Reviews

Rolling the Dice on Hotel Tonight

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As soon as I decided to take a last-minute trip to this year’s CES, where 160,000 consumer electronics manufacturers, reporters, and fans descend upon Las Vegas, I had a hunch that I’d have trouble finding a hotel room. After spending five days scouring Hotels.com, Priceline, Hotwire, and all of the other usual suspects, I had zero luck finding a hotel in my “sweet spot” range of 4- or 5-stars, on or near the strip, and less than $250 per night. (Combining the phrase “zero luck” with a trip to Vegas is bad, I’m guessing.)

Hotel Tonight Vegas CESEach day leading up to the trip, I also checked out Hotel Tonight, searching for hotels in Vegas, but also triangulating my expectations by checking Honolulu and San Francisco, cities where I had a good feeling for the quality and pricing of many hotels.

If you’re not familiar, Hotel Tonight (HT) offers deals for, you guessed it, hotels with a check-in availability of tonight. If I remember correctly, HT began on the premise of giving hotels one final outlet for unused rooms. Or, if you were in need of a last-minute room, or if you liked traveling by the seat of your pants, then HT offered the potential for an amazing deal.

Expectations Set

In the days leading up to CES, the deals on HT looked pretty sweet. Rooms at the Hard Rock were in the $60/nt range, and higher-end hotels, like THEHotel, Vdira, and Aria, were under $200. Some of HT’s deals were only for a single night, while others allowed up to four nights. And, some offered multiple nights with varying prices each night.

Being in need of four nights during one of the biggest events in Vegas, and knowing that many hotels were either totally sold out or charging top-end rates, I decided to roll the dice and give HT a chance. What’s the worst that could happen? Given that Vegas has somewhere around 150,000 hotel rooms, I figured that, if I didn’t have any luck with HT, I’d be able to get something off, off Strip for a reasonable price, even on the same day.

One thing caused me some worry, however: HT deals go live at noon local time, and I’d be in the air until a bit after 2:45 PM Vegas time. Not good, especially if anyone else was considering the same plan. Also, I’m assuming that most hotels only offered up a limited number of rooms at HT’s discount price, so the “good” deals would be snapped up before I had access.

The Reveal

On the day before my departure, Vegas deals on HT didn’t look so great. Prices were higher and options were slim. I considered a few online deals from other travel sites, like the Luxor for $170/nt, but the sense of adventure (yeah, this is adventure for me) pushed me to take the risk and see what happens.

CES Hotel Tonight VegasUpon landing for my connection at SFO, I immediately whipped out my phone and opened HT. Both Bally’s and Rio had deals at $41 for one night only, but both are categorized by HT as just “solid.”

Scrolling further, there were a few off-Strip deals for $47 to $120, and then the “Bonus Luxe Hotel” of Encore at Wynn for only $699, which was $100 cheaper than I’d been seeing it online the previous week (but still about 3x my price ceiling).

HT also listed Palms Place as a “Luxe Impulse Deal” (whatever that is) at only $95 for one night, or $167/nt for two nights. It was off-Strip, but after seeing the word “luxe,” and knowing that it was near a restaurant I wanted to try, I dug deeper. It had a 95% “thumbs up” rating and Wifi was free – something for which the cheaper hotels charged up to and additional $25/night. Although every hotel seemed to charge a $20-30 “resort fee,” which sometimes included WiFi.

Checking the Competition

As a quick check, I looked at the rate for Palms Place on Kayak, Trip Advisor, and Priceline. I should note that Priceline directly competes with HT by offering “Tonight-Only Deals,” but like HT, the deals are only available via their smartphone app. No other service appears to offer a similar tonight-only deal. And, unlike HT, which offers multiple hotels, Priceline appears to offer only a single “tonight-only” deal.

Priceline Tonight OnlyPriceline’s tonight-only deal was for the Hard Rock Hotel at $132/nt, a property that, surprisingly, wasn’t listed on HT, either because they already sold their HT allotment for the day (remember that I was a few hours past the noon listing time), or they didn’t list that day. The price seemed to be an OK deal, but not even close to what I’d been seeing on HT for Hard Rock prior to my trip. (It’s also interesting to note on the screenshot to the right that Priceline clearly offers the Hard Rock at $161 as their non-deal price. But, if you look at the “tonight-only” listing, they show the non-deal price as $162. Sure, it’s only a buck difference, but percentage it let’s them slightly inflate their perceived savings by 0.5%. Ironic considering Priceline “blasted” HT over inflated savings claims…)

For Palms Place specifically, the cost was $167/nt on HT (for 2 nights). Trip Advisor’s app, which lists prices from several services, showed an astronomical $504/nt (for 2 nights). And Kayak, which is usually my go-to travel planning service, along with Hipmonk, listed Palms Place at $403/nt. HT was going to save me over $230/nt! Even if you don’t use HT, it’s surprising how widely the prices ranged for the same hotel across different websites. Regardless of how far out you’re planning, it obviously pays to shop around.

Doubling-down on Hotel Tonight

Since the Palms Place per-night average doubled to $198/nt if I stayed 3 nights, I decided to take this little experiment further and double-down on HT. So I grabbed Palms Place for two nights at $167/nt average, then used HT again midweek to see if I could upgrade to something nicer, cheaper, or on the strip.

As an aside, Palms Place was pretty nice, and definitely worth the price. It’s a residence property, with only some rooms offered as hotel rooms, and seemed virtually empty. I hardly ever saw anyone else, and even the adjoining Palms hotel and casino seemed deserted. And, the on-site N9NE Steakhouse was amazing! The only downside was the $12 taxi ride to and from the strip, since there’s nothing worthwhile within walking distance of the Palms properties.

By mid-week, I was ready to try something new and had been checking HT frequently to see which way prices were trending. Every service showed very high prices on Wednesday and Thursday nights, since that was smack in the middle of CES. But, I was hoping that there would be some last-minute cancellations or adjustments that would open up some deals on HT.

The Hard Rock Hotel seems to be a frequent HT property, and I’d heard a lot about it and was curious to try it. At noon on Wednesday, HT showed the Hard Rock at $90/nt, so my gamble paid off!

HT lists the Hard Rock as “hip,” and it is pretty neat to see all of the rock memorabila around the hotel. The place seemed a bit more crowded than the Palms, but was relatively quiet–except for the loud plumbing (I could hear every flush and shower from adjoining rooms) and the fact that it’s located on the airport’s flight path. I’m definitely older than the Hard Rock’s target demographic, so am probably a bit more critical than their typical guest, but they could stand to slap some paint on the walls and hit the carpeting with a vacuum more frequently.

Upon checking out of a HT-booked hotel, the app asks you for a thumbs up or down rating. Given the state of the hotel vs. my expectations, I gave it a thumbs down. However, at $90/nt, it was definitely a good deal…I just wouldn’t stay there again.

A Tiny Glitch

There’s always something, right?

At Palms Place, HT charged me the advertised room rate, plus taxes. When I checked out of the hotel, Palms Place only charged me the resort fee. At the Hard Rock, however, I was not only billed for a higher room rate at checkout, but the hotel listed my HT credit as only $116 instead of the actual $202. I didn’t bicker with the hotel staff, since they didn’t know anything, and HT asks users to call them before calling the hotel.

Now, not to get off on a tangent, but these are the types of occasions when customer-focused culture really comes into play. For example, when I’ve had issues with my Google Nexus One phone or Nexus 7 tablet, the customer service reps at Google were nice, knowledgeable and believed me when I said, “Yeah, I’ve already rebooted it and cleared the cache.” The Google reps then take the quick and customer-centric route of saying, “Just send it back and we’ll send you a new one.”

On the contrary, when I’ve had to deal with customer service at AT&T or Time-Warner, it’s been they typical slow, backwards, company-centric nightmare that we’ve all come to expect from most corporations.

With HT, I called their support line on a Saturday and was greeted by a friendly rep who took my info, said that she would take care of the issue, and promised to call me back when it was resolved. Even more, the rep asked me about my “thumbs down” rating on Hard Rock and mentioned that they try to always follow up on poor ratings, either via phone or email. That’s pretty good service, and makes me think that HT has really integrated customer service into their organizations as part of their culture. They don’t seem to be outsourced reps or just blindly following a script; they are knowledgeable  efficient, and seem genuinely concerned about the customer’s happiness. How refreshing!

As promised, an HT rep called me a few days later, said that everything was squared away, and that I’d be seeing adjustments on my credit card statement within a few days. Done.

Bottom Line

So what do I think of Hotel Tonight? In a word, it’s awesome! I got two fantastic deals, saving probably $600 or more over four nights (or, getting much nicer hotels for the price).

Given this experience, I’ll definitely use Hotel Tonight again and again, but I’ll be sure to set my expectations by doing some HT recon before I travel. If you’re thinking of trying Hotel Tonight, here’s what I’d recommend:

  • For the city to which you’re traveling, check Hotel Tonight right now, and check it daily for a few days. Get a good look at the hotels they work with, see if several appear again and again, and see if you’re comfortable staying at most of those that are frequently listed.
  • Check several other services to gauge the book-ahead prices. Start narrowing down your list of potential hotels to three or four listed on HT, and keep comparing prices.
  • On the day of your stay, get on HT right at noon (destination time) and book quickly. Be prepared to take your second or third choice. And, check Priceline’s “Tonight-only deal,” just to be sure you’re getting the best deal.
  • Upon checkout, make sure you aren’t charged for the room or the taxes, but only the extras.

Good luck!

 

Additional screenshots…

Kayak Hotels  Trip Advisor Hotels  Hotel Tonight 3

My Month with Miui

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I’ve had my beloved HTC Nexus One for about 18 months now.  When it comes to tech hardware, for me, that’s about 12 months longer than usual.  In fact, I was just reading about the new Kindle Fire and, as my gadget lust consumed me, I started to wonder if I have some sort of personality trait similar to drug addiction.  I have a Windows 7 laptop, an Ubuntu laptop, two Android phones, an iPhone 3G, an iPod Touch, an iPod Mini, a Google Cr-48 chromebook, and an HP TouchPad – not to mention the wife’s Kindle and iPad – and I still want the Kindle Fire! What’s up with that?

Windshield wipers on your HTC Sense phone!

Windshield wipers on an HTC Sense phone!

But I digress…

Back to the Nexus One. Over the past year and a half, I’ve gotten incredibly excited at every OS release, updating to Android 2.2 via OTA just to see how that worked, then manually updating to stock 2.3 to get the new UI. With each successive OS release, it’s the little things – whether with Android or iOS or Ubuntu or Windows – that get my curiosity going.  More than the speed or power increases, I’m interested in the “look” and the new functionality. What’s going to change the look? Is the font different? How are the icons designed? What are the sounds? Can I change the color of the blinking trackball light to correspond to different types of alerts? How cool is that animation that flashes the display to sleep like an old TV set?

Yes, I am a geek.

However, since Gingerbread/2.3 dropped in December, 2010, and other than some minor releases, it’s been a long dry spell for Android (phone) updates. What’s a geek to do? Sure, I’ve installed apps and themes that give me the look of HTC’s Sense, but that’s just in a few areas – like the awesomely cool flip-style digital clock and killer weather animations (oh yeah, the raindrops and windshield wipers are my fav, for sure!).  And, I changed my wallpaper pretty much weekly, going from Android’s cool “live wallpaper” to some of my own photos of local scenes to this awesome statue when I was on a bokeh kick. But those tweaks only satisfied me for so long.

The Unlock

I’ve always considered unlocking my phone, but never really wanted to devote the time to figure it out. The main driver was to try CyanogenMod, which is essentially a custom version of Android developed purely out of joy by a ‘Burgh dude, Cyanogen, and his community of developers. But I was always afraid of breaking something, bricking my phone, losing all of my data, or somehow making a mistake. Then, in a fit of boredom about a month ago, I took the plunge and, after about 20 minutes, had an unlocked Nexus One! It was an incredibly simple process and I can’t believe I didn’t do it sooner.

Miui Screens

Miui's refreshingly fresh look

With the phone unlocked, I now had the opportunity to “flash a custom ROM” onto the phone. CyanogenMod was the obvious choice, but I had been reading more and more about a Chinese company, Xiaomi, and their custom Android ROM, Miui. CyanogenMod looks very similar to stock Android and the team puts most of their effort into features and power, but Miui has taken a different approach and reskinned the entire UI. There’s very little in common with Android or even Sense. Sure, it’s the same 4×4 icon layout with a top notification bar and bottom button tray (same as every smartphone), but the “look” is entirely unique. All of the system-type apps, like the music player and text messaging, are new. Even better, Miui has fantastic support for themes, and better yet, you can cherry pick only the parts of themes that you like to create your own, totally custom theme. How cool is that?

The Flash

If the unlocking process was easy, the installation of Miui was just as painless. It took a few minutes and a couple of restarts and that was it. In my hands I held what was essentially an entirely new phone! Awesome! Of course, the downside was that, in my hands, I held an entirely new phone. I had to re-install all of my apps and reconnect with all of my social media services, but the process was pretty simple. In just 90 minutes or so, I was downright giddy! Over the next few days, I’m sure the wife became sick of watching me constantly play with my phone and, every few minutes, blurt out something like, “Oh cool! You gotta check this out!” She’s a good sport.

Some of the best improvements over stock Android are the capabilities of the Nexus One that Miui engages but that Android inexplicably ignores. It’s confusing especially since the “Nexus” phones are supposed to showcase all that Android can do. The FM radio is one example; it’s not accessible via Android at all. Multitouch is another. Why Google wouldn’t enable these features is beyond me, unless it has something to do with IP and lawsuits?

The Verdict

I’ll make it simple: Miui is awesome! I could go on for days on some of the best features, but here are a few of the key things that make it better than Android (and I won’t even compare it to iOS, which barely allows any user customizations at this level). It’s incredible to think of the amount of development that went into Miui, and that it’s FREE!

  • Unlock Screen:  Miui allows you to unlock directly into the dialer or messaging. The developers looked at the typically static unlock screen and asked themselves, “Why do people usually open their phones?” Obviously, it’s when they get an alert or they want to make a call. The unlock screen has three icons, a phone, lock, and message balloon. If you swipe on the phone icon, the phone unlocks into the dialer. It gets better by putting a number indicator to tell you how many unread texts or missed calls you have. Even better, if you press and hold on the message icon, it pops up the last few unread messages with no need to even unlock your phone! That’s amazingly helpful! If you’re listening to music, the unlock screen adds fwd/back and play/pause buttons so that you can quickly manage music without diving into your phone. This is invaluable when I’m running and listening to music on my phone.

    Miui's Unlock Screen

    Miui's unlock screen, showing the music controls (and graphics) plus the direct-to-app phone and message icons

  • Camera:  Miui speeds up the camera app’s opening so that you can take photos almost instantly. Then, they add dozens of new settings that Android ignores, like burst mode, effects, anti-shake, metering modes, and many more. You can even focus on specific areas of the image just by tapping that area. It also adds 720p video recording, for your high-def, memory-eating delight.
  • Toggles:  Stock Android offers a neat widget to toggle wifi, gps, sync, and brightness. Miui, again, goes much farther by putting 12 toggles into the swipe-down notification menu, making it accessible from any screen (unlike a widget, which lives on an individual screen). The “reboot” is an interesting toggle, and they even give you options for the type of reboot you wish to perform. Geeky, and I’ve never had to reboot my phone, but neat nonetheless.
  • Guest Mode:  An awesome feature that hides calls and texts and prevents apps from being deleted. Sure, it’s useful if you’re going to let someone else use your phone, but it’s killer for parents who want to let their kids play with their phones.
  • Themes:  I mentioned them earlier, but Miui themes are incredibly comprehensive and powerful, changing everything from fonts and sounds to icons and icon shapes, the look of the messaging interface, and the number of apps in the app tray. It’s incredible how they’ve implemented this to the point of essentially allowing anyone to create a theme and almost call it their own ROM. It’s that powerful.
  • Torch:  The Torch has to be the coolest app on Miui. I’m not sure if something similar is available elsewhere or in a downloadable app, but it’s brilliant! What does it do? From the lock screen, if you hold down the home key, your camera flash illuminates as a flashlight! It’s awesome for walking up dark stairs, finding your keys (or the keyhole), or not tripping and killing yourself in the dark.
  • Additional Fluff:  Pinching on any screen pops up a thumbnail of all screens, allowing you to quickly navigate to the desired screen or add new screens. App folders can create collections of apps within one button (yes, iOS has had this feature for a while…). There are eight screen transition options (when you’re swiping between screens), from 3D cube to rotate to page. You can add apps on up to 11 (maybe more?) screens, while Android limits it to 5. FTP, which allows you to copy files to/from your phone over wifi. The dialer shows a keypad plus the past four calls to quickly dial a recent caller. The battery icon can be made to show the exact percentage remaining, not just a simple, partially-empty icon. You can control, app by app, which can transfer data over wireless, wifi, or both, letting you specify, for example, that email can sync on wifi and wireless, but Netflix can only use wifi to save yourself from using all of your monthly data.

Bottom Line

I’m sure I’m forgetting a few things, but I think you get the drift. If you have an Android phone and want more control and a fresh UI, definitely give Miui a look. You’ll unlock your phone’s full potential and give yourself the chance to truly customize every aspect of your phone and make it your own. Honestly, it’s saved me a few hundred bucks from upgrading to an entirely new device. Sure, I’d love to have a bigger screen, and the N1′s “champagne” color is really cramping my style, but even in today’s lightning fast mobile phone world, my 18-month-old device is holding its own!

Get on it! I waited way too long, and now I’m looking forward to the day that I get tired of Miui (a few months, probably) and can give CyanogenMod a try. I’m sure the wife is excited for that as well…

 

Devinsupertramp’s Awesome Self-Promotion

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I recently stumbled across the YouTube page for devinsupertramp and was struck by his very well-executed self-promotion and marketing – all without being hokey or narcissistic.  He has done a great job at creating a fun, interesting brand, putting his colorful video imagery at the forefront of the experience, and building a great relationship with fans.

First, let me tell you how I found this guy’s site.  Better yet, here’s the video that I saw (on Guy Kawasaki’s never-ending Alltop.com stream) marketing a neat jet pack from Jetlev – you gotta watch it! Seriously!

The quality, editing, soundtrack, and overall fun “vibe” of that video just blew me away – so much so that I’m now saving up the $99,500 to buy one of those for myself! ;-)

I was also intrigued enough to check out the person who created the video, devinsupertramp.  What’s great is that his YouTube page is nearly a full-fledged website.  (Who knew that you could customize YouTube?  I guess, as a marketer, I should have known that…)  But just the feel of his site, colorful and fun, with a black background to focus the visitor’s attention on the images.  Plus, the funny face he’s making in his “portrait” speaks volumes:  he’s poking a little fun at himself which shows that he doesn’t take himself too seriously, but the photo gives the audience a good enough picture that he would be easy to recognize if you saw him.

Marketing, however, is only half of his story.  If the product didn’t measure up, the marketing would fall flat.  I’ll let you visit his page and watch the videos for yourself (definitely amp them up to HD quality!), but I have to say that they are incredible!  Again, a very fun vibe, and always with a warm, “bunch of friends” feeling to the cast of characters.  And the music choices are fantastic – fitting perfectly with each video’s feel.  I even downloaded the tune from The Beatards featured in the Jetlev video.

He puts a new video up every other Tuesday, and today’s Tahiti video is another great one, and has an original score to back it up.  Hit up his page to watch the video, or just check out his excerpt photos here.  Amazing images!

All of his videos are extremely well done, but if you only have a few minutes (after watching the Jetlev video, of course), be sure to also watch Waimea cliff jumpNorth Shore in Slow Motion, and the appropriately-named Huge Bike Jump into a Pond 35 feet in the air.

Bottom Line

The marketing around this “brand” is nearly perfect.  It has a feel, a personality, great interaction with fans, and a killer product to back it up.

Did I use the word “awesome” yet?  ;-)

You can follow devinsupertramp on Twitter or Facebook.

Rethinking How We Work: HP’s Interview with Jason Fried

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I’ll be totally honest:  I wasn’t a huge fan of Basecamp before this week.  Sure, it’s a fine tool for sharing files and managing project-based communications, but it’s not really all that intuitive and it lacks anything more than simple, limited functionality.  We use it at my current company to manage all of our new customer projects, our internal product management and technical release milestones, and even as a repository for our marketing collateral and sales tools.  But other than a central location for messages and file revision management, I just don’t see any compelling value above and beyond existing tools.

I recently watched an interview with Jason Fried, CEO of 37signals and creator of Basecamp and other collaboration and team management tools.  Fried absolutely changed my mindset about what Basecamp is, where its value lies, and why it is an amazing tool perfectly designed to solve a single, simple problem.  Furthermore, he demonstrated the immense value of marketing via thought leadership and by framing the conversation around a much larger issue, in this case the transformation of the workplace.

I’ve embedded the video below, but you can view all of HP’s Input|Output interviews here.  It is well worth the 60-minute investment, and Fried has incredible insights on the evolution of the workplace and how today’s workplace norms are actually counter-productive.  But even more, he has fantastic insights on start-ups, marketing, and how to build a sustainable business.  Here are just a few interesting tidbits:

  • When asked about how his products stack up against the competition, he answers with, “Our products do less than the competition.” That sounds like a tough sell until you hear him explain that they purposefully design simple products that do a limited number of things really well.
  • On why a bootstrapped company has an advantage over a venture-backed one, his concept is that “a venture-backed company has to spend money from day one” while a bootstrapped company has to make money from day one.  An entrepreneur is better off focusing on making money, not spending it.
  • On modeling your company or team after Google or Apple or Amazon, he thinks that just because they exploded doesn’t make it a good model for you.  Those companies, and other super-successful companies, are anomalies.  Model yours after companies in your same space, realm, universe.
  • Working alone, or working remotely, is much more effective than today’s standard of cubes and team workspaces.  On one hand, your biggest interruptions are caused by others talking to or around you.  On the other hand, he thinks that, if you’re denied daily face-to-face interactions, your creativity and productivity skyrockets when you do finally get together.
  • If they need a new tool, they build it.  And, if they needed it, others probably do too, so they sell it.  Obvious, but this is almost a lost art in Silicon Valley – selling a software solution that people already need.

One area where I do disagree with Fried is around marketing in general, which he gets to at the end (around the 57-minute mark).  37signals doesn’t have a marketing person and they don’t believe in the concept of a “marketing department.” Their website reflects that as a run-on mishmash of text, images, videos, quotes, and colors. He estimated that they have spent less than $20k on marketing over the past 5+ years, which is appalling to me.  Yes, they are profitable, but they could be so much more so with a focused market strategy.

I do, however, totally agree with his point that everyone within an organization should have a marketing mindset.  That marketing should permeate every aspect of the business – in the error message, in support, in the product’s button text, etc. – and that marketing is everyone’s responsibility.

If you do watch the entire video, definitely stay to the very end to hear their “commercial.”  It’s very realistic, and effective!

Bottom line:  With marketing as a recognized part of everyone’s role, 37signals has done a great job of succeeding without a dedicated marketing role.  By focusing on the bigger issue (workplace effectiveness), they have elevated the conversation to an intellectual level, well beyond just selling software.  That’s really where Fried shine:  as a visionary.  Someone who I’d want to work with, and someone who can very effectively articulate the bigger picture that drives the success of their product.

Fried did absolutely zero promotion of 37signals during the interview, and that was the best selling tactic he could have used!

Stickybits: Almost a Killer Marketing Tool

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I’ve been playing around with Stickybits, a new app-based solution that connects a barcode scanning app for your phone with the ability to generate unique barcodes and attach “bits” (comments, URLs, etc.) that appear when the barcode is scanned. As a marketer, I immediately started thinking of ways to utilize this to expand my company’s presence, awareness, and ability to put content into the hands of our prospects.  I also thought that – as Stickybits promotes on their website – this would be a fantastic addition to a business card.  But once I really drilled down into applying Stickybits as a marketer, things started to unravel.

Stickybit # 6925359849840, better known as "Jason Rushin's resume."

Stickybits was a big hit at this year’s SXSW and has gotten wide coverage from CNET, ReadWriteWeb and others, but the general vibe seems to be, “What will people do with this?”  And therein lies the crux of Stickybits’ challenge:  there are some great ideas beginning to surface, but the execution is still a few versions from solid.

Marketing with Stickybits

For B2B marketing, I immediately thought that this would be a great solution for trade shows and events, where fewer and fewer attendees actually want to add another set of vendor collateral to their already schwag-heavy logo’d backpack.  More often than not, I’m hearing booth visitors ask, “Can you just email me something?”

Now, if we had a big Stickybits barcode that they could just scan and have it pop-up a YouTube video of a product demonstration or PDF collateral or link to our website, that would rock.  But since the barcodes only work with the Stickybits app, the scenario would likely play out like this:

  1. Convince a stranger to add this new Stickybits app to their phone – an app that your company didn’t create and that is essentially bloatware as far as the stranger is concerned.
  2. Wait while they downloaded and installed it, hoping that the connection in the event hall was strong enough for a speedy download.
  3. Explain to them how to use the app, and essentially become a salesperson for Stickybits for a few minutes.
  4. Finally, walk them through getting a snapshot of the barcode quickly, and then explain how they can access your marketing materials within Stickybits.

Let’s assume that you could get past these initial steps, maybe make it fun for people to download the app and not take more than a few minutes of their precious time.  This is where Stickybits really falls down from a usage perspective:  the “bits,” as they refer to the notes attached to a barcode, don’t really pop anything up.  The app just lists the links as text, requiring the user to scroll through and click on the link they want to see.  While this isn’t that big of a deal, it is another step and does dramatically limit the “awesome” factor of the experience.  The bits are formatted much like comments to a blog, so there’s not really any formatting or categorization.  And currently, anyone can attach new bits to the barcode, which totally limits, if not outright eliminates, its usage for corporate marketing.  (Imagine a competitor scanning your barcode then adding their collateral as well…or something worse.  Yes, as the barcode owner, you can delete bits, but you need to do it proactively.)  The final drawback in this scenario is that your links appear on your prospect’s phone, with no obvious way to forward them to an email address for viewing on a bigger screen, passing on to colleagues, or printing.

Stickybits allows you to download a jpg of your barcodes for printing or pasting elsewhere, or you can purchase these pre-printed vinyl stickers directly from Amazon.com(Credit: Amazon.com)

A major hurdle here is the need for the Stickybits app specifically, not just any barcode scanning app.  On my Android phone, I now have four barcode scanning apps, including Stickybits.  Yes, that’s probably a bit excessive but I’m assuming that a good number of people already have at least one, and it would be nice to facilitate that whole process by eliminating the need to download another app just for this one-time scan.  But then again, that’s how Stickybits will become pervasive.

Huge Potential

Despite these drawbacks, the potential here is enormous. Adding a barcode to collateral that drives prospects to a microsite, a special promotion, or a related video would be useful.  A barcode on your event schwag would turn your stress ball into an instant, persistent data sheet.  Barcodes on event badges would be a great idea too, letting attendees scan each other for business card information and whatever else each attendee wanted to attach to their badge.

In addition to corporate marketing, it would be great for a museum to add additional content to each exhibited item, or for a tourism bureau to add backgrounds, photos, and maps to a point-of-interest (wouldn’t it be great to know the details behind a historic building as you snapped the Stickybit attached to the cornerstone plaque?).  It would also be neat as the basis for a self-guided tour, where each barcode gives you info on your current location as well as directions to your next stop on the tour.  Think of the cool tie-ins with augmented reality apps showing what’s around you or what used to be there (say you’re standing at San Francisco’s city hall and you could see photos from the aftermath of the 1906 earthquake).  There could even be links to relevant maps, audio, video, and upcoming events.

My Two Cents on Stickybits

The challenge that I had, and that I’m sure a lot of visitors to stickybits.com have is, “What do I do with it?”  Yes, there are some initial ideas, like the business card or the greeting card, but the execution does not yet live up to the promise.  Reading their forums, it looks like a lot of my concerns are shared by others, and that Stickybits is taking note and promising to address some of them.

In the meantime, I’ll be using the few barcodes that I’ve downloaded, and I’ll be keeping an eye on the Stickybits solution as they advance the capabilities.  It truly does have a ton of potential, and I can’t wait for their next few iterations to add things like branding (which they already allow for product UPC codes), more interactive bits with embedded videos and document viewers, and hopefully the ability to scan Stickybits’ barcodes with other scanning apps.

As an aside, Stickybits’ has an opportunity to improve their website navigation and really get people excited much more quickly.  It took me a lot of random clicking to figure out how to get off of their homepage, but once beyond that, the sidebar menu was very intuitive.  I’m assuming that the average prospect will be unsure how or why to use Stickybits initially, and their website doesn’t do much to help ease the process or make it seem obvious.  I would bring the “few examples” above the fold, or better yet, incorporate those into the three steps in the thought bubble.  I would also bring their site navigation out to the homepage.  Yes, I’m sure they purposely limit the links to ones that prompt visitors to download their app – more downloads equal more potential users – but even that’s not intuitive (you have to click on the “Get the app” guy).

Bottom line:  it’s a killer idea that’s just about six months away from being a killer marketing solution.

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