The Blog

Willie K and Hui o Wa’a Kaulua raise awareness of Maui’s canoe the Mo’okiha O Pi’ilani

Just got back from my regular pilgrimage back to Maui, and watched Willie K perform this past Monday night at the Lahaina Cannery Shopping Center. As always, Uncle Willie was incredible – and his free concert was in support of raising awareness & donations for Hui o Wa’a Kaulua. Great group – they’re building a 60ft, double hulled sailing canoe.

A Great Idea for Letting People Know About Your Business

I just found this video for Fitness4Home Superstore here in Tempe – showing how to use a treadmill. When it comes to leveraging the power of social media, how many businesses could go and take a video with a Flip camera, and upload videos to YouTube? Just a great way to give out information without seeming “sales-y”, while promoting your business.

Why do American car manufactures design such ugly cars?

It seems that time and time again, American car manufacturers force on the buying public, some of the ugliest cars known to mankind. Don’t believe me? Two words for you – Pontiac Aztec. This abortion-on-wheels had to have been one of the worst excuses for “design” that the motoring public has ever known.

Pontiac Aztec

I remember that one of the major car magazines (I’m thinking it was Automobile Magazine) – did a pre-production road test of this car – and totally ripped it. They went so far as to tell GM that this would be a huge mistake to put on the road. GM had tried to make a minivan into a minivan/SUV crossover…like we really need that. It also had the look of “designed by committee” – where a designer was assigned to design, say..a fender. Another – the front grill. And, in a horrific example of silo-management, combined with political protectionism – no communication seemed to take place between designers, creating a hodge-podge, disjointed combination of angular panels that screamed “drop something heavy on me – just so I don’t look this bad!”.

Yet, when these same manufacturers put their mind to it, they can also design some of the most beautiful cars we’ve ever know. Cars like the current Ford Mustang, Chevy Corvette, and many of the new Saturn line. But what bugs me is cars like the new Pontiac G8. Which is really a Holden (a GM subsidiary – in Australia). The new Saturn Aura – which is really a Opel (a GM subsidiary – in Europe).

It’s not that we don’t have good designers in this country – we do. One example that comes to mind is a gentleman that designed a car that almost 30 years later – still looks modern. When this car came out, it was the mid-late 70’s, when we were getting American cars like the Pinto and the Vega – yet, Tony Lapine (and American designer) – came up with the design for the Porsche 928.

I think the big problem – is most of the American car manufacturers are run by accountants – people who love numbers, not design. It’s hard to cost-justify prior to product launch, why an attractive design will sell more – and be more profitable – than a basic design. And, with the focus the past 30 years (emphasis on each of these varying, but still important nonetheless) – on fuel economy, reliability, and safety – all of these things add costs to the price of the car – so the places we see cut back on are areas like the quailty of interior materials & related design, for example.

Yet, we’ve also seen what happens when bean-counters run these companies. Mercedes-Benz – once the epitome of quality – decided it would be more profitable to cut cost out of production – and reliability suffered, killing sales. So, there is a valid argument that cutting design won’t hurt sales like cutting production & manufacturing costs. Additional proof of this is most of the cars coming out of Japan (and now South Korea as well) – these cars aren’t known for being…well…beautiful – but knowing your Honda or Toyota will rarely break down – is important.

Yet, the problem remains. Cars – especially American cars…are usually pretty bland, if not downright ugly – unless you spend over $50K. Why is this? Does it really cost that much more to make a car that’s beautiful? Especially if you’re trying to compete against other foreign brands that are attractive, reliable, or both?

I think part of the problem is – many of these companies are entrenched in their own design philosophies. And only rarely venture outside of them. Example of stepping out? Cadillac. Now, I’m not a Cadillac fan. Many of the parts are really from a Saab – and I’d rather have one of them. But, they took a step into a new design philosophy about 8 years ago – and look at what it’s done for their sales! And…an example of not stepping out? Buick. They have this stupid philosophy that says that the front fenders of their cars must have 3 portholes. Because they did 50-60 years ago. OK…if you’re target market is people in their 70’s – great. Once they are gone…so is your brand. Simple truth – innovate or die!

Of course…that brings me to my last point – maybe they design ugly cars…because people buy them anyway? How else can you explain why people would order a Buick or Cadillac…with a fake vinyl top that looks like it would be a convertible..but isn’t?

Update on PayPal

Fortunately, it looks like the camera buyer is truly an honest person. So, my last posting – wasn’t meant as a personal attack on him – especially since he just contacted me this morning regarding payment for the camera.

But, based on his note – now he can also say “PayPal SUCKS!!!”.

Here’s his explanation for why PayPal suddenly reversed the charges.

“Hello. I’m so sorry for this inconvenience. Prior to making the purchase I instructed Paypal to charge it to my credit card, not bank account, but they went ahead and did it anyway. I don’t know why. The bank returned the funds to me. I will deposit the funds into my Paypal account right away, so that your payment is not affected. Again, I’m sorry for this inconvenience.”

In the end, this all happened because PayPal went off and did things to the buyer that he had no knowledge of. Then, did stuff to me that I had no knowledge of. Creating a horribly transaction experience for both parties.

Now…might they have a good reason? Sure. What I’d like to see – is communication as to why they do things! Just a note saying, “Gee…you know that payment that go received 3 weeks ago? We need to reverse it – it will happen in the next 24 hours, and this is what you need to do about it!”

Hell, even the IRS is able to send me a note telling me when I’m getting my stimulus check. (Now…I just need to find out why I’ve never gotten it!)

So, PayPal – in the end- everything worked out. But, maybe you guys should create a layer for your transactions that actually interfaces with your customers?

Why PayPal SUCKS!!

I realize there are a huge number of people out there, that are looking to do nothing more than separate you from your money – and give you nothing in return. What really irritates me – is when companies that talk about how they are out to protect you – allow you to get screwed!

My example – I sold a camera on eBay three weeks ago. The buyer did an instant purchase via PayPal. Now, I always thought PayPal was the safe way to deal with stuff like this.  So, after I got notification that the buyer’s payment had hit my account, I then shipped the camera. Sweet – I just sold my camera for about $500, and got instant payment. I then checked, and got confirmation from UPS that early last week, the buyer received the product. Life is good.

Or…not. Tonight, I get a notification from PayPal that the charge had been reversed. This means that some dude in Virginia has a $500 camera…and I now have nothing. I login to my PayPal account – and sure enough, it shows the $500 payment, a $500 reversal, and a charge for the reversal! The reversal then has a link for “Details”. Which brings me to a screen that again, tells me the charge was reversed – and nothing more. Now, I’m irritated.

But, I figure – I’ll call PayPal and find out what happened. First, the dude that answers spouts all the platitudes that every customer service person is trained to say when dealing with someone that might be a bit pissed. Fine…dude is just doing his job. Here’s where I got pissed. He tells me that he’s not sure why the charge was reversed. That I need to contact the buyer, and have him contact PayPal, as PayPal might have put a hold on the account, not allowing him to submit a payment in that large an amount. WTF??!!!  And, if I don’t get a response from him, then I can file a dispute.

So…let me get this straight. PayPal will allow any body wanting to buy something on eBay (or, actually, any PayPal transaction) – to send money, get product, then take the money back? And the person then that has to do all the work…is the person who just got royally screwed? I can see if there was no proof of shipment – but the dude at PayPal could look at the UPS transaction I did through PayPal for shipment and see that delivery had been verified! But NOOOOOOO!!!  PayPal, without warning me, or giving me an explanation, just gave this dude his money back, I’m out a $500 camera…and I get to bust my ass to more than likely, get nothing for it.

This is crap!

Social Networking – Is It Relevant?

I was just reading an article in 1to1 Magazine  – called “The Social Media Hype Is Over” – basically, they feel that it’s time to create real value from online customer interactions. Beyond being today’s buzzword, social media has taken our job as marketers, and thrown us on our collective asses.

We started out with the Internet – a nice, controllable vehicle to get our message out. Then, we started corporate blogs – which gave us the ability to get closer to our customers, while getting feedback (good and bad) – but we still retained some control over the “message”. Now, with the growth of social communities such as Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, etc, – we no longer control the message – our customers do.

The question we keep asking ourselves (or, get asked by our bosses / clients / customers) – is whether social networking is really relevant?

Short answer – if you think for a second it’s not – it’s time for a new career.

I’m thinking of a kayaking trip with friends in the next few weeks. I’ve communicated with my friends to plan the trip over Facebook. I read reviews of different tours on Yelp. One company – has a blog where i read up about the last few trips they’ve headed up for clients. I’ve checked out trips taken by other customers on Flickr, Photobucket, YouTube, and Picasa.

In the past, I’d had just called the company, booked the trip, and hoped for the best. Yet now, with a tightening economy, I want to know what I’m getting prior to the trip – and I want to know what others think.

The opportunity for us as marketers – is to realize that as costs go up, for us to ignore our clients desire to research what they are getting for their money – that the less we do with marketing over social networks – the more our customers will do it for us. I realize that I’d mentioned above that the customer controls the message now. This isn’t totally true. They interpret what we put out there as our message – and then do some of our marketing for us.

Our job – is to make sure the message is more accurate than ever before – and, make sure that we stay on top of that message. Then, utilize these social media tools to make sure our customers know about our message. Finally, once we’ve accomplished that – we then need to stay on top of what they say about our message – how they interpret it and market it – so we can constantly make course corrections in our message.

I like to think that in some ways, we’ve simplified some of our market research via the introduction of social networks. Think about how many blunders have taken place over the years because what a focus group said was important, was irrelevant once brought to market. Now…you’re going to know the relevance to the market that much sooner, and possibly more accurately, than ever before. We now have the ability to monitor our brands in real time – for better or worse!

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Airlines & Marketing

It always amazes me how some industries think that if they market things a certain way, people are too stupid – or gullible – to see the truth. (Or…is it that the consultants they use look at their customers this way?)

Case in point – the airline industry. Currently, oil is trading at nearly $150 / barrel. Double what it was a year ago. Planes use fuel. So, it would be reasonable for me to expect airfares to rise across the board.

Instead, the airlines have decided that to remain “competitive”, they’ll keep airfares down by raising their fees for other things, as well as eliminating some services. Northwest announced today that they will now charge $15 for the first bag – due to rising fuel costs. Hey – guys – whether it’s you, American, or any other airline that’s decided the “first bag fee” will be a great way to offset costs – how about you just raise my ticket $15!!

When I’m traveling, the last thing I want to deal with at check in is “oh…you have a bag – whip out your credit card so we can now charge you more money”. I expect fares to go up. Thanks to TSA’s security protocols, I have no desire to drag my crap on-board anymore – I already hate taking off my shoes while smelling the socks of the dude next to me that has an aversion to showering, while waiting for the family of 300 ahead of me to collect their kids, shoes, laptop, toys, etc. and get the freakin’ hell out of my way!

So…why do they think they’re fooling me? Is this to keep the all-important business traveler who travels in & out in one day with no bag? With companies cutting back on travel costs anyway – do they think this makes a huge difference? Why not raise everybody’s fare $15, collect the money from EVERYBODY, and allow everybody to catch their damn flight instead of getting stuck at check-in with more bag charges?

Southwest has it right. They’re marketing their fares with “we don’t charge for this / that / everything else – we make it simple”. Maybe that’s part of the reason they have such customer loyalty – rather than just cheaper fares?

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Wacom intous3 4×6 Pen Tablet

I’ve thought about getting one of these things for awhile – a pen tablet. Plugs into a USB port on my Mac. I’ve avoided it for quite awhile – since I’ve always told myself that my mouse works just fine, and I can’t see why I should spend hundreds of dollars to do the same thing my mouse does.

Well, prices have come down. I’ve thought about getting the Wacom Bamboo…but the Bamboo Fun Medium is only $30 less than the intous3 – and the intous3 has twice the resolution. And, I also figured I’d use a little bit of the “stimulis” check (which is a whole other joke) – and get myself another business write-off this month as well – so tonight, I bought a pen tablet – the aforementioned Wacom intous3 4×6.

This thing is uber-cool. I’ve been using it for 2 hours – and I’ll be damned – it works SO much better than a mouse! It’s so damn intuitive – and my wrist doesn’t ache from using it like it does after using a mouse for hours!

Now, I know – this is for graphics professionals (like myself) – who spend buttloads of time in Photoshop or Illustrator. I have only started playing with it in Photoshop. More importantly – this thing just completely ROCKS if you have any kind of work that would normally require a mouse. Multiple windows open? Just point & drag – but unlike a mouse, you’re not moving your whole hand – it feels more like your just pointing with your finger! And, whether it’s photo re-touching, illustration, or painting in Photoshop – having the ability to use brushes to not only clean things up, but it’s also pressure sensitive – so it’s much more like using a real paintbrush or airbrush!

i haven’t tried the handwriting recognition yet either – and probably won’t, as I used a Palm IIIxe for years, and never really felt that handwriting recognition works that well – there’s always that part of my crappy handwriting that it just never translates correctly, and I spend more time retyping than it would have taken to type to begin with.

But for moving around your computer’s desktop – I think this is freakin’ nirvana!

The Design Foundry – New Fine Art Photography

One of the things I offer as part of a wide range of services with The Design Foundry, is photography services – whether for print or web.

But, I also do a bit of more “travel” oriented photography as well – stuff that is less about “business” and more about “art”.

And now, after only 10 months, I’ve finally finished putting together a small sample of photography I did last August on Maui.

So, feel free to browse the new album – and enjoy! The Design Foundry – Maui 2007 Photos

“Harbor Morning” is finished!

After a number of months working on “Harbor Morning” – it’s finally finished!

Oil – 2008 | 24″ x 36″

View from Lahaina Harbor, looking across the boats toward the island of Lana’i.

Click on image for larger view