GardenOfVino.com

I am launching a new website, GardenOfVino.com, dedicated to non-grape winemaking.

Photo credit: Emiliano De Laurentiis for iSante magazine.

I love traditional grape-based wines as much as anyone. In fact, I grow several varieties of grapevines. I also have many varieties of berries, orchard fruits, flowers, herbs and vegetables.

So what else to do but begin experimenting with making wine from the abundance of my own back yard?!

And of course, I want to have a way of sharing my experiences with others. Tell people who are interested what tastes good, what tastes bad, tricks to make things easier and resources for getting started.

And so GardenOfVino.com was born.

If you have any interest in wine, especially in wine making or in non-grape wines, go check it out. And tell a friend or two!

 

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Billions and Billions Served

Savvy marketers have known for decades about the power of social validation.

Photo credit: Ken Mayer

Any time you see or hear a line like “4 out of 5 doctors prefer…” or “10 million satisfied users can’t be wrong” you are being plied with social validation.

While going against the grain may be a good strategy for investing, when it comes to finding products and services to actually use, it often pays to follow the crowd.

When you pull into a restaurant parking lot and find that it’s empty, alarm bells should be going off. Either they are not serving yet, the food is terrible, the prices way too high or some other thing but if no one is eating there, you can be sure something is wrong.

With the explosion in smartphones, mobile communications and computer technology, crowdsourcing has taken off in a way that it never could before. Sites like Yelp enable users to post online reviews for all manner of products and/or services.

There are a bunch of terrific new apps coming out which take a slightly different twist on the concept. So let me list a few of my favorite crowd-enabled apps and websites.

1. Gas Buddy

This smartphone app, available for all smartphone platforms, will help you find the lowest gas prices within a 10 mile radius of your current location. Its millions of users are invited to report and update gas prices for any station they visit or pass. The app will tell you how recently prices for a given station were updated so you have some idea how accurate they are. You can also sort listings by distance or by price and even view stations on a map. This free app has saved me a bundle of money!

2. Waze

A GPS app that I’m absolutely in love with. It is available for iPhone, Android, Windows and Symbian. Beyond being merely a GPS with voice directions (by the way, the voice comes in your choice of both genders and over two dozen different languages!), Waze offers so much more. It alerts you when you are approaching traffic cameras, disabled vehicles, accidents, police speed traps, construction zones and so much more. It will even try to route you around these things whenever possible. Every Waze user is invited to submit reports of things that may affect driving conditions. Those reports are then sent to other nearby drivers who can corroborate or refute them.

You don’t even have to use Waze as a GPS. Simply turn it on when driving on familiar roads and leave it running in the background. It will not give you turn-by-turn directions (you don’t need them on familiar roads) but it will still warn you about road hazards ahead. This app saves me so much time and aggravation.

3. Indiegogo

This is really a website rather than an app. Its purpose is to enable small charitable fund drives, though there is no screening as for what constitutes a charitable cause. Users can request funds for anything they want from starting up a band to running a homeless shelter. You simply say how much money you want and what you intend to do with it. Others can decide for themselves whether or not they care to donate and how much to give. Users could give anything from a few cents to many thousands of dollars. It’s a great way to collect donations.

4. Quirky

A website that facilitates crowd-enabled inventing. Someone comes up with an idea for a new product and others can vote for it, thus endorsing it as a good idea, or even contribute refinements and improvements. Once an invention has been sufficiently refined and is deemed popular enough to be a likely commercial success, funders will help the inventor(s) bring it to market. Many extremely clever inventions that were developed in the Quirky community are also offered for sale on  Quirky’s website.

There are many other examples of ways in which technology is enabling the collective wisdom, observations and experiences of the larger community to improve the lives of all. Share your favorites below so everyone can benefit!

6 Things You Probably Do Wrong With Mobile

Note: If you haven’t read the chapter from our book about Smartphones, you really should. This article builds on the information in that chapter.

It’s amazing how many companies get mobile wrong. Even very large, otherwise sophisticated companies.

For instance, I have an app from one of the largest banks in the world. About half the functionality is well designed and useful while the other half is simply awful. It’s so bad that I’m constantly tempted to just get rid of the app altogether.

There are a handful of things that companies regularly get wrong when designing mobile apps:

Photo courtesy of Cori Redfdord

1. Too Much Information

 TMI isn’t just about knowing that your mom was a party girl in her day. It’s vitally important to really consider how your mobile app will be used in the real world. Users will try to use it while walking down the street. Despite the stupidity of it (and laws against it), some will try to use it while driving. Even barring these, users are reading off a small screen.

In the name of all that is holy, you need to pare down the information you present to only that which is absolutely vital. If you hope to also keep it interesting and readable, you really need to hire a copywriter who excels in writing that is highly accessible, simple and interesting.

2. Too Many Steps

Hand-in-hand with too much information, many companies try to cram in far too much functionality. In the process, they create far too many steps to get any one thing done. People don’t want to climb the stairs. They want you to build them an escalator. Or better yet, a private elevator with a butler and someone to massage their feet and feed them grapes during their ride to the top.

How many is too many? Six steps may not seem like a lot, but it’s unquestionably too many in the world of apps. In fact, four is about the limit and you’d do far better sticking to three or less.

That’s why it’s so important to carefully plan what you want your app to do and get design input from both a copywriter and a designer. Or ideally, save yourself some money and hire someone who does both.

3. Hard to Navigate

Photo credit: J. Ronald Lee

If your app requires a user manual of any kind — even if they’re as simple as the assembly instructions for Ikea furniture — it is far too complex.

The most inexperienced user should be able to pick it up and make it do something useful with zero instruction. In fact, taken to its extreme, get a user who doesn’t speak or read English and see if he can navigate your app.

One of the things that frustrate me about several of the apps I use is that they send me “push” notifications. Even as a savvy computer user, I cannot figure out how to turn these off or change the settings for them. I’ve been backwards and forwards through these apps and they are simply a mystery.

It isn’t that you can’t adjust the settings, it’s that the adjustments are all so cumbersome and non-intuitive that I can’t figure them out.

4. Not Compelling

Even if your product or service interests me, if your app adds nothing to my life then why should I use it?

If all your app does is rehash and present information that’s easily obtainable from other sources, what is its purpose?

Don’t try to sell applesauce to an apple grower!

Even insurance companies, an industry known for being boring, make popular apps by adding utility to them. They let users keep policy information, offer checklists of things to do in an accident, give reminders… all sorts of helpful functions.

5. Resource Hog

Loads of video, huge pictures (remember, cell phone screens are small), the need to constantly be connected, large file or database sizes… all add to the “weight” of an app. You want your app to be a dainty preschool teacher, not a sumo wrestler.

Imagine an app that offers medical advice. I’m out hiking in the mountains and fall, suffering an injury. When I check the app for advice on treating my injuries I find that I must be online to get any useful information. Being in the mountains I have no signal. The app is useless to me.

The principle holds for almost any kind of app. If being connected to the internet is mandatory, you’ve just reduced the utility of the app considerably. If it takes up a lot of space on my phone, or if it runs slowly because it requires so much memory or other resources then I will hate it and will tell everyone I know how terrible it is.

6. Poor User Interface

Photo credit: Shawn Rossi

Look at your fingertip. Notice how large it is, relative to the size of your cell phone screen. If you make menu items too small or too close together, I will forever be clicking the wrong things.

Remember the game Operation? Now try playing that while holding the operating table in one hand and while walking down the hallway. If the guy’s nose lights up your whole company just lost the game.

Likewise if you include elements that are not resizable. I will grow frustrated.

Force me to conform to some predetermined path rather than just let me get to the information or functionality I want and I will definitely uninstall your app.

The Wrap-up

Remember, your app is like an employee. It represents your company. You wouldn’t tolerate an employee bad-mouthing the company to your customers. So don’t let your app do the same thing.

If you make a great app, word will spread and people will use it. Make a terrible app and be prepared to pay a terrible price.

While an average app may not generate the social media equivalent of hate mail or bad press, you won’t be doing yourself or your company any favors.

Hiring an expert to help you design and create your app is a small investment that will yield big benefits.

 

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The Wrong Way to Twitter (part 2)

In a previous installment, we discussed small businesses using Twitter as a tool for self promotion. In that article I pointed out how such a tool would be used differently by different types of small businesses. We looked at one class of small business and one thing they might do to correctly use Twitter to best advantage.

Photo credit: Richie Diesterheft

Today let’s look more closely at the messages that might be tweeted and their intended audience.

The message is the tweets you send out as a small business.

Every small business that uses Twitter has at least two intended audiences:

                            • Previous customers
                            • Potential customers

Most businesses don’t think much about the distinction but the messages you send to each of these two groups may be different at least some of the time.

I’m going to broadly define previous customers as anyone who has interacted with your business before. They may have bought something from you, or they may just have inquired. You may have given them an estimate or they may have crossed your path at some networking event. Maybe they even just signed up for your mailing list at some point.

The real point is that these are people with whom you already have some kind of preexisting relationship. You already know who these people are before you compose and send your tweets.

When you send tweets out to these people, your main goal is to cultivate the relationship. You want to keep yourself in their minds and encourage them to come back or to refer others to you.

Potential customers are essentially strangers who you are hoping will find you by serendipity and become interested enough to come patronize, or at least check out, your business.

You would not adopt the same level of familiarity with potential customers as you might with existing customers.

Potential customers may want to know more about your business: its history, offerings, range of products, guarantees, etc. They will need to become familiar with you and grow to trust you before moving from potential to actual customers.

Existing customers already know enough of that information to be comfortable buying from you so they may be more interested in ideas for getting more or better use out of the products they’ve already bought from you. They may want to know when a new feature or option becomes available.

With both groups, you want to do more than simply try to sell.

Selling is a turn-off that will make most people direct their attention (and often their money) elsewhere.

So what do you do?

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution to that.

The nature of your business may dictate different styles. In general helpful, interesting, funny, mysterious or unexpected bits of information will generate fascination and interest. These carry the dual benefit of being retweetable, thus increasing your exposure. (And helping your goal of attracting more potential customers.)

Beyond that, you really need the custom-tailored advice of an expert. I’ll give you three guesses where you can find one.

 

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The Wrong Way to Twitter (Part 1)

A friend came to me recently asking about using Twitter as a means to promote a small business to local customers. After a short conversation, he began to realize how complex something so simple can be.

There is definitely a wrong way to use Twitter.

Let’s look at some examples.

First understand that there are different kinds of small business. One type is a business for whom geography is unimportant. Either they do much of their selling online or they primarily ship their products. We won’t be talking about those kinds of businesses today.

The other kind is those whose primary clientele is local; paint stores, dry cleaners, car lots and the like. A customer patronizing this type of business will visit his local store and not one three states away.

Even for these types of businesses, locality matters. If you are in a small town relatively isolated from any larger towns, online advertising of most types (I’m speaking very broadly here so this includes Twitter as a form of “online” advertising) will be generally ineffective. The locals who will do business with you will almost all find you one of three ways:

  1. They’ve been doing business with you for years and already have an ongoing relationship with you.
  2. They will ask their friends, who will refer you.
  3. You are the only game in town so locals who need what you’ve got will have few options but to find you and do business with you.

That leaves small business in large cities and those in what I will loosely call suburban areas. Much of the east and west coasts of the United States tend to be a patchwork of humongous suburban areas. For example, I live more than 40 miles from Center City Philadelphia, however the greater Philadelphia metropolitan area extends a little over 50 miles to the south of the city, at least as far north and just about as far west. That’s roughly 500 square miles of basically uninterrupted metropolis.

That metropolis, and countless others just like it, may include hundreds of small towns but they all sort of run together. It’s an easy matter for a customer to shop two, three, even ten towns over.

It is in these cases where online advertising and social media prove their worth. Provided it’s done correctly.

The internet and social media are worldwide platforms. If your customer base is all within 30 miles or so of your business location (realistically, it is) then reaching prospects three states away, or three countries away, is not helpful to your business.

Because of the very low cost of online advertising, most businesses don’t bother with targeting but that’s a mistake. Not only do untargeted efforts lead to excessive online “noise”, but they can also lead to costs; both real and reputational.

So the first step is to write your tweets in such as way as to make them targeted and searchable. One of the easiest ways to do that is to add the name of your town in a hashtag, like this: #[town name]

A hashtag is a word you are explicitly marking as being ultra searchable. The implication is that it’s highly relevant to your tweets.

In the next installment, we’ll look another huge distinction that many small businesses fail to recognize. It will make all the difference in what you tweet and how you do it.

 

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