Tuesday, September 01, 2015

More inkjet customer focus - HP eliminates anxiety

After yesterday's monthly Observations post on Epson and their focus on relieving customer pain points with their August Ecotank printer/MFP launch, it's only fair to point out HP's similar approach highlighted today. Their release from this morning on expanding their successful Instant Ink program touts "eliminating ink anxiety" their customers might have, with the program which I have featured in my Observations in the past (e.g. see "Printers as things? Do Printers fit as part of the Internet-of-things" where I observe the Instant Ink program, expanded today, fits with the IoT model.)

Monday, August 31, 2015

August Observations - Espon’s EcoTank Printers make a big splash, for good reasons!

I had to hit Twitter when I first heard the NPR story about the new Epson Ecotank printers
My early-morning routine on most weekdays starts by tuning in to NPR’s Morning Edition. Its interesting news and eclectic feature stories are presented in a more soothing and non-commercial manner than is offered by my next media step in getting my day going, when I join CNBC’s Squawk on the Street for a half-hour of pre-market-open business news and economic assessment of that morning’s world. So I was quite surprised earlier this week, when the former and not the latter chirped in about Epson’s new printers, in a story with co-host Renee Montagne interviewing Wilson Rothman of The Wall Street Journal about his coverage on the benefits of the new products. (The headline of the Journal's article is worth noting - "Epson kills the printer ink cartridge."

On launch day I could not resist tweeting this shameless pun, which garnered a high level of attention on Twitter.
I had been aware of the new Epson products for some time through various backchannels, and was notified by the company that they had officially launched on August 4th. Printer industry coverage of the new products (printers and MFPs) emphasized the feature of high ink capacity of the products, as well as how this is achieved (refillable tanks and non-refillable ink bags, depending on the model) and the result being very economical cost-per-page printing compared to what most users are accustomed to. (Even if the entry price is somewhat higher.) It is tempting, as an industry denizen, to point to Kodak's failed attempt to make a place for itself in the inkjet printing market using a higher-hardware, lower-supplies pricing model.

But the popular press coverage grabbed hold of the benefits, as I have already stated, with less frequent user intervention (i.e. most ink cartridges tend to run dry very quickly, and the new EcoTank/"Supertank" printers can print for two years without fussing with them) - leading to "new standards of convenience and value", as Epson's webpage announcing the products declares (see below). And it all goes to show the truth behind the marketing axiom of advancing a product or solution's benefits - how unmet user needs will be met by the new offering - rather than focusing on the features that lead to the benefits.

All about benefits - classic marketing messaging that delivers meaning and leads to interest and even excitement
At risk of belaboring the point, the text of the email announcement I received on August 4th (launch day) reads as follows, directly hitting on the "pain point" of user intervention.
Today, Epson transforms the $40 billion North American printing market with EcoTank, addressing one of the biggest pain points for small businesses and consumers: running out of ink. To push the limits on convenience and value for color printing, Epson, today, unveils five new all-in-one color printers that come loaded and ready with up to two years of ink the box – revolutionizing the printer industry. 
EcoTank printers deliver unbeatable convenience with ultra low-cost replacement ink bottles and innovative refillable ink tanks for its home and home office models. The high-end small business models come equipped with ink packs that allow users to print up to 20,000 pages.
The NPR story (highly recommended reading and/or listening) also is worth mentioning another time, as it not only covers Epson's new products, but also insight into the market. Its approach was more of a "story behind the story" - highlighting the strong reader response that came the Journal's (and Rothman's) way following their August 4th review (the one with the headline about killing the ink cartridge.) Seems there is a group of users out there who are quite passionate about their printing, even in 2015!

(A footnote - I have always enjoyed this kind of "story behind the story" coverage and have done, as well, and this one took me back to one of my earliest columns (slightly a year after my start), with the tale of the small software company in Portland that gained the attention and praise of the venerable Walt Mossberg, then of The Wall Street Journal as well. See "Making it to the Top of the PR Mountain".)
(And while I am at it - another footnote - regarding my Graham Nash two-parter: In July I posted the first of a two-part exploration of fine arts printing based around curiosity inspired by seeing Graham Nash in concert in early July, and wanting to find out more about his photography and connections to printing, and share that with my readers. I am still on track for that, but in my post I suggested it would follow as my August Observations, which it will not, but stay tuned for September!)

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Intermountain 3D featured on Built in Boise

Proud to announce my first contribution to Built in Boise, a website described as "...writers, photographers, designers, builders and business-owners set out to tell the stories of Boise companies and the people behind them." It was a natural, and builds (pardon the pun) from my February Observations"HP Alums Take On 3D Printing World".

Friday, July 31, 2015

July Observations - CSNY and Printing

When Graham Nash, of CSNY, played Boise earlier in July, I posted on Instagram (no surprise) and I also ended up learning lots about fine-arts digital printing (big surprise)
So if you even comprehend my headline's CSNY reference this month, I am betting you, like me, are a Baby Boomer! And that's a good thing, as far as I am concerned! The acronym stands for the full name of surname-based musical group Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, one of the signature bands from the late 60s and early 70s, which began as (and still sometimes returning to) simply Crosby, Stills and Nash, or CSN, sans Neil Young. Following my attendance at a very enjoyable concert by band founder Graham Nash earlier this month, I ended up making a significant printing connection, in the historical sense, and will share a little of what I came across in doing my follow-up research.

A little more on Boomers

In marketing or related societal analysis, an understanding of the defining characteristics of these three major adult age cohorts (Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Millennials) is critical. It does not take great insight to see that, for example, lots of advertising - if you look in the right places, anyway - is oriented towards the Boomers and our current interests in topics like retirement planning and healthcare. And (see below) while it's easy to toss around these labels, it never hurts to make certain we are clear on definitions. And just a reminder that it's never quite clear – note the overlap in birth years between Gen X and Gen Y, which helps keep us mindful that these definitions a bit fluid. And two further notes on the source – since 2010, the "Generation Y" moniker has been largely supplanted by the synonymous term "Millennials", and alas, that 40% of the population comprised of Baby Boomers has probably slipped a point or two, though our spending power remains huge.

Just to be precise, it all comes down to birth year, and Baby Boomers, according to the Glossary of one of my University's recommended Consumer Behavior textbooks (copyright 2010), are defined as follows:

Baby Boomers
Individuals born between 1946 and 1964 (approximately 40% of the adult population).
Generation X
Born between 1965 and 1979, this is a post baby-boomer segment (also referred to as Xers or busters).
Generation Y
The approximately 71 million Americans who were born between the years 1977 and 1994 (i.e., the children of baby boomers). Members of Generation Y (also known as "echo boomers" and the "millennium generation") can be divided into three subsegments: Gen Y adults (age 19–28), Gen Y teens (age 13–18), and Gen Y kids, or "tweens."
Source: Glossary, Consumer Behavior, Tenth Edition
ISBN: 9780135053010 Author: Leon G. Schiffman, Leslie Lazar Kanuk, Joseph Wisenblit
Most of the world's first look at CSN - later to become CSNY - came via this album cover.

Besides relatively fat wallets, Boomers also have our memories and love for the days of our past and the music that went with it. So when GroupOn emailed with the chance to attend the aforementioned local summer concert by Graham Nash, especially including their little tease (see below), hundreds of local Boomers, including my wife and I, jumped at the chance. Nash's voice and songs are signature elements of the late 60s, 70s and onward, and it was a wonderful show. In the days following (in addition to having "Marrakesh Express" and others tunes stuck in my head), my interest was triggered to learn more about this piece of digital printing history and the role played by Graham Nash in its development.

Graham Nash, the photog

Lodged in the back of my mind that Graham Nash was a photographer as a well as a musician. While there are many famous images involving the band (including the one above from their debut, pre-Young, album), including a few I remembered with Nash and a camera. And then in 2006, shortly after launching my second career, post-HP, as a blogger/analyst, I had a "brush with greatness" as I bumped into, literally, none other than Graham Nash, at the Spring conference of the Photo Marketing Association (PMA) in Orlando. It was one of my first events with press credentials, all very exciting, and it was a "press preview" event in a day-ahead-of-the-main-show which offered the opportunity for press to mingle with vendors and their representatives. It was all quite heady stuff, and bumping into the instantly recognizable Nash made it all the more so!

Nash Editions

Fast forward to 2015 and post-concert, I started to do some digging on what the story was on the printing side of things, going by that little tidbit offered by GroupOn. In addition to an interesting and fun 10-year old story (see "Nash Editions: Fine Art Printing on the Digital Frontier")  that describes the "unmet user needs" (again in homage to my marketing teaching) that Graham Nash experienced when trying to convert his digitally photographed portraits to large format hard copy for a gallery exhibition, and how his colleagues worked with him to get an industry solution that has been evolving ever since.

I was fortunate enough to make contact with two of the co-founders of Nash Editions, who are still there after over 20 years. Their stories deserve so much more than being tagged onto the end of this "discovery" part of my story, so stay tuned for August 2015 Observations for some of the Nash Editions saga.

Graham Nash the artist – as summarized by GroupOn

  • How you know Graham Nash: as the singer-songwriter who shared his talents in The Hollies and Crosby, Stills & Nash, with and without Young
  • 2010: the year he was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire
  • Nash's inductions into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: two
  • How he managed that: he was inducted once with The Hollies, and once with Crosby, Stills & Nash
  • Inductions into the Songwriters Hall of Fame: only one, the slacker
  • Latest piece of writing: his memoir Wild Tales: A Rock and Roll Life
  • Classic Hollies tunes: "On a Carousel," "Bus Stop," and "Carrie Anne"
  • Classic CS&N and CSN&Y tunes: "Marrakesh Express," "Teach Your Children," "Our House," and "Just A Song Before I Go"—all of which were penned by Nash
  • Classic solo tunes: "Military Madness," "Chicago"
  • Everyone needs a hobby: Nash's work as a photographer led to the founding of Nash Editions, which was recognized by the Smithsonian for helping to invent digital fine-art printing.

Thursday, July 09, 2015

Using Apple Pay with Apple Watch

This AP story from 2005 references the "SpeedPass" wand - similar to the FreedomPay system I used at my local McDonald's in the early 2000's

I finally did it - used my Apple Watch to complete a transaction. My choice for making my initial Apple Pay payment was McDonald's, at the same location, in fact, where I frequently used the keychain "wand", a trial program going back over ten years, which allowed wireless payments. I joked on my Instagram post celebrating the event (see right) that we've come a long, long, way, a la Virginia Slims, but actually one could argue we're simply right back where we started!

Friday, June 26, 2015

June Observations - Summer Reading: Farming and Hunting

Though it was a very warm spring where I live, I perhaps jumped the gun a bit with my “summer recipes” column. But as of a few days ago it is now finally, officially summer! And that means, it’s time for summer reading to begin in earnest. The typical “beach books” reading list is usually heavily weighted towards some breezy fiction (not to be confused with one of my favorite mobile printing firms, Breezy). But this summer I am recommending at the top of my list, Better and Faster: The Proven Path to Unstoppable Ideas, by Jeremy Gutsche (@jeremygutsche), CEO of Trendhunter.com.

The title was published in mid-March of this year, when I received word of it through one of the world’s leading “recommendation engines”; the one at Amazon.com to be exact. And though Gutsche and Trendhunter were new to me at the time, and the “Proven Path to Unstoppable Ideas” part of the title seemed a bit bombastic, I checked out a copy from my local library a few weeks later. From first indications, I was positively inclined to liking it (as well as puzzled by the fact of my late discovery of Gutsche and Trendhunter), including being strongly influenced by the blurb by friend and trusted advisor Guy Kawasaki on the back cover and their BetterandFaster.com website (see screenshot below) — complete with Kawasaki’s own brand of bombasticity, I might add!
Long-time friend and noted tech evangelist Guy Kawasaki likes the book
I have been doing an enjoyable “slow read” ever since, using library renewals and then finally buying the e-book version for my Kindle. And from the pages I have come up with some interesting applications to the printing and imaging industry I will expand upon in a bit.
The book’s format is simple and complete (sounds a bit Kawasaki-esque right there) — Gutsche’s contents include defining his basic definitions, starting with the metaphor using the differences between farming and hunting, and then describing six fundamental patterns which underlie most business and technology trends — convergence, divergence, cyclicality, redirection, reduction, and acceleration, which Gutsche explains through the remainder of the book.
Farming and Hunting as Applied to Imaging and Printing
I have found numerous examples of printing and imaging to apply to each of the six patterns, but it is enough for this space to apply a few of the farmer/hunter points to the industry I have been part of since the mid-1980s. The basic idea of avoiding the farmer mindset in favor of the hunter is a bit paradoxical, in that, human-evolution-wise, it was the shift from hunting-and-gathering to agrarian ways that catapulted our species into its grand success of the last 10,000 years or so. But Gautsche makes the point that in business, we usually approach problems with the determination of farmers, figuring out what works and then applying the same methods, over and over again — with a few tweaks of course — expecting and generally getting steadily improving results. But success is not guaranteed to continue forever into the future, and Better and Faster highlights three traps that farmers (and their analogous business leaders) find themselves in, including complacency, repetition, and protectiveness.
This graphic - a screenshot from BetterFaster.com - gives the basic structure of Gutsche's ideas, and the book offers many examples that bring each of them to life
The book includes many, many great examples, a few familiar, and many new to me, but one of the natural examples for inclusion in the section about farmers and the traps they get caught in is Kodak and its “miss” on digital photography, even when the initial technology was right in front of their noses. They were collectively missing the hunter instincts of curiosity and its related practices. According to Gutsche, instead of paying attention to experimentation and continually reassessing assumptions, eventually moving beyond their past and what had previously been successful, Kodak’s strong corporate culture stiff-armed the first digital camera prototypes a maverick Kodak scientist had developed in-house in the mid-1970s, and continued with their farming approach to the imaging and printing business.
Recently, I witnessed something firsthand that was less dramatic but indicative of this farming versus hunting mindset. An industry leader had gathered together the analyst committee to share, under embargo and prior to its official launch, a collection of new technologies the firm had developed. It had taken a huge investment in terms of years and dollars, with the end result being that they could now offer improvements in product price/performance, and in particular, through following the curve of efficiency and miniaturization, much smaller products in terms of mass and footprint, with corresponding improvements in energy usage. The executive in charge of the analyst briefing was excited by what he had to talk about, but clearly dejected by the lack of enthusiasm to match on the analyst side. Despite the investment and measurable improvements, I look back to that less-than-overwhelming reaction as a response to how a declining industry is coping, and in this case it was touting new seeds and fertilizer on the old farmland, when whole new fields need to be explored.
In that hunter mindset, I can point to no less than the subject of my last several columns on printing and IFTTT and the Internet of Things. Curiosity, “breaking the mold,” looking outside the normal sphere of success and influence - these are hunter characteristics which I greatly admire and will continue to report on. (At the end of last month’s Observations, I promised more on the subject, but wanted to get this “Summer Reading” out while it was seasonally appropriate.)
I highly recommend Better and Faster: The Proven Path to Unstoppable Ideas, by Jeremy Gutsche, and for those who want a media alternative, there is also aBetter and Faster: The Proven Path to Unstoppable Ideas video, a keynote address by the author, available via YouTube, at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VFshvhzcCVw

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Go figure - Apple making lots of profit on watchbands!

I enjoyed seeing this article by Julia Love @byJuliaLove of Reuters, in Business Insider this morning. In addition to having sold 2.79 million watches, according to Slice Intelligence @SliceIntel, apparently Apple is selling, and making lots of profit from, the watchbands that go with them. It's the oldest business model in the books, or nearly so - the classic "razors and blades" model that I first remember learning about in college days, when a friend worked in a camera shop and was trained to never let a customer leave the store without a case and other accessories, after buying a camera body. Interesting that I remember the market leader of the day was the Canon AE-1.