What Can You Learn From Virtual Mirrors?

A virtual mirror allows someone to use a camera and have that image displayed on a large LED screen. Better yet, with the right software, it can change the image. With that ability, virtual mirrors have been used to see what new glasses look like or to try on dresses – a virtual, flexible fitting room.


Virtual mirrors and their equivalent as smart phone apps have been around for the last couple of years. There are examples from all over the world. Here are just a couple:


Marketers have already thought of extending this to social media, as one newspaper reported with a story titled “Every woman’s new best friend? Hyper-realistic new virtual mirror lets you to try on clothes at the flick of the wrist and instantly share the images online”.

This all provides a nice experience for customers and may even help sell a particular item to them. But that’s only the beginning.

Virtual mirrors are a tremendous source of data about consumer behavior. Consider that the system can record every item the consumer looked at and then what she or he bought. Add to that the information about the person that can be detected – hair color, height, etc. With the application of the right analytics, a company can develop insights about how and why some products are successful – for example a particular kind of dress may be what short or tall women are really looking for.

With eye tracking devices, such as those from Tobii, connected to the virtual mirror, even more data can be collected on exactly what the consumer is looking at – for example, the last part of a dress that she looked at before deciding to buy or not to buy.

Going beyond that, an analysis can be done of facial (and body) expressions. I’ve written before about affective computing which is the technology is developing to do and to respond to this kind of measurement.  

[For some additional background on affective computing, see Wikipedia and MIT Media Lab’s website.]

By fully gathering all the data surrounding a consumer’s use of the virtual mirror, its value becomes much more than merely improving the immediate customer experience. In a world of what many consider big data, this adds much more data for the analytics experts on the marketing and product teams to investigate.

Alas, I haven’t seen widespread adoption and merger of these technologies. But the first retailer to move forward this way will have a great competitive advantage. This is especially true for brick-and-mortar retailers who can observe and measure a wider range of consumer behavior than can their purely e-commerce competitors.





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© 2017 Norman Jacknis, All Rights

The Breakaway Brand Of 2016

To help me think about some businesses I’m involved with and what might be sustainable strategies for them, I’ve been reading Harvard Business School Professor Youngme Moon’s book, Different: Escaping the Competitive Herd — Standing Out In A World Where Conformity Reigns But Exceptions Rule.


Among the three kinds of often successful, but non-conformist, brand strategies that Professor Moon describes is the “breakaway brand”.

She starts with the story of Sony’s AIBO, an expensive, but not very useful and frequently non-functioning robot. In light of its very real limitations, the company positioned it not as a robot, but instead as a household pet. Branded as a pet, its quirky behavior and unresponsiveness to its owner’s commands at times (due to system errors) was acceptable, even expected. And many AIBO owners developed real understanding and affection for their “pet”.


In elaborating on the strategy, she wrote:

The new frame of reference — PET as opposed to ROBOT — has become an almost magical transformative device, transforming an instrumental product into a playful one, transforming a series of product flaws (“the voice recognition doesn’t work, and the thing rarely obeys commands”) into actual product benefits (“it’s a pet with a mind of its own”).

This, in a nutshell, is what breakaway brands are: They’re transformative devices. By presenting us with an alternative frame of reference, they encourage us to let go of the consumption posture we’re inclined to bring to a product and embrace entirely new terms of engagement instead. …

You could even say that breakaway brands revel in our stereotypes, since they make their living turning them upside down. We dream of someday owning a robot that will wait on us hand and foot, so what do these brands do? They give us a robot that we have to wait on hand and foot. …

These brands are the antithesis of well-behaved, and their mutiny is directed squarely at the category assumptions we bring to the table. And sometimes the transgression is more than a touch provocative; it’s a bit twisted as well. …

What a breakaway positioning strategy offers is the opportunity to achieve a kind of differentiation that is sustainable over the long term. … it has no competitors; it remains sui generis.

Then I put the book down to watch the news.


While I don’t normally write about politics and I’m not going to provide opinions about the candidates for US President here, this description — in a book published six years ago — struck me as being so clearly relevant to the 2016 rise of Donald Trump that I think it’s worth sharing.

Donald Trump hasn’t been educated as lawyer or political scientist or policy analyst and has not held public office. Instead, he is a businessman, with an education from one of the best business schools in the country and obvious skills at promotion. I have no idea if he has ever read this particular business book, but even if he hasn’t, he’s been pursuing exactly this strategy in politics with all of the extreme reactions — both positive and negative — that come to businesses pursuing breakaway brand strategies.

This helps me to understand the Trump phenomenon better. And the breakaway rethinking of the brand of President may also explain why Trump has maintained his support among voters regardless of whether they approve or disapprove of any of his positions and statements.

By the way, my guess is that this tweet indicates that Professor Moon herself is not at all happy about Trump.


And lest we think this is a one-time phenomenon, Professor Moon notes that:

In addition, these brands leave an indelible mark on their categories even after copycats emerge. In fact, this is what I tell my students: When you witness the birth of a breakaway brand, you are often witnessing the birth of an entirely new subcategory, one that is likely to alter the complexion of that industry well beyond the next business cycle. …

This, then, is what I mean when I say that breakaway brands succeed in transforming their industries. They leave their imprint by expanding product definitions, by stretching category boundaries, and by forcing competitors to play catch-up for years to come.

Of course, it remains to be seen how large a share of the “market” (the electorate) is attracted to this particular breakaway strategy — or if some other candidate in the future will find a new way of breaking away from what may have been the once-new, but then became conventional, behavior.

© 2016 Norman Jacknis, All Rights Reserved


Can The CIO And The CMO Work Together?

Tuesday of this week, I participated in the annual CIO Executive Leadership Summit held in Greenwich, CT. This year’s focus was “Game-Changing Leadership Strategies & Business Models for Market Advantage.”  (Note: I’m Chairman Emeritus of the regional chapter of SIM, which sponsors the meeting.)

I led a session on the relationship between the Chief Information Officer (CIO) and the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO).  The two guest panelists were the successful team at Ogilvy and Mather Worldwide of Yuri Aguiar, Senior Partner & CIO, and Lauren Crampsie, Worldwide Chief Marketing Officer.

For many in the audience – mostly technology leaders in their organizations – there was a bit of unease about the growing role of the CMO in technology decisions.

Part of that unease is driven by headlines such as these:


While trend varies and every organization has a different mix of reasons for giving the CMO this new role, the common causes are:

  • CIOs who focus just on the back-office operations – merely “keeping the trains running on time” – and shy away from playing a more strategic executive role.
  • CIOs who spend most of their money on maintenance and thus fail to deliver new technology solutions that are needed by others in the company.
  • CIOs who are less familiar with the newer technologies, such as social media, data analytics, mobile software design, marketing technology, etc., thus forcing the CMOs to look elsewhere for what they need.


So the tensions between CIOs and CMOs have revolved around who gets to spend the money and who gets to control and enforce technology standards.

With this background, it was a pleasure to hear a CIO and CMO who have learned to team with each other. Their experience has lessons for many other CIOs and CMOs.

They start out as equals, both reporting to the CEO, yet they have clearly developed a mutual respect and a relationship built on intense communications – and a willingness to see things from the other person’s viewpoint. 

Then together, these two present capital budget requests for new technologies that will help Ogilvy to grow its business.

Lauren pointed out the various ways that Yuri had taught her about technology.  But the learning went in the other direction too.  With the increased importance of user experience in a world dominated by the consumerization of technology, CIOs can learn from their colleagues who specialize in creating positive user experiences – the CMOs. 

Together the relationship can be not a source of tension, but of mutual advancement for both the CIO and CMO – and, of course, for the company as a whole.

© 2013 Norman Jacknis


Government Consists Of Conversations

[Note: This was originally posted on a blog for government leaders, December 6, 2009.]

More than ten years ago, in what many governments considered the early days of the Internet, a now classic book, “The Cluetrain Manifesto”, was written for and about the Internet.  The authors began the book with what they called 95 Theses, which they hoped that businesses would follow as they established a presence on the Internet – instead of using the Internet the way they had used all other forms of public communications.

These statements, though, have as much, if not more, relevance to government.  So – with extraordinary respect for the original authors – I decided to take their basic 95 Theses and substitute public sector words where they had words from the business world.  The result is below.  Hopefully this will trigger some new perspectives on your part as well.

  1. Governing consists of conversations.
  2. Society consists of human beings, not demographic sectors.
  3. Conversations among human beings sound human. They are conducted in a human voice.
  4. Whether delivering information, opinions, perspectives, dissenting arguments or humorous asides, the human voice is typically open, natural, uncontrived.
  5. People recognize each other as such from the sound of this voice.
  6. The Internet is enabling conversations among human beings that were simply not possible in the era of mass media.
  7. Hyperlinks subvert hierarchy.
  8. In both internetworked citizenry and among intranetworked employees, people are speaking to each other in a powerful new way.
  9. These networked conversations are enabling powerful new forms of social organization and knowledge exchange to emerge.
  10. As a result, citizens are getting smarter, more informed, more organized. Participation in a networked society changes people fundamentally.
  11. People in networked societies have figured out that they get far better information and support from one another than from government agencies. So much for government rhetoric about the value of their professional way of doing things.
  12. There are no secrets. The networked citizenry knows more than governments do about their own services and programs. And whether the news is good or bad, they tell everyone.
  13. What’s happening to citizens as a whole is also happening among employees. A metaphysical construct called “The State” is the only thing standing between the two.
  14. Governments do not speak in the same voice as these new networked conversations. To their intended online audiences, governments sound hollow, flat, literally inhuman.
  15. In just a few more years, the current homogenized “voice” of government —the sound of mission statements and press releases —will seem as contrived and artificial as the language of the 18th century French court.
  16. Already, governments that speak in the language of the spin, the dog-and-pony show, are no longer speaking to anyone.
  17. Governments that assume online citizens are the same citizens that used to watch their messages on television are kidding themselves.
  18. Governments that don’t realize their citizens are now networked person-to-person, getting smarter as a result and deeply joined in conversation are missing their best opportunity.
  19. Public leaders can now communicate with their citizens directly. If they blow it, it could be their last chance.
  20. Governments need to realize their citizens are often laughing. At them.
  21. Government officials need to lighten up and take themselves less seriously. They need to get a sense of humor.
  22. Getting a sense of humor does not mean putting some jokes on the government web site. Rather, it requires big values, a little humility, straight talk, and a genuine point of view.
  23. Governments attempting to “position” themselves need to take a position. Optimally, it should relate to something their citizens actually care about.
  24. Bombastic boasts—”We are positioned to become the preeminent nation/state/county/city“—do not constitute a position.
  25. Government officials need to come down from their Ivory Towers and talk to the people with whom they hope to create relationships.
  26. Public Relations does not relate to the public. Governments are deeply afraid of their citizens.
  27. By speaking in language that is distant, uninviting, arrogant, they build walls to keep citizens at bay.
  28. Most news releases, press conferences, and other government “messaging” programs are based on the fear that the citizens might see what’s really going on inside the government.
  29. Elvis said it best: “We can’t go on together with suspicious minds.”
  30. Patriotic loyalty is the government version of going steady, but the breakup is inevitable—and coming fast. Because they are networked, smart citizens are able to renegotiate relationships with blinding speed.
  31. Networked citizens can change which government officials they prefer overnight. Networked knowledge workers can change employers over lunch. Your own service reductions, furloughs and layoffs taught us to ask the question: “Loyalty? What’s that?”
  32. Smart citizens will find public leaders who speak their own language.
  33. Learning to speak with a human voice is not a parlor trick. It can’t be “picked up” at some tony conference.
  34. To speak with a human voice, public leaders must share the concerns of their communities.
  35. But first, they must belong to a community.
  36. Governments must ask themselves where their bureaucratic cultures end.
  37. If their cultures end before the community begins, they will have no support among the citizens.
  38. Human communities are based on discourse—on human speech about human concerns.
  39. The community of discourse is the whole community.
  40. Public leaders who do not belong to a community of discourse will no longer be leaders.
  41. Governments make a religion of security, but this is largely a red herring. Most are protecting less against threats than against their own citizens and workforce.
  42. As with networked citizens, people are also talking to each other directly inside the government—and not just about rules and regulations, executive directives, budgets.
  43. Such conversations are taking place today on departmental intranets. But only when the conditions are right.
  44. Governments typically install intranets top-down to distribute HR policies and other procedural information that workers are doing their best to ignore.
  45. Intranets naturally tend to route around boredom. The best are built bottom-up by engaged individuals cooperating to construct something far more valuable: an intranetworked organizational conversation.
  46. A healthy intranet organizes workers in many meanings of the word. Its effect is more radical than the agenda of any union.
  47. While this scares companies witless, they also depend heavily on open intranets to generate and share critical knowledge. They need to resist the urge to “improve” or control these networked conversations.
  48. When intranets are not constrained by fear and legalistic rules, the type of conversation they encourage sounds remarkably like the conversation of the networked citizens.
  49. Org charts worked in an older economy where plans could be fully understood from atop steep management pyramids and detailed work orders could be handed down from on high.
  50. Today, the org chart is hyperlinked, not hierarchical. Respect for hands-on knowledge wins over respect for abstract authority.
  51. Command-and-control management styles both derive from and reinforce bureaucracy, power tripping and an overall culture of paranoia.
  52. Paranoia kills conversation. That’s its point. But lack of open conversation kills the effectiveness of government.
  53. There are two conversations going on. One inside the government. One with the citizens.
  54. In most cases, neither conversation is going very well. Almost invariably, the cause of failure can be traced to obsolete notions of command and control.
  55. As policy, these notions are poisonous. As tools, they are broken. Command and control are met with hostility by intranetworked knowledge workers and generate distrust in internetworked societies.
  56. These two conversations want to talk to each other. They are speaking the same language. They recognize each other’s voices.
  57. Smart companies will get out of the way and help the inevitable to happen sooner.
  58. If willingness to get out of the way is taken as a measure of IQ, then very few governments have yet wised up.
  59. However subliminally at the moment, millions of people now online perceive government agencies as little more than quaint legal fictions that are actively preventing these conversations from intersecting.
  60. This is suicidal. Citizens want to talk to public leaders.
  61. Sadly, the part of the government a networked citizenry wants to talk to is usually hidden behind a smokescreen of hucksterism, of language that rings false—and often is.
  62. Citizens do not want to talk to flacks and hucksters. They want to participate in the conversations going on behind the bureaucratic firewall.
  63. De-cloaking, getting personal: We are those citizens. We want to talk to you.
  64. We want access to your government information, to your plans and strategies, your best thinking, your genuine knowledge. We will not settle for the 4-color brochure, for web sites chock-a-block with eye candy but lacking any substance.
  65. We’re also the workers who make your agencies go. We want to talk to citizens directly in our own voices, not in platitudes written into a script.
  66. As citizens, as workers, both of us are sick to death of getting our information by remote control. Why do we need faceless reports and third-hand studies to introduce us to each other?
  67. As citizens, as workers, we wonder why you’re not listening. You seem to be speaking a different language.
  68. The inflated self-important jargon you sling around—in the press, at your conferences—what’s that got to do with us?
  69. Maybe you’re impressing your media acolytes or your contributors or your peers. Maybe you’re impressing Wall Street. You’re not impressing us.
  70. If you don’t impress us, your supporters are going to be wasting their effort and money. Don’t they understand this? If they did, they wouldn’t let you talk that way.
  71. Your tired notions of “the citizens” make our eyes glaze over. We don’t recognize ourselves in your policies —perhaps because we know we’re already elsewhere.
  72. We like this new polity much better. In fact, we are creating it.
  73. You’re invited, but it’s our world. Take your shoes off at the door. If you want to barter with us, get down off that camel!
  74. We are immune to public relations spin. Just forget it.
  75. If you want us to talk to you, tell us something. Make it something interesting for a change.
  76. We’ve got some ideas for you too: some new tools we need, some better service. Stuff we’d be willing to pay taxes for. Got a minute?
  77. You’re too busy “doing business” to answer our email? Oh gosh, sorry, gee, we’ll come back later. Maybe.
  78. You want us to pay taxes? We want you to pay attention.
  79. We want you to drop your trip, come out of your neurotic self-involvement, join the party.
  80. Don’t worry, you can still hold power. That is, as long as it’s not the only thing on your mind.
  81. Have you noticed that, in itself, power is kind of one-dimensional and boring? What else can we talk about?
  82. Your services are broke. Why? We’d like to ask the guys who deliver them. Your vision for society makes no sense. We’d like to have a chat with the President/Prime Minister/Governor/Mayor. What do you mean she’s not in?
  83. We want you to take 50 million of us as seriously as you take one reporter from The Wall Street Journal.
  84. We know some people from your government. They’re pretty cool online. Do you have any more like that you’re hiding? Can they come out and play?
  85. When we have questions we turn to each other for answers. If you didn’t have such a tight rein on “your people” maybe they’d be among the people we’d turn to.
  86. When we’re not busy being your “voters,” many of us are your people. We’d rather be talking to friends online than watching the clock. That would get your name around better than your entire million dollar web site. But you tell us speaking to the citizen is the Public Information Officer’s job.
  87. We’d like it if you got what’s going on here. That’d be real nice. But it would be a big mistake to think we’re holding our breath.
  88. We have better things to do than worry about whether you’ll change in time to get our votes. Government and politics is only a part of our lives. It seems to be all of yours. Think about it: who needs whom?
  89. We have real power and we know it. If you don’t quite see the light, some other public leader will come along that’s more attentive, more interesting, more fun to play with.
  90. Even at its worst, our newfound conversation is more interesting than most legislative proceeding, more entertaining than any photo opportunity, and certainly more true-to-life than the government web sites we’ve been seeing.
  91. Our allegiance is to ourselves—our friends, our new allies and acquaintances, even our sparring partners. Public leaders that have no part in this world, also have no future.
  92. Governments are spending [spent] billions of dollars on Y2K. Why can’t they hear this citizen timebomb ticking? The stakes are even higher.
  93. We’re both inside the government and outside it. The boundaries that separate our conversations look like the Berlin Wall today, but they’re really just an annoyance. We know they’re coming down. We’re going to work from both sides to take them down.
  94. To traditional governments, networked conversations may appear confused, may sound confusing. But we are organizing faster than they are. We have better tools, more new ideas, no rules to slow us down.
  95. We are waking up and linking to each other. We are watching. But we are not waiting.

You can find most of the original book at http://www.cluetrain.com

© 2011 Norman Jacknis


Dirty Jobs

[Note: This was originally posted on a blog for government leaders, November 1, 2009.]

Tuesday is another election day.  It’s especially important to many local elected officials since so many local elections occur this year.  As this election season comes to a close, there is that frustrating feeling among public leaders that many voters just don’t understand what the government does. 

Sure, the obvious public services – for example, public safety and education – are known.  But the full extent of government services is unknown to great numbers of those who benefit from those services.

What can be done about this?  Some governments have taken ideas from non-fiction cable television channels, including two mainstays of the Discovery Channel – Dirty Jobs and Mythbusters.

With the low cost of video equipment, this is easy to do.  There are even products now, like the Flip HD video cameras that are smaller than a cell phone, easy to use and quick to upload to the web.

Miami-Dade County has created a series of videos that show some of the “dirty jobs” that County workers do for the public on its “Inside County Jobs” television show.  This started as one-minute video about training of firefighters and led to the realization that Miami-Dade could do more.  See the first installment at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y7aivNoPsxg

So, following the model of Discovery’s “Dirty Jobs”, with its own host/participant, there is compelling footage of filling potholes, unplugging storm drains, fixing stop signs, lab testing, trash recycling and the other activities seen and unseen that residents often take for granted.  Here’s another example — http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aj7U1A_pq2s

The video is available both on the County website and on YouTube.  In addition to its success with the public, the videos have had a positive effect on employees, who now take to their jobs with a greater sense of purpose and pride.

Westchester County, for example, had a volunteer team put together a movie in the style of a 1930s film noir detective story.  During the course of his investigation, the “detective” interacted with all kinds of county workers.  The County Executive played an abridged version of the movie in one of his “State of the County” speeches in an effort to educate the public about the variety of activities of county government.

Video isn’t the only tool.  The leaders of Oakland County, Michigan, responded to the gaps in public knowledge by taking the “Mythbusters” title to attract attention, but presenting their material on the web.  They tackled some of the toughest issues posing a question in True/False form and then busting the myth for the wrong answer.  

So there is hope to engage a distracted public and upgrade their knowledge of what your government does, by using some of the inexpensive tools now available.  Your creativity is the only limit. 

© 2011 Norman Jacknis

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The Wiki Way To Improve Your Message

[Note: This was originally posted on a blog for government leaders, November 16, 2009.]

We’ve all been reading about wikis for a few years now.  A wiki is a collaborative web site that allows people to make changes to a common document.  The most famous and successful wiki is Wikipedia [www.wikipedia.org], which is a global encyclopedia on almost every imaginable topic – more than three million articles in English alone.

In 2006, the CIA and fifteen other agencies in the intelligence and security community launched Intellipedia, an internal wiki to share information.  Similarly, the State Department, as part of its public diplomacy efforts, created Diplopedia.  

There are lots of uses of wikis in government, which I’ll explore another time.  But I want to focus on an unusual use – marketing.

While we don’t often admit it, many governments engage in what looks like marketing efforts.  Tourism promotion bureaus and, more generally, economic development offices do a lot of marketing to encourage people to come to their location.  Health departments engage in a form of marketing when they encourage residents to exercise and follow other patterns for good health.  Parks departments try to encourage the public to take advantage of the public recreational opportunities they provide, which also looks like marketing.

What all these efforts usually have in common is that they approach the development of their marketing messages in a traditional way.  They sit down together, come up with what they think is the best message and then blast that message out in a variety of ways, hoping for the best.

They may conduct a survey to find out what people want to hear, but usually they can’t afford to do so.  Surveys, though, too start out with the view of the people who design them – much like the way the marketing materials are started.  It’s very much an internal effort.

There have been a small number of attempts to do things differently.  For example, the major developer of Steamboat Springs, Colorado, encourages people to tell them why they love the place.  See http://www.welovesteamboat.com/You can send videos, pictures and stories for a chance to win up to $10,000.   This helps the developer to identify the right message.


The theory behind this approach is that your residents, your customers – anyone whom you are aiming your marketing message at – are the people who can best tell you what makes a difference to themselves.  And this is where wikis come into the picture.

Instead of just going from the marketing message straight to its delivery on a large scale, why not try to use a public wiki to refine and modify that message so it says what they want to hear.  This is as simple as posting the marketing materials you’ve developed and letting the public change them.

If opening a wiki to anyone seems too adventurous, then maybe send invitations to a particular part of the public.  For example, in economic development, ask the businesses that came to your area to go to the wiki.  Ask people who actually came to your area as tourists to write what they would tell others to encourage them to come.  Get people who have gone hiking on your trails to add to the description of how wonderful your parks are. 

In case you’re worried that a public wiki could be defaced, it’s worth noting that most wiki software provides for various controls.  Even Wikipedia has its editors and controls to prevent things from getting out of hand.  But they seldom do.  Most people are pretty responsible and other users will help police the website.

And the cost of doing this?  Very little.  There are several good wiki software packages available on the Internet that are free, including the one that Wikipedia uses.  Give it a try – you may be both surprised and pleased by what people tell you are the reasons they use your public services.

PS. For more information about Diplopedia, see http://www.state.gov/m/irm/ediplomacy/115847.htm

© 2011 Norman Jacknis