Computer: Tea, Earl Grey, Hot

With all due respect, Star Trek got the future wrong in this one important respect.

Like millions of others, I have a fond spot in my aural memory for the voice of Patrick Stewart. With his enviably erudite accent, Stewart played Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the USS Enterprise D, and in the process resurrected the Star Trek franchise from the campy overdrama of William Shatner's Captain James T. Kirk. Among the many things Stewart's voice intoned with such high confidence, one that is instantly recognizable to fans like me is: "Computer, tea, Early Grey, hot."

In the fantasy world of the Starship Enterprise, the computer was an omnipresence, an intelligence that could interact with you verbally but also directed visual information to touchscreens nearby when needed. The computer could also control lighting, ship systems, and -- as so lovingly demonstrated in the above clip -- food replicators. Sounds a lot like Amazon's Alexa, doesn't it? Star Trek is famously credited with previsioning a lot of technology we have today, from PDAs, mobile phones and, hopefully soon, tricorders. You can, in fact, assign your Amazon Echo to respond to the command "computer" instead of Alexa, should you wish.

But this simple sentence, "Computer, tea, Early Grey, hot," as right a description of the future as it is, also got the future completely wrong. Setting aside the question of whether we'll ever have food replicators, if we examine what the phrase suggests about human-computer interaction in the future, we can see pretty quickly why Star Trek got this one wrong. Because in the future:

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Google Home Gives In To Ad Interruptions

Today several users of Google Home -- Google's competitor to Amazon Echo with its Alexa intelligent agent -- reported that Google was inserting Beauty and the Beast movie promos into their conversations. Read The Verge's account of the details and see the tweet from user @brysonmeunier below:

It's surprising that Google is already testing this kind of interruption model for a couple of reasons. First, it's playing catch up to Amazon's much more mature intelligent speaker product and rocking the user boat with something so blatantly counter to the value of the category so soon feels foolhardy. That said, this will hardly cause a backlash so if it shows that Google is willing to test and refine its value proposition more rapidly than Amazon, that's not a terrible thing.

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Have You Ever Really Loved A Brand?

I want to know who you love. I'm asking because love for a brand is actually a very hard thing to measure. At Forrester we've spent nearly a year trying to understand the emotional components of branding. Our colleagues in the customer experience (CX) team have years worth of data showing that emotion is the single most powerful driver of satisfaction with an experience. Designing to emotion, then, is a crucial method for success and my colleagues are all over it. 

On the brand side, marketers certainly agree that emotion matters. They have always believed that emotion matters. They just don't agree on how it matters. Or better said they don't have clarity on what emotion really is and so it becomes more difficult to pin down how that emotion applies to their brands -- is brand emotion different from CX-derived emotion? Do they relate to each other, act as influences on each other? It's hard to say for sure when your mental model of how emotion works is inadequate to the task of addressing the fast-moving emotions of today's empowered consumer. 

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Beware the Word "Alignment"

Another Friday lesson on corporate-speak. Last week I shared how wrong it is to be "right?" and I hope you are secretly forwarding that note to every offender in your organization. Today, I'm here to save you from the equally egregious word "alignment." A seemingly simple word, one that baas like a gentle lamb on a hilly, green pasture. Except this lamb is sheep in the most despicable of wolves' clothing. To be aligned with something literally means to be arranged in a straight line. When someone invites you to be aligned with them, they think they are saying, "let's be on the same side," "let's have a shared perspective," or "let's not seem like we're in disagreement here." All of those meanings sound good -- we are teammates, we collaborate, we know how to work across silos! But none of them are what people really mean when, in an interdepartmental meeting someone says, "We need to make sure that we're in alignment on this."

What they truly mean is, "I've listened to you blather on long enough. You are wrong and I am right and you need to start pretending that you agree with me or we're going to have real problems here."

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The Dawn Of The Multi-Billion Dollar Smartpet Market

This is the post in which I make the seemingly crazy claim that the "next big thing" for Apple -- and for consumer tech -- will be smart pets. Don't say I didn't warn you. :)

Trying to predict what Apple will do next or what Apple should do next (these are two different things) has fueled some of my best work and most enjoyable after-work conversations. I'm not alone in this endeavor, of course. For the past few years -- ever since the Apple Watch came out -- clients, the press, and just people in my neighborhood ask me: "What's the next big thing for Apple?" There are several key candidates that often get proposed – many have suggested an Apple car though late developments make that less and less likely, others think a virtual reality headset is around the corner while I myself have suggested a voice-based personal assistant (Siri in your ear, as I have been known to call it). In none of those cases would Apple be introducing a market-changing product that leaps years beyond competitors, like the jump from Blackberry to iPhone was. Even Siri in your ear is already happening, the latest version that has captured my attention is the Vinci, currently crowdfunding on Indiegogo, a headphone and intelligent agent device which exactly fulfills my prediction of what Apple should have done with Beats but for some reason chose not so, at least so far. 

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When It's Wrong To Be "Right"

"This new initiative is amazing, right?" 
- Just about every executive on the planet, pretty much every day

This year marks the ten-year anniversary of my return to the analyst world of Forrester from academia where I had spent a wonderful, several-year break. Leaving teaching was a hard call to make. Teaching smart students is very fulfilling, energizing, and informative. In fact, it was a student on the back row of one of my classes who first introduced me to YouTube in 2005. When I made the tough decision to return to analyst life, there were two things about teaching that I knew I wouldn't miss, however: 1) faculty pay, and 2) student uptalk.

Most will recall from when it was a topic of wide conversation that uptalk refers to arbitrarily raising the pitch of your voice at the end of a phrase or sentence, as if asking a question though usually when no question is present. Uptalk was rampant on college campuses back then along with the more standard verbal pause, "like," which I also was not sad to leave behind. I tried to teach my students to exert more effort in their use of words and phrasing; some benefitted from my lessons, others did not. In the end, uptalk, while not a reason to leave teaching behind, was also not a reason to stay.

At last, I thought, I can move into the corporate world, where everybody understands the power of words and exercises more discipline in their choice of just the right word for just the right occasion. Wrong. While I was out for several years engaging in energizing discussions with young, smart students, something happened in the business world. A pernicious fad had arisen and spread itself pandemic-like into every industry. That fad, that disease is the word, "right?".

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Today's "Puzzling" Consumer

This week I was chatting with a client, explaining how today's consumer has more power than ever before: More information, more choices, more flexibility for exercising preferences, and most especially, less risk associated with changing their behaviors. It's a theme people are already bought into -- Forrester calls it the age of the customer -- but it's also a theme that people are too quick to believe they understand without grasping the kinds of changes this requires for a business to serve such an empowered customer. To get to that extra level of awareness, during my conversation this week, I came up with a way to describe it that I call the puzzling consumer.

Back in the day, a company designed a puzzle for you and saw you as a missing piece. They defined a hole with a certain shape, one that was convenient to them based on the analog tools they had, the historic mindset of their industry and so on. Then the company invited you to reshape yourself to fit that hole.

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YouTube Is The First Digital Platform To Take On Live TV

Watch out, cable TV. Today YouTube shared it's newest subscription service -- YouTube TV -- with a hundred or so journalists at a live event at the company's headquarters. This is different from YouTube Red, the subscription version of YouTube enjoyed by at least 1.5 million people and focuses mostly on ad-free access to short-form videos along with a few exclusives. Instead, this new service is aimed squarely at pay TV. It does so by offering three things that cable TV has previously been best at:

  1. Live TV. YouTube announced deals with the major broadcasters -- CBS, NBC, ABC, Fox -- as well as a slew of cable programmers. Like with earlier over-the-top (OTT) TV providers Sling TV and PlayStation Vue, the content can be watched live, on an Android or Chrome device, or on a TV via a Chromecast and one assumes other devices soon enough.
  2. Cloud DVR. This is the new thing that all OTT TV services specialize in and some traditional cable packages -- like Xfinity from Comcast -- also offer. YouTube's DVR is unlimited and can record multiple shows at the same time.
  3. Sports. Yep, ESPN is one of the main reasons people still pay for TV and to succeed any OTT TV service has to have it. That ice was already broken by Sling TV, giving YouTube TV a way in to what used to be the most closely guarded part of the pay TV business.
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Spotify Loves Me; Spotify Hates Me: Serving Today's Demanding Customer

Welcome to the age of the customer, a time where consumers can get what they want, when, where, and how they want to. Or at least they expect to because that's how their life is panning out more often than not. But what happens when they don't get something that seems obvious? An example: Five years ago this month, a Spotify user posted a request on the company's Live Ideas feature request, titled, "Explicit Button." The request was simple, at least from a digital customer's point of view:

Now five years later, the request has yet to be implemented, despite having achieved 7,463 upvotes from the Spotify member community. This makes it the most upvoted, unimplemented idea in the community. Yet there it sits. Search for explicit lyrics & Spotify and you'll get at least dozens, probably hundreds (I won't take time to count but you are welcome to) of complaints. Lots of people claim to have left Spotify over it. Others continue to listen but are angry about it. Spotify did respond in 2016 by saying:

This is wonderful: We have heard you, we agree with you. But we haven't yet done anything about it nor do we have plans to do so. What's up, Spotify?

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Do You Dread, Tolerate, or Embrace Change?

Last November I sat down with Chevrolet CMO Tim Mahoney on stage at Forrester's Age of the Customer summit. We had a wide-ranging talk about disruption, change, and what Chevy executives are doing to anticipate and deal with that change. I just published a summary that conversation, what I might call Mahoney's top recommendations for CMOs in 2017. In that short summary, I quoted Mahoney and then added what follows:

"Our CEO talks a lot about how in the next five years, it's going to change more than it has in the last 100 years when you think about what's going on with car sharing, ridesharing, autonomous. It's a really interesting time to be in an industry that's over 100 years old. Think about your car: Where is it now? It's parked. Next to your home, it's the second-most important investment people make. It's parked 94% of the time. Many younger people are starting to ask, why do I even need a car?" - Tim Mahoney

General Motors is not alone in this ominous premonition. A full 42% of companies we surveyed recently in the US, Germany, and the UK agree that "in the next five years, my organization will have significantly altered its product and/or services.

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