Three Reasons I’m Having a Love Affair

I have a secret, and it’s time I told the truth.

I’m having a love affair. I know it’s wrong. I’m not proud of it. But I’m not gonna stop and you can’t make me – because you make it easy.

I suspect you’re all doing it too. People… I’m in love with my couch.

Well, technically I’m in love with sitting on my couch. Lazing on my couch. Curling up under a soft blanket with my laptop/iPad and consuming all the ridiculous, delicious, awesome content my TV can serve up.

I like being home, and I can do this because, unlike even a few years ago, I don’t have to leave the house to go shopping anymore. Those frantic, stressful trips to Safeway after work have gone by the wayside in our house, along with those last minute trips to Macy’s because oh crap,  I forgot about a wedding coming up this weekend. This, all  thanks to the ease, convenience, technology and ingenuity of the new trend in online shopping and business – home delivery.

Here are the three reasons I am able to sustain the love affair with my couch, while Silicon Valley comes to me:

  1. Google Shopping Express – I feel sorry for WebVan. Remember them? Back in the height of the dot com, they were first on the scene to provide same day/next day home delivery of fresh produce. But back then, people weren’t ready to fully trust online shopping, and without the backbone support of a behemoth like Safeway, their business model didn’t survive past its expiration date. But now – yes, BUT NOW (writhing hands with maniacal laugh) – we do trust online shopping. And commerce-as-a-service has become a thing (dare I say paving the way for tech wearables like Fitbit to keep us moving!) Unless you’re lucky enough to live in a major metropolitan area like Silicon Valley, Manhattan or LA, you don’t have this – yet. But let me paint a picture of the same.day_.deliveryx299absolute game changer Google has created with its same day delivery service. Yes, I didn’t think it was possible for Google to add yet another meaning to its name, but when they arrive at our front step, the kids say “Mom! Google’s at our door! #MINDBLOWN. I still haven’t figured out their business model yet. I can order, say, one container of dental floss from Walgreens (or Target, Whole Foods, Nob Hill, REI and more as part of their shop and drop service). They go out and hand pick it off the shelf from a local Walgreens store, bring it back for bagging, package it up (sealed with cute stickers with sayings like “Enclosed is one less errand to run” or “Saved time inside.”) and drive it to my front door – almost faster than I could physically drive to a Walgreens and get it myself! Currently there are no minimums and free delivery. They’re the crack dealers of non-perishable goods. I will be continuing, even when they start charging for delivery, so I guess you could call me an addict too.
  2. StitchFix – Haven’t we ALL dreamed of having a personal stylist? Someone who knows our style so well that they effortlessly plow through rack after rack of clothes at boutique after boutique, only carefully handpicking the perfect item – ON SALE – for us to rock?! Well, reality check. I’m no celebrity. I’m a working mom on a tight budget and in the words of Sweet Brown, “Ain’t NOBODY got time fo dat!” Until now, that is, when I found StichFix. This online, deliver-fashion-to-my-door service lets my personal stylist (read: Not the same one everytime but one of a team of what I imagine are very hipster, gorgeous ladies in a loft somewhere in SoHo)  hand-pick items they think I will like, informed by my personal fashion profile.
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    My last StitchFix order

    My profile, to sum it up, defines my fashion as “Think Paris in the 70s”, and I have to say… they just about nail it everytime. Each month I receive a box of items within my pre-defined price range, allowing me to try them on, asses their fit and style, and buy it or easily return it in the pre-paid shipping envelope they also include. The next best part to getting beautiful, boutique-level, well-made clothing in the mail? The perforated insert that shows how to pair your new item both casual and dressy, accompanied by the personalized note from my stylist describing why she chose each piece for me and why she thought I’d like it.  A great example of “Commerce-as-a-Service” (which I don’t even know if that’s a thing but if it’s not, you heard it here first!) #YES

  3. Nit Busterz Mobile Lice Removal Service – Sorry to get gross here, but any Mom understands that Lice are the bain of our existence (I dare you to stop itching your head right now!) I HATE LICE. PERIOD. These tiny legit spiders do not belong on my child’s head much less this planet. I thought we were through this stage, having a 10 and almost 16-year old. But this year alone, it’s been unexpectedly my older child who has gotten them not once – not twice – but THREE times in the last 9 months. I learned the reason when Bay Area 11 did a story on the now epidemic outbreak levels of Lice in Bay Area high schools, and it makes total sense. SELFIES. These kids are taking so many selfies, touching their heads together for a brief moment to snap the picture that the lice easily hop from head to head. AACCKK! The selfie is the Bering Strait of infestation! A few weeks ago, when it happened again, I decided I’d been traumatized enough by the hours of combing insects out of my beloved children’s hair, and called the mobile service called Nit Busterz (yes, you can make lice cute by adding a “z” to the end of your name.  Brillz.) It was a Saturday so I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the owner answered her phone while at the airport on her way out of town, and used her iPad to locate the nearest available “agent”. The appointment was booked for later that afternoon, and by dinnertime, we were successfully lice-free once again. I never had to leave my house for that effing louse. #WINNING

There are a bunch of others that get honorable mention too. Safeway.com. Armadillo Willys, who for an order for 25 people or more will bring your entire meal out to your house, set it up with a checkered tablecloth and utensils so you can enjoy delicious BBQ all without lifting a fatigued finger. And of course, the world domination plan that is Amazon.com. If it not for the social nature of my friends, and the fact that I have to be home to sign for wine delivery, I would probably never see the light of day again.

Thank you, technology, for bringing Silicon Valley to me. Now… if I could only figure out how to break it to my couch that I have a hot, sweaty date with the gym…

SXSW: Spring Break for Silicon Valley

SXSW: Spring Break for Silicon Valley

South by Southwest (or SXSW, or “South By”) has come and gone for 2014. Having been my second festival, I thought I knew what better to expect this time. Much of it was as I had planned carefully, with lessons learned from my virgin experience. I only packed a few comfortable shoes. I planned for Austin’s schizophrenic weather and brought mittens and a coat, as well as a bathing suit and flip-flops. And (aspirationally), I packed running shoes “just in case” I’d have time to run on the treadmill – which, of course I did not. SXSW is the kind of event that once you leave your hotel in the morning, you’re not coming back for anything except a warm bed in the wee hours of the night.

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Seth Meyers holds Grumpy Cat

What I didn’t expect was how many new and incredible opportunities there were to consume content that were not a part of the sanctioned festival. Brands have learned that the influx of marketers, digital leaders and creative thinkers provide the perfect opportunity to deliver smart content to their audiences, without the necessity of a festival badge. I dined one morning on breakfast at the W Hotel at the Social Media Today event, which featured social executives from Whole Foods, IBM and MasterCard. I spent another day at Lamberts BBQ at the Brand Innovators Summit, hosted by social maven and author @TedRubin and jam packed with 20-minute presentations from big brands like Mondelez International (holding company for Oreo, Nabisco and more). Even the pop-up shops and takeovers surrounding the Convention Center had plenty of content to offer. Esurance scanned special gold badges for a chance to win prizes. HBO’s Game of Thrones pedaled pedicab “Thrones” around the streets of Austin and over to their special exhibit of props and costumes from the show (of which I did not tour, due to the consistent hour plus wait time to get in.) Even Grumpy Cat, last year’s top Internet Meme, made his way into the party. Content at SXSW is EVERYWHERE you look, every hour of the day and night. Overwhelming? YES.

The collective hours of planning and money spent by these brands has got to be in the billions. Months of ideation, construction, shipping, assembly, amplification and tear down. As impressive as this is, real-time marketing was conspicuously absent. I am very surprised that any of these brands didn’t take advantage of this massive opportunity to do something so simple – a la “You can still dunk in the dark” Superbowl Tweet from last year – yet so – yes I will say it, the center square in SXSW Bingo – disruptive, that it won the day. Oreo came close (again), crowdsourcing cookie flavors from Twitter and dispensing them on the spot using special machines created for the event. Maybe it’s just too busy, too crazy, too fragmented, or brands just plain run out of gas by the time they’re there. But also there are 100,000 people using their phones to take pictures and check Twitter, and even more not there watching the social stream to feel they’re a part of the action. My bet’s on seeing more of real-time marketing attempts next year.

So, common themes of SXSW 2014:

  • Disruption (I said it again): Brands are very aware they need to do something unexpected to get people’s attention.
  • Real time marketing: Brands are dying to be first with a witty Tweet or to market with something that’s hot. My sense from the sessions I attended was the larger the brand, the harder it is to pivot. IBM Social Business is doing some really innovative, cool things with social analysis and analytics. Here’s one they did at the very hip CMO Clubhouse outpost (it was the agency space used to photoshoot Grumpy Cat!) Social Command Center with my own Twitter handle. This new software analyzed every Tweet I’ve ever sent and applied the sentiment of my content with characteristic traits similar to Meyers-Briggs. It turns out I rate very high in Adventurousness and Imagination, which I’ll take! Where brands could go with this, especially as we move into more sophisticated social selling models, is really interesting.

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    My Twitter profile IBM analysis

  • A Return to Being Human Marketers: Dynamic Signal, an up and coming tool for brands wanting to become true social businesses inside and out, hosted a roundtable panel at the Brand Innovators Lounge for clients and prospects to openly share successes and insights. It was really great to hear these brand marketers talk about connecting their employees with easy to share content, because they get that their best advocates are inside their own walls. It’s not that your employees don’t want to tell everyone about the exciting things happening at your company; it’s that they’re afraid they’ll say the wrong thing. “Employees want to know what they can do right,” said Susan Emerick, IBM executive and author of The Most Powerful Brand in the World. “They want to have a positive experience and want to make sure they’re not doing anything wrong to put themselves and their company in jeopardy.” Dynamic Signal makes it easy to share, a tenet Bryan Kramer, the president of our agency PureMatter calls “#H2H”. Bryan sat on the panel to share his expertise about how important it is to bring back the simplicity, empathy and imperfection in how we market today, discussed further in his new book There is No B2B or B2C: It’s Human to Human, H2H. “We’re selling to humans – not businesses – no matter what,” he says.

This year’s SXSW did not disappoint with both filling my brain with new ideas and killing my brain cells with endless open bars. If it sounds like Spring Break, you’re right (and thanks to Mark Cuban for inspiring the title). But now, after 5 days of walking, talking, brainstorming and partying, I’m ready for a serious break from the madness. It’s one of those events that you don’t realize how magical a time it is, until you return back to sanity and feel full of creativity – and inspired to start planning for Austin 2015.

Heads, California. Tales, Michigan.

Yes, I’ve got it right – the usage of “Tales” in the headline. I thought it appropriate, since this is my first post with this power group of Silicon Valley women, for us to get to know each other a little  better by sharing a few stories about what makes living here different than my home state of Michigan. So here it goes:

“You can take the girl out of Michigan but you can’t take the Michigan out of the girl.”

I spent the first 30 years of my life living in within 10 miles of where I was born. I survived K-12, 4 years undergrad at Michigan State University, and post-college, a practice marriage, 3 jobs, my own design firm and a gorgeous daughter. All of this took equal amounts of energy to get through as the 30 winters I endured as a warm-blooded resident in my arctic ecosystem (anyone reading this from Michigan – or any other bordering Midwestern state understands – there is something just terribly wrong about trying to scrape ice off your windshield in a horizontal snowstorm with 50 MPH winds and sub-zero temperatures. WRONG. It causes crying, trust me.)

I never thought I’d end up in California. Living in the Bay Area was so off my radar; if you would have told me 15 years ago where I’d be today, I would have called “BULLSH*T!” and challenged you to a game of Euchre in my basement. But the planets aligned somehow after meeting my now husband and business partner – Bryan Kramer,  a rare San Jose native, and the addition of our son, Henry – and  I’ve never looked back. That was 13 years ago February.

It’s not to say that the transition was , well, seamless. Here are some of the differences between living in Michigan and California that have stuck with me:

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Our amazing weather

Home prices vs. the Weather:  I remember having a conversation with some acquaintances at dinner shortly after I arrived in San Jose, and the first thing they opened with was “Do you own a house? How  much did it cost? Ours was $600,000 dollars, can you believe what a deal we got?!” I.was.mortified. Who talks about their mortgage? Where I came from, that was as secret as information got. I countered with how much my first home cost in Michigan – a mere $90,000 dollars for a 3-bedroom/2 bath house on an acre of land – and got them off topic. What I realized later on was that they weren’t trying to show off or boast; it was that people always lead with what ails them the most. It’s why those of us from the Midwest start conversations about the weather. We’re not trying to be trite, it’s just that we’ve been conditioned to be concerned about the weather and what our plan “A” and “B” was for the weekend’s activities. In Michigan, it literally can swing from 85° to 45° in a matter of minutes. That is no exaggeration, hand to God (or hand OF God, in this case.) I can’t tell you how awesome it is still to be able to plan a trip to the water park in the summer months in advance, knowing that not only will it not rain, it will be a gorgeous, sunny, mild day. Weather does not ail me anymore.

Bugs: Computer bugs we have; massive, giant, “carry-you-into-the-sunset” mosquitos we do not.

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The 87 at dusk

Traffic: Tracy posted a great, in depth post about the traffic here in the Bay Area. People have to commute crazy distances to get where they’re going. Distance is measured in hours, not miles. Parking is as elusive as Beyonce tickets. But as crowded as it is, it keeps moving. In Michigan, when traffic is stopped, it’s STOPPED. It means there’s been an accident, a cow blocking the way or a tornado crossing the road that people have pulled over for – not for safety, but just to watch it go by.

Cultural Diversity: There was one Asian guy and one African American in my high school. Even though I grew up five miles from a major university, the choices in our town to be exposed to any other culture were few and far between.  I grew up eating a consistent weekly diet of Mac and Cheese, Pizza, Burgers, Salmon Patty’s and Dinty Moore Beef Stew out of a can.  And believe it or not, I never tasted sushi until I was 30 (not because I didn’t want to, because we had no sushi restaurants in East Lansing until one opened when I was in my late 20s.) I drank Labatts and Molson and Falstaff beer and the wine I’d tasted was probably made of cherries or blueberries. Don’t get me wrong – there’s absolutely nothing wrong with any of these things – but I am so grateful my kids are being raised in such a culturally diverse environment, being exposed to other ways of thinking, eating and playing. They love sushi at 9 and 15. My son’s favorite foods are oysters and lobster (including the eyeballs.) I am also thankful that they will never make the mistake of calling a Taqueria a “Ta-KARE-ia” because they’d never seen the word before. Yes, that happened to me, when i was 31.

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My friend Cheryl’s winery Clos La Chance – delish!

Time travel: Not in the Orsenian Wells way; in the rate at which progress, well, progresses. I am continually fascinated by the speed of business here in the Bay Area – start-ups emerge every day, ideas are iterated and iterated upon, getting more exciting as they morph into technologies that enhance our daily lives. There is a palpable spirit of innovation and creativity in the air here that’s addictive, contagious and delicious. Maybe living in the Midwest is for people who need a higher sense of continuity and consistency to survive? I just know that for me, moving too slowly causes me to lose interest and attention, which doesn’t serve my entrepreneurial spirit whatsoever (and another reason I am grateful for wine – it pairs well with us distractible personalities.)

So, as we often say at our marketing firm, PureMatter, “All roads lead back to Michigan.” Try it sometime; even if you have no ties back to the mitten state (of which I would have a hard time believing), I bet someone in the room with you right now does. I guess it goes to show that those of us who managed to get out brought with us the solid values and quirky sense of humor we all share, albeit transplanted into  a paradise of perfect weather, tasty wine and food and opportunity for miles. I can be at the beach from my front door to the water in 30 minutes. Yes, that.

I love being connected to so many other Michiganders here in the Bay Area (and for my favorite University of Michigan alumnus DJ Waldo, Todd WIlms and John Squire, so sorry about the football game last weekend, I have a green and white tissue for you to cry into if you need it). I’m sure, like me, you’re so happy to call California home too.