Friday, July 28, 2006

"Experience immersion" at Credit Suisse

Just read in Fast Company about this guy named David McQuillen who works for Credit Suisse, a European banking company. McQuillen has developed a process to train top executives on how customers actually experience their company, bank branches, ATM's, etc. McQuillen is a usability analyst who is putting common sense to work.

I have developed an 8-step process to analyze a customer's experience in your site, which is the subject of The Experienceology Handbook, still in search of a publisher. I'll post publishing information here as soon as it is available.

I hope to have more information from David McQuillen in a future post.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Branding is one Big Idea

I was interested to see this article on about branding. The author describes overall business branding as having one "big idea" that sticks in customer's minds. For those of you readers in the museum field, you might be familiar with the Big Idea concept from Beverly Serrell's book, Exhibit Labels. Serrell made the case for museum exhibitions having one single Big Idea that can be boiled down to a sentence, with all content and exhibit components relating back to that one idea.

Serrell's description of the reasoning behind this is very similar to this author's. Check it out.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Book review: 100 Years of Museums in America

Riches, Rivals, and Radicals: 100 Years of Museums in America by Marjorie Schwarzer, is $40 from American Association of Museums.

If you work at a museum, botanical garden, park, living history museum, arboretum, or zoo, this book places your efforts and your site in the larger context of educational cultural institutions. I felt proud when I finished it, seeing my career as part of a greater tradition. Schwarzer deftly gathers threads from many sources, weaving together a beautiful, inspiring tapestry of museums. Perhaps what is most fun about this book is that you’ll find your own history here... waiting in line as a teenager to see King Tut, going on a field trip to see Juno the Transparent Woman at the Cleveland Health Education Museum, or recognizing a favorite diorama from these richly illustrated pages.

Schwarzer clearly loves museums, warts and all, and she showcases how museums and interpretive sites have served America by saving our culture, teaching hundreds of thousands of children, showcasing diversity, and healing spirits after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The book is organized into five sections.

The Introduction places museum work into the context of the last century. Don’t skip this, as it’s a fascinating look at how museums reflected changes in American life and culture over each decade. Educational theory, social movements, wars, race relations, conservatism—all are reflected in the story of American museums.

In The Building, we learn that many museums started out in reclaimed spaces like aircraft hangars or fire stations, before moving on to grander buildings. Schwarzer explains why some older museums have such forbidding architecture; I will never see the movie Rocky again without thinking about the story behind those famous steps. Over the years, buildings were influenced by architects, beginning with Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim in 1959.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art, first known documented case of "museum fatigue!"

The Collection covers the spectrum from dedicated curators to egomaniacal obsessive collectors. One of the most memorable stories is of curator Alice Eastwood. On the morning of the Great San Francisco earthquake of 1906, she rushed from her home in Berkeley, across the bay to the California Academy of Sciences. Despite the building being partially collapsed and burning, she rigged up a pulley system and rescued over 1,000 botanical specimens and records before the building was completely destroyed. Perhaps a non-museum person would think her crazy, but I know a number of dedicated people I can picture doing this.

Collections reflect a predisposition in the collector—to showcase their ego, to bring forward a type of art they think is important, or to prove a theory. Collecting reflects cultural trends: Native American arts were first collected by museums, then reclaimed by their rightful tribal owners. Nazi looting in WWII became the basis for provenance research and laws to protect rightful ownership. In recent years, collections have made a shift to documenting and collecting current objects and popular culture.

The Exhibition is all about context. This chapter traces the evolution of many museum display techniques we now take for granted. World’s fairs and expositions brought us life groups and nature dioramas. Museums became places to see faraway lands and period rooms. The 60s brought us hands-on exhibits, as Frank Oppenheimer built the Exploratorium and Michael Spock took over the Boston Children’s Museum. I wish I could still visit some of the exhibits Schwarzer describes (on rats, Harlem, and drug use), as I can see how radical they were. The last portion of this chapter takes us from the blockbuster (King Tut) to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, which is one of the first fully narrative museum experiences, using theater techniques to tell its story.

The last chapter is People and Money. We see how training and scholarship developed in the emerging profession of museum work. People began to share resources, exhibition techniques, and create a code of ethics. I especially liked the admonition against playing practical jokes in the original 1925 code!

At the close of the book, Schwarzer has chosen an image of Jefferson Davis’ historic home Beauvoir on the Mississippi coast, nearly destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. The hand-painted sign reads, “Halftime score: Katrina 1, Beauvoir 0. But the game is not over yet!” Museums will go on, despite natural disasters, despite funding cutbacks. And they will go on primarily because of the remarkable people who work in them.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Wildflower Center in Austin walks the talk

Austin, TX: On Memorial Day weekend I had the pleasure of visiting the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. The center, a little south of Austin, is a beautiful example of mission and business practice being aligned.

Buildings are built using sustainable green building practices.

Cooling stone breezeways were designed to give visitors a place to get out of the sun, as well as cool the buildings. Note the chilled drinking water dispenser on the right.

This water cistern collects and holds rainwater for use by the facility, while also being beautifully striking.

Tip of the Day: My only constructive critique is about their name. While Lady Bird Johnson is beloved in Texas, her name doesn't convey what this facility is truly about. And "wildflower center" conjures up an image of wide-open fields of Texas bluebonnets, not this wonderful garden, shop, cafe, and research facility. I heard the Center has just entered into an agreement with the University of Texas. I hope they consider a more descriptive and customer-friendly name brand to get visitors to see this wonderful garden.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Dueling mascots: brand dilution at its worst

On the new Honda Fit commercial I saw this cartoon character who looked so familiar... then realized it was eerily like another cartoon character that Cox Cable uses for its commercials.

Same hair, light blue shirts, they even sound alike.

This is a problem for both companies, even though they are not in the same industry, because each time one of these commercials plays, it dilutes the brand of the other. Make sure if you are creating a character to represent your brand that you do a thorough search of what's out there.

A better approach is to thoroughly define your mission and target audience first, so that your brand develops organically from that. Neither one of these characters says, "Car" or "Digital Cable" when you see him, so it's easy to mix them up. But if the company had more thoroughly developed their mission and message, I believe their mascot would have had a stronger image, more linked to them, that couldn't be as easily copied or dislodged. Even if your business wouldn't use a mascot like these, the message is still valid. Make sure your brand's color scheme and identity are strongly tied in to your mission and "personality" or else they can be co-opted by another company or institution.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Nail salon's experience in the details

Today I visited a new service business in my neighborhood, Lulu's by Travis Parker. This nail salon provided a great example of attention to detail, which is important for creating an impression of quality, as well as a unique experience.

Their logo is blown up on the wall, very fun

The pedicure stations, which are upholstered with velvet cushions, have a built-in shelf that slides forward, with a foot cushion that flips over for use, then reverses so the drawer can close smoothly. Instead of a basic plastic tub for the foot soaking, they use these large beaten copper basins (or something that looks like beaten copper.) The effect said "luxury spa" and was such a simple touch, but really made an impression. My manicurist Holly did a great job, I was offered something to drink, and the whole experience (nicely affordable) was definitely something I will repeat.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Global warming to affect U.S. wine industry

The other night on the CBS Evening News, I heard a story that caught my attention. Predictions are that the U.S. wine industry could be decimated by global warming in 60 years or so, as the Mediterranean climate in places like Napa Valley in Northern California will be too warm for good grapes.

My first thought was that An Inconvenient Truth was starting to have a ripple effect in the media, which is great. Then I expected the story to end with, "So wine makers are banding together to fight global warming to protect their businesses."

Because nothing stirs behavior change like financial impact.

But the end of the story was, "We'll come up with new strains of grapes that can live in hotter climates. We'll deal with it, as the wine business has unlimited financial resources. We'll design our way out of it."

What a disappointment! And how short-sighted. These businesses can have an enormous impact to fight global warming if they acted now, and began teaching their wine-loving customers how this environmental crisis will impact them personally. I hope that the wine-makers change their stance, and develop a group campaign to "Save the Earth; Save the Grapes." As wine-makers are already involved in a lifestyle business, they have a potentially great reach in shaping pro-environmental behaviors in customers who might not otherwise care. And some smart environmental group, or conservation-based museum or zoo, might want to approach them to do a joint campaign...

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Cheez-Whiz and the power of persuasion

Last night Hell's Kitchen, a reality television show about aspiring professional chefs, gave a fascinating glimpse into the power of storytelling. The host of the show, a Michelin-starred British chef named Gordon Ramsay, asked his contestants to taste-test some beautifully presented food he had prepared.

First you should know that he has been screaming at them for weeks whenever they make a mistake and the food doesn't meet his high standards. Therefore, you have a group of people who are desperately trying to land a job and impress someone by pleasing him with their response. The peer pressure of an aspirational group like this is incredibly powerful.

In the cruel world of reality TV, the special dishes are actually made of spray cheese (fondue), hotdogs (pate), catfish (caviar), and TV dinners (kabobs). But they are exquisitely presented with garnishes, prepared "just for them personally by Chef Ramsay." He tells them he wants to test their palates, and has them try all the dishes and comment on them.

It seemed like some of the student chefs were unsure about the dishes. One made some subtle faces and soft lip-smacks that indicated an unpleasant mouthfeel of the Cheez-whiz fondue and the TV dinner kebabs.

But none of them spoke up, and they all came up with glowing things to say about each dish, commenting that, "I usually don't like caviar but this isn't fishy at all." And then, of course, were humiliated to learn the truth, as they were verbally roasted for having palates "like the backside of a cow."

This trick was a powerful example of several processses that Malcolm Gladwell describes in his book, Blink. The food was positioned as being cooked by Chef Ramsay, therefore it had to be excellent. They were primed by the presentation, the garnishes, the dishes, and his smiling presence. And so the sensation transference took place: "This looks like four-star food, therefore it must taste like four-star food."

If a TV show can turn poor food into great food, think how effective you can be in turning great products, services, or objects into great experiences by using positioning, priming, and the power of context.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Successful "rules" signs have watchful eyes

In a recently published study, UK researchers Melissa Bateson, Daniel Nettle, and Gilbert Roberts found that people are more likely to follow posted rules if the sign includes an image of eyes watching them.

I'm frequently asked for ideas on how to word "rules" signs so that visitors follow them. This innovative study, which you can find on Daniel Nettle's Web site, studied whether people were more likely to donate money to an office coffee fund if the poster design changed--from a header of flowers to human eyes. They studied several different versions of the poster, with and without eyes, and found that people were three times as likely to comply with the posted rules when eyes were present.

Images used on poster (from their paper posted online)

They are guessing that the feeling of being watched, however subtle, influences behavior. It's called "reputational concern" in behaviorist-speak. So, if you work at a zoo, and don't want people pounding on the glass at a primate exhibit, try primate eyes on the sign. In a natural history or archeology museum, try a photograph of a person's eyes that is themed to your exhibits. See their paper for more specifics. I'd be curious to know if you try this and what your response is like.