Saturday, December 29, 2007

Disney - Power of Pricing

Today's my first day back at Disney World after 5 years. Yes, my kids remembered. As much fun as it is, I'm impressed by how Disney has priced it's product. They have set things up so that families are induced into spending their time their to the exclusion of anywhere else. In fact, because it's done so well, it's a win for everyone.

Check out the chart below which represents our family of six:

We have 6 days on the ground. When we got here, we thought we'd do 4 days in Disney then 2 between the beach and Kennedy Space Center - or maybe Universal. Well, maybe that won't happen.

As anyone can see, after the 3rd day, it really doesn't make a difference if you go 3 days or 10. You will pay the same to get in regardless. (not including parking, food, Disney stuff). Now if you want to hop parks, that's an extra $45 per person. Not really a big deal when you are talking about 6 days and your once in 5 years Disney vacation. They've made that easy - employ that option only if you want to - any time - no stress for now if you want to pay less.

So what have they done? They've basically made going to the competition - Sea World, Universal, or wherever - more expensive and more of a hassle. They've also made a family's vacation less stressful. Normally, as a Parikh (read super thrifty family), we would be planning our day in detail, coming in early, optimizing Fast Passes and then staying late into the night. Eat quickly so you don't miss a ride or show - go, go, go! Now we can take it slow - let the kids play by the water fountain, toy with the new interactive stuff, look at the pretty lights on the street. Hey, we were only going to spend 4 days to cover each park, now we can do 6. Disney keeps us in and mesmerized - subtly getting us to buy more of their goodies and spending more at their restaurants. Of course, we buy every form of their movies anyways.

This has come with some additional complexity. The tix expire after 14 days (unless you pay more) and cannot be transferred (your fingerprint is tagged to the pass). This kills the "cheap ticket" secondary market and does not force us to save those passes forever. No more guilt for forgetting the damn pass from 4 years ago. Also, Disney can book all the revenue now and not have to hold it in reserve giving them greater certainty.

Now Disney is probably leaving some money on the table as this amounts to $34 per person per day, but we are more likely to avoid the "long hellish wait" ride today and come back tomorrow. We are more likely going to refer others because we'll be happier. We are less likely check out the competition. We are actually going to think that we got a "deal" from the Mouse House. And, we may even come back before another 5 years.

Patriots 16-0!

While on vacation at Disney, I was fortunate enough to catch the big 16-0. During the first half, this was a pretty even game - though the Giants led at halftime. It was when the Giants went up by 12, that things were looking scary. Eli and team were running up and down the field at will. They were stopping the normally prolific Pats.

Then something happened. Though I had a feeling of dread, I felt that they would turn it around. If they truly were a Super Bowl caliber team, then that is what greatness is all about. You don't have the luxury of always being ahead. Circumstances like a kickoff return touchdown or a dropped pass can put you behind. In the Giants' case, it was just good aggressive play.

The Patriots must have felt the same way, because they turned it around. Brady found his passing touch, the offensive line held their opponents, and the receivers found their slots. Having Watson back allowed for the short inside option. Welker and Faulk played the slot and Brady found them. You could feel the energy as the Patriots narrowed it to 5 with 12 minutes to go. The defense held the Giants to a quick 3 and out by heavily blitzing Manning. A few possessions later, Brady threw that 2nd bomb for the pivotal touchdown with little real time remaining for 2 scores.

This truly is the mark of greatness - when both the offense and defense step it up to take out a strong playoff team that was playing for the spoiler in what normally would be a meaningless game. This is actually good for the Patriots. They know that they will have to play 60 minutes to win. Sometimes, the defense of a high scoring team settles a bit, but this one knows that they will have to make the big play, like Hobbs' amazing sideline interception. They can't too cocky, because they did not blow them away.

I remember this with teams like Minnesota and St. Louis where over-reliance on a high scoring offense ruined their chances in the playoffs. You have to be strong on both sides of the ball.

Belichick never let his team get ahead of themselves. He treated each week as a mini-season. Never worry about 16-0, just about winning the next game. Similarly, he will not allow this team to get caught up with thinking they have won the Super Bowl today. He will have them break down the film and critique each error. Moss will not get away with the silly end zone celebration. Harrison will not get away with stupid personal fouls for trash talking or late hits. Great leaders find a way to focus their team on the next goal - not on uncontrollable distractions.

What should have been a meaningless game became important because it was for the coveted 16-0 record and pride on the other side. Both teams played well. These are great life lessons. It's important to always be on your toes. Never get down on yourself if you are behind - stay confident and cool under pressure. Draw deep inside to learn and find a way to win. The best know how to do it. Others just have excuses.

Can't wait till the playoffs.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Bought a Mac - Wore Black

To commemorate the purchase of my first Mac, I wore all black today. Our home PC died either via fried motherboard or for some other reason, so I thought there's no better time than now to try out a Mac. Since I didn't want to spend a whole lot, I bought the Mac Mini. My initial experience has been... very cool.

Apple has really thought through the whole experience from the retail outlet to install and setup.

At the store, friendly and knowledgeable people guide you to understanding the product to making the whole purchase easy. They carry little handhelds that allow you to do it on the spot. They answered all my questions about the differences between the Mac and Windows world. While it may cost a little more to run Windows apps, it seemed worth the try. Having the store for what is a missionary sale is genius. Remember the failure of the Gateway store. The Apple store integrates with the brand experience and just makes you feel comfortable. You know you can ask questions or even attend one of their free sessions - very clever.

After getting them to put in some more memory, I bought a wireless keyboard and mouse. The concept of going completely wireless was very cool, so what the hell, I went for it. It was very clever product design to bake Bluetooth and WiFi into the system.

The install process was ridiculously easy. Connect power and the monitor and turn it on. I had to fill in some forms for registration but the system found the mouse, keyboard and home wireless network. There was really nothing much to do.

Now I did encounter one problem. For some reason my password was not in the system correctly (hard to screw up a password verification). So it required a tech support call. This was also very easy and handled very well by a knowledgeable tech support person from the US. I don't ever remember Microsoft or Dell being so easy to work with. The fix was relatively easy and I was off and running.

Even the box is cool. The packaging is well done - minimalist, yet classy. It's just like the iPod, you can see the refinement at every step. The system itself looks nice. It's amazing how much functionality is in what is essentially a large paperweight. No big system with loud fans and heat blowing out. Just a little box that is simple, cool and attractive to look at. There a slot for a DVD and that's it.

Very quickly we were off and running. I couldn't help but be impressed by the interface, speed and easy to use functionality. Figuring out the Safari browser was easy as was many of the preinstalled apps. For some reason, browsing seems faster on Safari than on Firefox on my Dell laptop. The little remote control on the Mac mini was also cool. I love how the thing goes to sleep to save power and then easily wakes up at the click of a button or move of the mouse. My laptop is a pain by comparison.

For some reason, the viewing experience is cleaner and inviting. It's hard to explain because the functions are different. It's something I wrote about in the Blackberry article. There's a higher sense of refinement in the product in the way windows open and close, how the Dashboard appears, or in changing preferences. The fonts are cleaner and dash is very clever in presentation. In the Windows world, it is cryptic and a bit scary because you could actually do something to mess things up. In the Mac world, it seems so easy and painless.

The true proof in the pudding will be if all the apps run without reboot and the system functions flawlessly. Everything I've heard is encouraging thus far. Instead of MS Office, I'm actually going to try the Apple apps.

So far this is fun. As a marketer, I love the integrated brand experience at every touchpoint. It is so clean, refined and tasteful. They make spending money easy. Maybe the Microsoft universe has something to worry about. Maybe the days of getting away with poor quality and unreliability are numbers. Imagine not having apps that crash daily or force you into doing wasteful things like archiving because of design flaws. This is more than 20 years after the first PC.

If I can get reliability and great functionality with having an issue with apps maybe we'll move the whole company over.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Treo Follow Up - Poor Quality Hits the Bottom Line

Today's Headline in Bloomberg

"Palm Forecast Misses Estimates as Customers Defect (Update4)

Dec. 18 (Bloomberg) -- Palm Inc., the maker of the Treo e-mail phone, forecast a wider loss than analysts had estimated after customers defected to the BlackBerry and iPhone. The shares plunged 11 percent in late trading."

Now this article attributes the losses to the following, "Palm has trailed BlackBerry maker Research In Motion Ltd. in updating product design."

I don't think so. This is not a feature thing. The latest version of the Treo has more features than the top of the line 8830. The issue is reliability and refinement. What's refinement? Read a Consumer Reports auto review. You know when you have it vs. when you don't. In Blackberry's case, it is that the features work as expected. When you are using voice dialing, it works. If you need to flip to speakerphone, there's no issue. Email is clean and synchs beautifully with your desktop. You are given options on how you might contact someone. Even though you can't jump by touching a point on the page, you are willing to sacrifice that for a screen that doesn't get dirty. Moreover, the damn thing never freezes while you are typing a message.

See, Palm has to spend a lot of money on marketing it's products. They are not getting positive word of mouth from their existing products. They need to suck people into a feature comparison and hope they are not dumb enough to talk to other people. Palm also has to hope the cell phone store salespeople keep quiet when someone is looking - even though it is in their incentive to have happy customers. In a market where margins are razor thin, spending extra money on marketing to acquire new customers without retention is a loss machine.

Then Palm goes totally low end with the Centro with the worst of all carriers - Sprint. At least in their case the user does not know who to blame poor quality service on. It's like putting 2 bad tennis players together to make a good doubles team - good luck.

I just used my Blackberry 8830 on a round the world trip. Whether I was in Germany, India, Thailand or Singapore I had email, web and voice access. If I had problems, I called the Global Support line and they fixed it quickly. Most of the time, it was in obscure locales where the phone needed to differentiate carriers. The best part was that I could be IM with my son while on a bus in Thailand. I was in touch with my clients and team everywhere - very cool.

Bottom line: build quality and reliability for long term profitability.