who have had countless issue. Costly, yes. But it’s a great way to sow the seeds of respect and Microsoft’s gaming future.

8)      Make Zune the new Windows Mobile, cut the licensing rates and go more in the way of Kin. I like the Kin concept but it’s a bit weak out of the gate. Still, it’s more consumer focused than MS has been in years past so I think that there’s a great growth opportunity here.

9)      Invest heavily in the upcoming Cloud Gaming industry. Ideas like Gaikai and OnLine are also slow out of the game but investing now in a disc-less, online gaming future may come from one of these companies. Plus, publishers would love it if all those used games were out of play.

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Adobe’s Ad Campaign Loves Apple, Questions Freedom of Choice

flash-appleIn the past few weeks, the bitter war over enabling Flash on the iPhone, iPod and iPad hit an impasse as Apple CEO Steve Jobs (http://www.apple.com/hotnews/thoughts-on-flash/) publically roasted Adobe’s Flash as insecure, a battery hog, for not being an open standard (Apple is notoriously proprietary) and soon replaced by newer functions in HTML 5 (or the company’s “Gianduia” technology).

Rather than continue the public rhetoric around the viability or potential of Flash on Apple’s touch products, Adobe launched a new ad campaign that purports the company’s view of Apple, of HTML 5 and boils down the whole issue into a near-political debate around the freedom for developers to choose which medium to create their digital art in. We found that ad on Engadget.com today that linked out to a page on the Adobe site (http://www.adobe.com/choice/?sdid=GXRUX) that briefly talks about the company’s position.

Will it end the war? Probably not. Yet, Apple has played this type of strategy before. When record companies supported, and then publicly denounced the use of Apple’s FairPlay encryption technology for DRM (digital rights management), the record execs did the unfathomable thing… they decided to support DRM-free music. Might this be Apple’s way of wearing down Adobe execs and making Flash a truly open standard?

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