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March 2006

The Inns at Mill Falls

Church_landing1_1About one and one-half hours north of Boston (straight up route 93) is a charming little enclave called the Inns at Mill Falls, in Meredith, New Hampshire. We paid a visit there this weekend, and stayed at the lovely Church Landing Inn on the shores of Lake Winnepesaukee. With its Adirondack styling, beautiful water views, and plethora of fireplace-warmed reading nooks, Church Landing proved to be an idyllic weekend getaway from the city. In fact, we scored the ground-level Acorn Room, complete with French doors opening out onto the beach. Beach

The Inn stands on land once occupied by the Saint Charles Church, built in 1951 and purchased by today's owners on March 17, 2003. But the village of Meredith had its start in the 1700s when settlers built a a variety of mills here (for sawing wood, grinding flour, combing cotton flax and weaving cloth), using the nearby waterway and man-made waterfalls as their power source. Sadly, the thriving mill town fell into decline during the Depression and on through World War II, until much of the property was purchased and razed in the early 80s. At that time, the historic Mill that was one of the many buildings on site at the turn of the century was renovated and converted into a 4-floor shopping complex.

A special feature of the Inn is its Cascade Spa, a full-service day spa featuring massages, body treatments, facials, maincure/pedicures, and an indoor/outdoor pool (you swim through an archway in the wall connecting the two - an eye-opening experience when you hit that cold winter air on the other side!). I took advantage of the manicure and massage services (top notch: clean, tranquil environment and friendly, professional staff), as well as the pool and fitness room next door (the treadmill is much more appealing when you're gazing out upon that lake!). Winnepesaukee_4

The Inn is family-friendly, too (unless by "family" you're referring to your pets, which are not allowed). This particular weekend they provided complimentary horse and carriage rides and a bonfire by the lake for toasting marshmallows. It's a huge destination for weddings (year-round), and its banquet facilities are booked for every weekend in the summer for the next three years.

There are numerous dining options in and around the Inn, but an underwhelming experience at the Lakehouse Grille, led us to venture off-campus for most meals. Lakehouse is the main dining room at Church Falls; it had a pleasant atmosphere and attentive service, but all of the food seemed overcooked. So on our second night we opted to have dinner at Abondante Tuscan Trattoria, which was excellent and just a short drive from the Inn (or a pleasant walk in warmer weather). We also spent time at The Village Perk Coffee House and Deli, a comfy spot on Main Street with great breakfast sandwiches, muffins, baked goods, chili and of course fancy coffee drinks.

That's all for now...the maid just came a-knockin and it's time for me to check out.


Tech Links for March 18

Check out these cool items in the news today:

Smart Parking: Bay Area urban planners are exploring ways to ease congestion on city streets by helping motorists quickly and easily find available parking spots. At some point in the near future, drivers will see a display of the nearest available street or garage parking right on their car's naviagation screen (The Mercury News)

Video Game Therapy: Practitioners of neuro-feedback, a decades-old form of conditioning that rewards people for producing specific brainwaves and is often used with brain-injury patients, are incorporating video games into therapy sessions to help sick children manage pain and anxiety. In fact, there's a private island in the 3-D virtual world/game Second Life that is open only to people with  Asperger's syndrome and autism (Reuters)

Roomba Frogger: South by Southwest attendees mod a Roomba vaccuum cleaner so that it is Bluetooth enabled and remote controlled by a laptop, then dress it up like a frog for a real-life game of Frogger  - the popular 80s video game where you have to successfully help the froggie cross a busy highway (CNET News.com)


MITX - Web 2.0: Engaging the Long Tail

I attended a very engaging panel discussion yesterday morning, hosted by the Massachusetts Innovation & Technology Exchange (MITX), titled Web 2.0: Engaging the Long Tail.

With the advent of next-generation online services like blogging, podcasting, social bookmarking, and wikis (collectively referred to as “Web 2.0” or “social computing”), marketers are faced with a growing number of ways to engage with their constituents - whether they like it or not.

New technologies and applications have enabled countless conversations to occur - outside of the realm of the corporate boardroom, and often in conflict with the best-laid brand plans. Everyday consumers are publishing opinions, rants, and raves on every product/service/brand imaginable…and word is traveling fast.

The “Long Tail” is the notion that there is a small number of bloggers who account for a majority of the traffic in the blogosphere, followed by a “long tail" of niche bloggers that have only a handful of links going into them (see below graph, where the horizontal axis represents number of blogs and vertical axis represents their popularity, or number of links in).

Long_tail_1

Those who believe in the power of the Long Tail recognize that products that are in low demand or have low sales volume can collectively make up a market share that rivals or exceeds the relatively few current bestsellers and blockbusters. In other words, there’s revenue opportunity in courting the back list/niche channels.

So how do marketers engage the Long Tail of the blogosphere to leverage its collective interest in their brands? What does consumer generated media and this new participatory culture really mean to marketers? MITX assembled a noteworthy panel of industry vets to discuss this topic, including:

Highlights of the conversation – along with some of my own commentary – follow.

What is Web 2.0?

Henry Jenkins opened the panel with a brief explanation of what is meant by the terms “Web 2.0” and “The Long Tail.” With regards to the former, he shared these visuals from Tim O’Reilly that summarize the concepts (click to enlarge):

What_is_web_20 Web_20_meme_map

Should marketers participate?

For the most part, there was a resounding “yes” answer to this question. As Jack Barrette put it, marketers need to “join the conversation or get talked about.” Most panelist agreed that Web 2.0 presents marketers with a unique opportunity to more fully engage with consumers than they have been able to in the past. While they may not be able to control the dialogue, it makes sense to participate for a number of reasons (there's an excellent series of posts on Branding in a 2.0 World in Conversations with Dina and Brand Mantra that discuss the potential for social tools and technologies to address consumer needs).

Adam Cutler was the sole dissenter on this topic, and really got the conversation started with his assertion that "brands will die" in favor of user experience - that UE becomes more important than technology, the latter being an enabler and not a solution in and of itself.

While I agree that technology is an enabler, I disagree that brands will die. I tend to agree with Larry Weber's definition of brand - that it is the dialogue you have with your constituents. The stronger the dialogue, the stronger the brand. Jim Nail headed down this path when he discussed how the definition of brand has morphed over the years, from a differentiating feature, to a benefit, to an image, and finally a dialogue or relationship. So in this sense, brand represents a relationship, and as long as the relationship thrives, so too will the brand. I like the notion of Brand Manager (controlling, Web 1.0 world) morphing into the Brand Aggregator (open source, Web 2.0 world); to again borrow an idea from Weber, the job of today's marketer is to be an aggregator of product trends, issues, events, and communities. All of these things collectively define the brand. Aggregators need to arm advocates with sufficient information to spread the word, and engage naysayers to better understand their pain and let them be heard. Jim Nail keenly added: brands will never die because they help consumers make decisions; in a world where time is a commodity, brands are a helpful shortcut to making purchase decisions. Jeremi Karnell noted that global brand campaigns may die, but not the brands themselves.

Lastly, there was discussion of how Web 2.0 affects passive consumers (those not actively blogging) in addition to the more active ones, by virtue of the numerous consumer-authored product reviews and forums available to anyone making a purchase decision.

How best to participate?

How to leverage these communities and still maintain transparency is a big topic right now. I raised the issue of corporations entering the blogosphere in a recent Adrants post and it created quite a bit of dialogue. Should every company have a blog? Who should author it: executives or employees? Should it be product focused or a customer service app? Would it be more impactful to somehow harness the efforts of citizen bloggers that are already talking about your brand? I tend to think it could be any and/or all of these options…it really depends on your brand, your target audience, and the current relationship between the two.

According to Jenkins, 22 of the 500 largest US companies currently deliver public blogs. Some of the more notable ones:
  • Intuit 's Product Manager blogs. Companies are still considered experts on their products, and who better to address product development news, issues, questions and concerns than the developers themselves.
  • Lego's consumer innovation council, where active members of online Lego enthusiast networks were tapped for special product brainstorming and development conversations.
  • Maytag's Man Caves. There's a burgeoning population of men outfitting their basements and garages with all the trappings of manhood - plasma screen tvs, high end audio systems, pool tables, and wet bars - and blogging about it! A popular item in the caves is a Maytag soda fountain filled with beer. So Maytag provides high res images and sneak peaks of new models for these fans to post on their own sites and help spread the word.
  • There are countless other examples out there, and they will continue to grow. Brand engagement metrics will become increasingly more important as marketers continue to dabble in social computing and have more open and honest dialogue with their constituents.

    I'll close with another quote from Jack Battelle: "Follow the users, become the users." It's a great way to engage the Long Tail.


    Northwest Coach Choice

    Nwa_logo2_1The methodical stripping away of perks, together with the scrutiny that accompanies post-Sept-11 flights, has made most airline travel less-than-pleasurable experiences.

    First they took away the blankets. Then the complimentary meals and peanuts. Now Northwest Airlines is taking away the chance to book some of the more desirable coach seats - exit rows and aisle seats - in advance and at the same price as the others. With the introduction of its Coach Choice program, NWA will make these select seats available for a $15 upgrade at time of check-in.

    This differential pricing approach is obviously the latest money-making scheme for a struggling company in an ailing industry. And it's a tactic that's not uncommon in the marketing world. But at what price to Northwest's brand?

    Soon after the news hit the wires, I received an email that NWA sent out to its Elite Members, clarifying the program details (good move):

    • Coach Choice is a test program where 5% of domestic coach seat assignments are available at time of check in for $15 per flight
    • Elite members also have access to these domestic seats at 36 hours prior to departure via nwa.com® Manage My Reservations
    • Transatlantic and Transpacific flights are not included in the Coach Choice program
    • Exit row seats and bulkhead seats continue to be available free of charge on all Northwest aircraft to Elite members, along with unlimited complimentary First Class upgrades

    The message to Elite Members is that you won't even notice the change. But they, along with all of those less-frequent fliers who are now subject to the test, may very well have a different opinion of Northwest. I know I do.


    Old School Music, New School Venues

    ClassicalDigital music downloads and online fan communities used to be the domain of mainstream, top-40, and college bands due to their young, early-adopter devotees.

    But it's interesting to see how a wider variety of musical genres have come to embrace - and even thrive within - these distribution channels.

    Much has been written about Eric Whitacre, the 35-year-old classical composer who created a profile on MySpace where visitors could download and listen to his work, and then subsequently enjoyed a huge number of pre-orders for his latest disc (which landed at number 11 on the Top Classical Albums chart in its first week).

    Now we see Peter Gelb, the former Sony Classical president who is set to take the reigns at the Metropolitan Opera in August, making big plans to leverage digital channels as a way to re-energize interest in the venerable Opera House. On his list: live, high-definition broadcasts of Met performances via digital streams and downloads and updated weekly radio broadcasts with more behind-the-scenes information (podcasts can't be far behind). According to Gelb, he'd like to create products that  "will work across the entire digital landscape -- whether it's on our Web site, through broadband services, iTunes and all the digital delivery platforms. We'd even like to offer ringtones."

    It's nice to see the more traditional creative going where the fans are. Smart.

    UPDATE: Even Pope Benedict is reportedly listening to the likes of Mozart, Beethoven and Chopin on his new iPod Nano!


    Blue Hills Reservation

    We took advantage of the beautiful 60-degree day here in Boston by piling the dogs into the car and heading out to the Blue Hills Reservation. Boston_skyline

    Just 8 miles south of the city, the Blue Hills provide urban dwellers with over seven thousand acres of wooded areas and open parks to explore, including 125 miles of trails. According to the Department of Conservation and Recreation, the area got its name from early European settlers that noticed a bluish hue on the slopes while sailing along the coast, but was originally inhabited by Native Americans who called themselves "Massachusett" - or, "people of the great hills."

    It is said that visitors may witness a range of flora and fauna in the Blue Hills, including coyotes, turkey vultures and the rare and endangered timber rattlesnake.

    But on this day we only saw one crazy French Bulldog and her exhausted English pal:

    Lulu_hiking_2   Howie_hiking


    PR and Blogs

    Richard W. Edelman, president and chief executive of the public-relations firm Edelman, made an interesting comment at PR Week's annual public relations awards last week:

    “In a world where we don’t have a belief in a single source, you don’t have a Walter Cronkite anymore, P.R. is the discipline on the rise. P.R. plays much better in a world that lacks trust...It used to be I would schmooze you and I was your flack...Today, if we want to get a message into the public’s conversation, we just make a post on a blog."

    Much has been made of the rise of PR, and it is no secret that Edelman has been one of the earlier proponents of leveraging the blogosphere in corporate communications (witness the recent recruitment of uber-blogger Steve Rubel to its ranks). Edelman has gone on record saying he wants to persuade more corporate clients to commit to blogging.

    But will consumers really trust corporate blogs any more than they do traditional advertising and marketing? I know Rubel advocates transparency when blogging, but how long will it be before enough of the less-savvy PR flacks and marketers invade the blogosphere with less-than-transparent postings that consumers are turned off entirely?

    I know there are legitimate and valuable ways to leverage the blogging community - I'm particularly fond of using Jeremi Karnell's approach of locating the [everyday] people who are already writing about your product and harnessing their networks to spread the word - but I wonder if blogging is truly a PR play.

    I've seeded the AdRants Soflow forum with this exact post, hoping to start a spirited discussion.


    Marge Champion

    Marge_champion2On my recent visit to Lenox, MA, I thumbed through the copy of Berkshire Living magazine in my hotel room and came across a charming story that I'll share here:

    Titled "Dancing Queen" and written by Bess Hochstein, the article tells the story of Marge Champion, a Stockbridge resident and Hollywood legend. Her father, Ernest Belcher, was a dance master who taught many stars (including Shirley Temple and Marion's then classmate and future husband, Gower Champion - they met when they were just 12!). As such, Marion was exposed to dance - and Hollywood - at an early age.

    When she was 14, Marion served as a movement model for the animated lead in Disney's 1937 Snow_white picture, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The studio provided her with storyboards, which she then performed live so that illustrators could capture realistic movements for Snow White. She later served as the model for the Blue Fairy in Pinocchio and the Hippopotamus Ballerina in Fantasia.

    At 18, she went on a vaudville tour with The Three Stooges, and soon after reunited with - and married - Gower. And the rest is history.

    1949mar7The two went on to star in a string of movies in the 1950s, including Three for the Show, Everything I Have is Yours, Show Boat and Give a Girl a Break. She's performed with Bob Fosse, Debbie Reynolds, Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Cyd Cherisse, and George Burns, among others.

    One night in 1957, Marge and Gower gave a command performance for Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip during their U.S. visit. While gliding across the dance floor, the strap of Marge's dress gave way, causing her to lose her ball gown in front of the Queen! Gower provided cover, swept her off the stage, and declared, "We regret having to part company with your Highness because Marge has parted company with her dress." To this day, Marge has a framed thank you note from Prince Philip, on White House stationary, that reads:

    The Queen and I enjoyed your dancing very much last night. This is just to express our sympathy for the unfortunate mishap to your dress!

    Philip

    After stepping out of the spotlight to raise two sons, Marge got invovled with behind-the-scenes activities like choreography and casting. Gower went on to direct musical comedies like Bye Bye Birdie, Hello Dolly, and 42nd Street.

    These days, the 86-year-old Marge - a widow since her 3rd husband Boris Sagal passed away in the 80s (as did Gower) - is as active as ever. Thanks to years of yoga and dance, she remains "lively and limber and can execute a mean fan kick without warming up," notes Hochstein. She serves on the Board of Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival, but recently sold her Stockbridge home in order to spend more time in Manhattan, where she keeps an apartment. In addition to plans that include taking classes everyday and attending the theatre more often, Marge still dances two times a week.

    Now that's a Hollywood legend.


    Weekend in Lenox

    CranwellMy weekend travels recently took me to Lenox, MA, where I had the pleasure of staying at the Cranwell Resort, an all-season retreat in the midst of the Berkshires that is steeped in history.

    While the resort is comprised of about seven different buildings, the centerpiece is a Tudor-style mansion that epitomizes the Gilded Age. The property was original developed by the Reverand Henry Ward Beecher (brother of famed novelist and anti-slavery advocate Harriet Beecher Stowe), who purchased the land in 1853 for $4,500.

    After changing hands a couple of times, it ended up in the ownership of John Sloane in 1894. A relative of the Vanderbilts, and co-owner of the well-known furniture firm W&J Sloane, he constructed an enormous home called Wyndhurst which is the property that still stands today. Sloane also commissioned Frederick Law Olmstead (creator of Boston's Arnold Arboretum and New York's Central Park, among others) as his landscape architect, an interesting tie in to the book I am currently reading, Devil in the White City.

    The present-day Cranwell proved to be a wonderful place to stay. The rooms are pleasantly Foundersroom appointed - and dog friendly, which is key! - and the service was superb. There are a few dining options on site, including Sloane's Tavern, an English-style pub that turns out excellent fare in a casual setting (warning: huge portions), and a more formal dining room in the main Manor house. It's a family-friendly resort as well, offering up a multitude of activities from a game room, to instructor led outdoor activities like hiking, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing.

    Spapool2The Spa at Cranwell occupies a 35,000 square-foot space that is connected to the rest of the resort by heated, glass-enclosed corridors, so there's no need to step out into the cold to get a treatment. It offers a variety of services including massages, skin & body treatments, manicures/pedicures, aerobic/yoga/pilates classes, and an indoor pool and fitness center. What's more, there's an 18-hole championship golf course, Golf School, tennis courts and outdoor pools for the warmer weather.

    The town of Lenox is a small one, but has some great little shops and restaurants if you care to venture off the resort. Two of note:

    • The Lenox Wine Cellar & Cheese Shop at 60 Main Street (413.637.2221) has an amazing selection of wines, cheeses, meats, and other gourmet items (and the staff is quite generous with the wine and cheese samples!)
    • Chocolate Springs Cafe on Rte 7 (413.637.9820) is a great spot to duck into on a cold day, for a cup of creamy hot chocolate and a freshly-baked cookie. We savored ours over a good book in one of their comfy leather couches. They also offer a huge assortment of chocolates, truffles, layer cakes, cheesecakes, cookies and biscotti (my kind of place)

    The surrounding area is home to other great attractions (e.g., Tanglewood) and luxurious lodging like Blantyre and Canyon Ranch (the latter wouldn't even let us onto the property without a reservation). And other Gilded Age mansions still dot the landscape...check out this "summer cottage" that was originally inhabited by W. Sloane and his Vanderbilt wife and was for sale last summer...to the tune of $21.5 million.

    It's nice to see how the other half lives!


    KFC's Hidden Message

    Kfc_buffalo_snackerWhen I first heard about KFC's HIdden Message campaign, I thought it was a clever way to combat the ad-skipping technologies that today put broadcast media dollars in jeopardy. The idea is simple: if viewers elect to fast-forward through the KFC ad using DVRs or VCRs, they'll see a message encouraging them to go back and watch the ad more slowly, in order to see a "secret code" that can be entered on KFC.com in exchange for coupons.

    Here's a brand that is experimenting with ways to keep its message top of mind and  viewer interaction at a time when traditional 30-second spots are at risk. And it appears to be working: they've had 70,000 visitors enter the coupon code, and site traffic has increased 60%.

    So it's disheartening to see reports that ABC has rejected the ad due to a "long-standing policy against subliminal advertising." Instead of working with its advertiser (which, by the way, provide a gigantic revenue stream) to ensure their ad dollars are well spent, ABC is forcing KFC to run a version of the ad without the "secret" message.

    I'm not sure how KFC's approach can be considered subliminal when they overtly tell viewers to seek out the code, thereby thwarting the "subconscious" nature of a truly subliminal message, but I digress. Bravo to KFC for trying something different.