Consumr 2.0 and Being Thankful

It’s been a long journey to Consumr 2.0 and there’s a lot to be thankful for. I severely sprained my ankle while running to grab some documents, but I’m thankful it wasn’t worse. I’m thankful for tearing myself away from the office long enough to teach my niece to shoot a bow and arrow (she inspired Consumr!). I’m thankful for understanding loved ones, some of whom are chasing their dreams too. I’m thankful for a great team including my best friend, that helped me go from my drawing on the left to the amazing app on the right. I’m thankful for supportive Consmr  users who helped guide the way. And I’m thankful on a strenuous day I was pointed towards dozens of reviewers asking for the return of my old Zagat app

The work is over. And now the work begins. But it’s okay to stop for a minute and reflect on what to be thankful for… 

We can beat them, just for one day.We can be heroes, just for one day.-David Bowie 

We can beat them, just for one day.
We can be heroes, just for one day.
-David Bowie 

Project Glass Meets Reality

6 weeks ago Google introduced Project Glass with an amazing video demonstrating the product. Of course, it was a concept video and Google stated this is what it “might be” capable of doing. Many people overlooked that fact and took this to be a demonstration of the actual product, and so did more than a few publications.

Having worked on two early smartphone augmented reality apps, and having spent a significant amount of time recently working on image recognition and processing for Consmr’s barcode scanning iPhone app, I took to Quora to question the feasibility of a product like the video launching this year. In summary, I said there’s no way this product is launching this year with most of this functionality. I went feature by feature through the product and the interaction in the video and referenced why it wasn’t happening in 2012.

Today, we all found out just how close to the truth I was…  Project Glass in its current form can do little more than take and share a photograph. Engadget’s headline summed it up like this:

"Google’s Project Glass protoypes can transfer still images, do little else"

Don’t get me wrong. I am absolutely an advocate of this type of technology. I’ve always said that hardware is holding back the next evolution of augmented reality… the point where it positions itself for early growth in the mainstream. If I could clone myself, this is an area where I have tons of ideas/sketches/concepts that only a Project Glass type of hardware could execute. But I’m not sure what was gained by producing a video of something that was far from the reality of the actual product. 

It reminds me of a nerd debate I had with a classmate at Brown over the video Nintendo produced in 2000 as a teaser for the Gamecube Zelda. I said there was no way the Gamecube could produce a game looking like that. 12 years and several Zelda games later, Nintendo has still not launched a Zelda game near those visuals. 

Siri, Yelp and Calling The Next Thing in Mobile

I’ve made a habit of successfully predicting where things are going in the mobile world over the last few years.

6 months ago when Siri launched, I talked about the largely ignored Yelp integration with Siri. I predicted Yelp and Apple’s relationship would improve and they would further integrate into Siri and create tons of value for Yelp. Well, I was the only person not surprised at the lone new feature of Siri in iOS 5.1; deeper Yelp integration.

Here’s the official post from Yelp confirming the integration. And there’s tons of other coverage everywhere else because Yelp is publicly traded. 

Add this to my list of predictions in mobile that have paid off. Here are the others:

Android - I started working on an Android app at the end of 2008. I told everyone it was the next big OS, carriers would all eventually get on board as an alternative to iPhone, and BB would still matter but slowly die off. I even did an interview with Google at Google I/O in May of ‘09 (there was only 1 Android phone at that time) stating exactly why I thought Android was the next big platform. Now it IS the biggest platform.

Foursquare - One month after they launched I called Naveen (while he was still working out of a coffee shop) to say “let’s partner.” Pretty sure my next call with Dennis was in a coffee shop too. Fast forward to today… 20 million users, a $600 million valuation. On the other side - millions of dollars worth of partnership press, and 300,000 young/urban/social fans for a traditional brand (Zagat).

Augmented Reality - 6 months before Yelp’s “monocle”, I launched NRU — an augmented reality restaurant finder on Android. At PaidContent Mobile 2010 I called this a cool but gimmicky step 1 of AR, with step 2 being when we can bring AR to a lightweight wearable device with visual processing to compensate for GPS accuracy (Google AR Goggles anyone?). I still say even the Google AR glasses will be a little “too soon”. Maybe by version 3 or version 4 they’ll be in the right spot.  

Foodspotting - I reached out to them at launch and built their first brand partnership. I could see Alexa and Ted were doing this right. 2 million users later, 1 million food photos later, and a ton of floundering copycats… I expect these guys to be a serious acquisition target of a larger player in the local space within the next year. No large company could realistically generate and collect these photos themselves… you need a very unique type of userbase to do this. Their photos are a valuable asset for anyone serious about taking on local food. 

Flipboard - While some content providers panicked at launch, I helped curate and ensure content was feed smoothly when the app went public. 2010 App of the Year, 5 million users. And a traditional print brand gets front and center in the Food section of what would become the essential content consumption experience on tablets. 

Ad Supported Android (Angry Birds!) - A few years ago at Harvard Business School I said the launch of an ad supported Angry Birds was the future of Android. Meanwhile many people were shocked a top selling iPhone app was being given away for free. The CEO of Angry Birds (Rovio) was in the audience and thanked me. Are these guys the next Zynga?

iPad - Fine, this was a no brainer to some. But you had to “believe” if you were crazy enough to decide on your own to produce an app in the period between Steve Job’s announcement speech and launch app submission day (less than 60 days). That app went on to be #33 on the all-time top selling iPad apps list.

Android Tablets would be DOA - I said these were not going to work any time soon because the reasons why Android would (and did) work does not apply to Android tablets. There was a lot of hype as they were in development and I remember Eric Schmidt holding one at some event to try to hype it up. I refused to spend any time developing for Android tablets. Turns out it was the right call. 

Windows Phone Merger - At an Augmented Reality event in 2010, I said Microsoft will wait until after the holiday season, continue to see soft WP7 sales and either buy Nokia or RIM as their only way to force themselves into the market even though it still won’t work. I didn’t think it would happen 4 months later… I thought they might give it a second soft holiday season. Ultimately they all but purchased Nokia and killed what was the most widespread mobile OS in the world (Symbian, which I mourned since I owned a Psion PDA in middle school. The amazing multitasking OS that Psion ran would later be rebranded as Symbian). For the record, I said Nokia should just move to Android…

Two More Mobile Bets - I’m not saying what they are, but you should probably talk to me about Consmr if you are interested… 

Yes, People Are Searching For Gum

"Shoppers will go through the online research process for gum. It’s a process they’ve learned from researching the $40,000 SUV."
– Jim Lecinski, Google’s Managing Director of US Sales & Service

The online habits of consumers have changed in the last few years. The same methodologies that consumers are using to research a TV or even a car are the same methods that users are employing at an increasing rate for everyday products like grocery items. You can see how conscious people are with review research over small decisions like a 99 cent iPhone app or even a free app (!!!). I saw the power of reviews when I managed a 10 dollar app I used to run.

Sources like the Wall Street Journal and agencies like G2 are publishing supporting stats. But one of the most compelling studies about this movement was just published by Google in their June 2011 book Winning The Zero Moment of Truth or ZMOT

There are numerous compelling quotes and stats from Google in ZMOT but I’ll take a select few:

CPG is not too small

"No MOT (Moment of Truth) is too small. If consumers will do research online for houses and health care, they’ll also do it for Band-Aids and ballpoint pens."

Shoppers are researching grocery products online in high numbers

What would you guess the percentage of users researching CPG products online in 2011? Your guess is probably wrong! Here’s what Google had to say in ZMOT:

Percentage of shoppers influenced by digital source prior to purchase (ZMOT)

Grocery Products: 61%
Health/Beauty/Personal Care: 63%
Over-the-Counter Health: 78%

Those are astounding numbers. It’s safe to say from this that the majority of consumers are now researching grocery, health, beauty and personal care products online, whether before going to the store or once in the store. I’m impressed because those consumers have dealt with what I’ve dealt with; fragmented sources of information.

Number of sources used by the typical shopper

Grocery Products:  7.3
Health/Beauty/Personal Care: 7
Over-the-Counter Health: 9.8

Sounds pretty fragmented to me.

Making Smart Choices Fast

One of the prototypical Zero Moments referenced is not surprisingly a “minivan mom” (their words not mine). Her son is sick, so she uses her smartphone to research a decongestant.  She’s about to make the decision to buy it and where to buy it. What influences her? Seeing it has positive ratings and that her local store has a discount. It’s a slam dunk that the sale is going be made.

The Average Household spends $312 a month on groceries in 2010

That’s according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Simply put, the average family can’t afford to make the wrong decisions with groceries. Every so often someone will say something based on perception rather than fact like “Social is for high engagement products/services, not a $3.99 cereal,” I think two things. One, they haven’t bought a box of cereal in 10 years because I wish cereal was still $3.99. Two, they aren’t in the real world with the majority of the population who does have to consider that replacing a product means you have to spend over your budget. Here’s a pertinent example from ZMOT:

"I’ve got four boys and I’m at the grocery store five days a week and it’s just killing us. We’ve got college coming in a few years. I’ve got to start looking at how I’m spending my money."

Digital word of mouth

I often talk about the “new word of mouth” opportunity in the age of Twitter and Facebook. I now think this opportunity is better referred to as digital word of mouth. I love this quote from Wharton Professor Dave Reibstein:

"Digital word of mouth is one-to-millions. If you have a good experience, it’s shared and re-shared with millions. You post it and suddenly, it’s flying."

The Fear…

I talk to agencies and brands regularly and the savviest ones actually embrace the good and the bad reviews. That’s for a good reason. Bad reviews can actually legitimize and add authenticity to a conversation (just like nobody is perfect, no product is perfect). And if your product is good, it’s going to stand on its own. 

"Negative reviews increase conversion rates… because people know they’re shopping in a truthful environment."

-Brett Hurt, CEO Baazarvoice

How this affects women

In my experience I get two types of reactions that split down gender lines when I explain what our long term goal is for Consmr. Men say “I could definitely use that” and women says “that’s GREAT! I REALLY need that!” Why the discrepancy? I have theories around the different types of fast moving consumer goods we buy, but ZMOT points to the idea that the way in which women share online is very different than men.

"Women have deep, deep sharing habits: product reviews, articles they’re forwarding, conversations, discussion boards…"

Along those lines, the Chief Marketing Officer for General Mills (Mark Addicks) spoke about the research his team has done in grocery stores. They’ve watched moms go into the grocery store and “pull out their phone and start looking online.” What are they doing? Things like looking for recipes and comparison shopping for cheaper brands. 

The choice of a new generation 

Ultimately, the recurring theme and central emphasis in ZMOT is that research habits around consumer packaged goods are now significant. No one is saying that people are searching more for cars. That’s pretty much at the saturation point. It’s that a new category has emerged. And if there is anyone who knows people’s evolving search intents, it’s Google.

Try the gray stuff. It’s delicious! Don’t believe me? Ask the dishes!


Why I Started Consmr


If you’re following this blog, you probably know my background. I spent the last few years pushing forward in the review and mobile worlds. Whether it was building partnerships with Foursquare and Foodspotting, or trying to bridge the gap between the print and mobile world with the iPhone and iPad, I always believed in solving problems through technology and social media. Mobile and social helps me all the time from what restaurant to which movie (thanks RottenTomatoes & Flixster!).

Despite the recession, in New York we saw the growth of stores like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods with thousands of new brands and organic products I’ve never seen before. On a related note, The Wall Street Journal and Google showed dramatic growth statistics in digital research for Consumer Packaged Goods post 2008. 

So why did I start Consmr? One weekend I visited my sister so I could spend time with my infant niece. During the course of the day, we realized her diapers were leaking (insert “EWWWW”). Turns out it was a new diaper she had purchased at a warehouse club. There was nothing to help her with that purchase decision, and now we’re paying for it in the worst of ways. I couldn’t laugh because I’m the same guy who bought vanilla flavored mouthwash. On that day I learned that vanilla doesn’t belong in anything other than ice cream and *maybe* a really good recipe for sweet potatoes. Ultimately you’re talking about money wasted, bad experiences, and having to spend money again to buy replacements. 

I recently watched someone buy a $14 bottle of lotion at a local Manhattan drugstore. I asked the woman about it because we were developing Consmr. It turns out, that’s how much you pay for the “nice” brand lotion. There were alternatives… some cheaper… but after previously buying a subpar one she’s opting for the expensive one. Trial and error are still a big part of purchasing products. How can we help her find that cheaper but still effective lotion that won’t make her skin oily?

When my sister wanted to research a baby product in-store, there wasn’t an obvious option. There’s fragmented info out there on blogs or a top product lists you could bring up on your phone, but it’s not in a searchable, sortable, comparable form. And I like to hear the voice of the people. I would want to know the majority of people who tried this product liked it or found it effective.

I set out to build a resource that would help with all of this; to help people rate, share, and discover products. There are millions of products out there, and I want the world’s opinion on all of them.