Monday, November 18, 2013

Mark your calendar for some upcoming community Robotics events

  • November 20, 2013, 6:00 - 8:00 pm – Nerve Center Open House, UMass Lowell.
  • December 5, 2013, 5:30-8:30 pm –  INCOSE New England and AFCEA Southern NE Chapter host Dr. Eric Brown, Director of Watson Technologies at IBM.
  • December 13, 2013, 8:00 am - 2:00 pm – MassTLC Future of Robotics Summit, Microsoft NERD, 1 Memorial Drive, Cambridge – Click here to register 
  • April 19, 2014 – Robotics Zoo – Cambridge Science Festival (more info. TBA)
  • May 1-2, 2014 – AUVSI New England Chapter conference – Hanscom Air Force Base (more info. TBA)

Monday, November 4, 2013

How to Make, Not Break, Your Mobile Marketing Strategy

Marketing activities built for a mobile world are much more likely to be read and acted upon. Those are strong words, but there’s plenty of evidence – including a new survey that clearly indicates mobile-friendly display has become “make or break” to email marketing efforts.

The recent survey of smartphone owners found that 80 percent of consumers say it is “extremely important” to be able to read emails on their mobile device. And, three-quarters of respondents also said they are “highly likely” to delete an email if they can’t read it on their smartphone.

Knowing this, let’s say you send an email that looks wonderful on a mobile device. The research found that almost 80 percent of consumers are likely to reopen an email on a laptop or desktop after having originally opened it on their smartphone, and 49 percent said they are also likely to click on hyperlinks included in mobile emails.

Simply put, a good mobile-friendly display can lead to deeper relationships with customers through multiple views, and a better chance they view your website or even purchase your product through higher click-through rates. But emails with poor mobile display risk a quick trip to the trash bin, voiding all of the hard work you put in to it.

That’s definitely “make or break.”

Fortunately, optimizing emails for mobile display is easy. Follow these four steps and you’ll be well on your way to reaping the benefits of mobile friendly email:

1. Use a one-column template. While two-column templates have traditionally been customary in email marketing, they often don’t look quite right on mobile devices. There’s simply too much going on at once, and users have to pinch and zoom around to view the content clearly.

One-column templates are clearly organized and much more reader-friendly. And, consumers are much more accustomed to swiping up and down through content on touchscreen devices than they are to zooming in and out. A one column template is good for them, and good for you.

2. Type less, but say more, with one call-to-action and reduced text. People often glance at their mobile devices for a few seconds at a time while on the go. This means you need to simplify your content and cut to the chase. Selecting one clear call-to-action, and reducing the total amount of text in the email, are both great ways to stand out.

And really, this is less work for you, too. Creating great mobile-friendly content doesn’t require spending hours trying to conjure up additional content for your emails. Effective mobile-friendly email content should take less of your time, but produce just as good – if not better! – results.

3. Rethink the link. Take out your phone and open a marketing email. You’ll notice two types of links: text links, where the words are highlighted and underlined; and buttons, bold rectangular shapes with simple messages like “Join Now.” Which one is easier to see and tap? Exactly – the button.

You don’t need to avoid text links entirely, but make sure they’re large (at least 11pt) and easy to hit, and consider switching to a button instead to absolutely maximize mobile click-throughs.

4. Concentrate your subject line. Mobile devices have narrow screens and short line lengths, providing less space to get your message across in the subject line. Great subject lines are the key to great emails, so keep your subject lines under 30 characters to maximize their efficacy.

In summary, keep two rules in mind for your mobile-friendly emails: simplify, and shorten. In today’s mobile world, the best content gets to the point quickly and legibly, respects the reader’s time, and presents a clear call to action. Apply these four principles to subject lines, links, layout and content, and you can ensure mobile email success.

For more information on the consumer survey, which also delves into mobile email open rates among different age demographics, check out our research page here.

Submitted by Jim Garretson, mobile product manager, Constant Contact.

Friday, November 1, 2013

unCon 2013 Session: Changing Roles of Teacher in the Ed Tech Area

Led by Christina Inge

Today, Christina Inge led an interesting session on “The Changing Roles of Teachers in the Ed Tech Area”. A hot topic at today’s MassTLC unConference, Ed Tech came up in Jean Hammond’s earlier session called “What’s Next in the MA Ed Tech Cluster?”

Unlike Hammond, Inge concentrated on the impact of Ed Tech on teachers regardless of location. Inge described the obligations of a teacher today to be much more than simply giving students information. Referring to Maslow’s ‘Hierarchy of Needs’, Inge theorized that teachers also play a large part in the socialization and self-actualization of their students. With EdTech, some of the so-called ‘grunt work’ like grading papers has been taken out of the equation leaving them more time to concentrate on these more difficult aspects of teaching.

On the other hand, Ed Tech may aid teachers not only by getting rid of the grunt work, but also by enabling many alternative versions of the classroom that, in the past, were simply not possible. One of these alternative classrooms discussed was the ‘flipped’ classroom in which the traditional lecture is reduced to homework and the more hands-on applications of learned knowledge usually left to homework becomes the main focus. Clearly, the effects of EdTech on teachers are massive, leaving lots of room for discussion, a perfect topic for an unConference session.

The unConference offers not only an incredible array of perspectives but also an intimate setting so that each of these unique perspectives can be expressed. With this special atmosphere that the unConference creates, Inge’s session was littered with personal anecdotes and extensive discussion about these many different implementations of EdTech.

Jade Beguelin

unCon 2013 Session: Mindful and Authentic Leadership at Work

Moderator: Matt Bellows, CEO, Yesware and Jim Rosen, Executive Coach 

Authenticity and transparency are company culture buzzwords these days, so it wasn’t a surprise to see this corner session quickly fill up with people wanting to hear tips and tricks on being a mindful leader. The interesting part was that the conversation quickly shifted towards assembling an incredible team.
Here are some of the key points, I gathered from the conversation.

Hire the right people. Whether your company is 40 people or 400,000 people, trying to enforce culture from the top down and posting up a set of values on the wall, won’t help much if you don’t have the right people who already embody some of that culture. How do you bring the right people on board? Be honest during the interviews. Jen Falasca from Smart Bear related hiring to dating. Everyone shows up to the first date with that perfect outfit and all the right things to say, but what about the third date? Be real about expectations and hours, but also toe the line. You don’t want to scare away a great candidate!

Ask if anyone has questions, and mean it. Have you ever rushed to another slide and then backtracked, "Oh, did anyone have any questions about that last point?", then waited half a second before continuing on? Make sure when you ask for questions, you are ready and willing to answer them. What if people aren't asking questions? Scan the room. Call on people that look concerned or who you know are directly affected by what you're talking about. Make sure you’re talking TO your team, not at them.

Speak the same language. As one of the participants noted, it's easy to be authentic when everyone's getting along and there's no disagreement. What he does at the beginning of each project, is define a lexicon and way to handle issues when they come up. That way there’s some ground rules that allow people to be themselves when tackling problems.

Empower your team. It’s easy for a team to look to the CEO to make all the decisions, but that’s when a bottleneck forms. Ben Carcio, CEO of Promoboxx, says that’s why you need to have a team that feels empowered to run on their own. Next time someone says, “wouldn’t it be nice if we did this”, don’t take on that task. Tell them to run with it on their own. Offer help, but let them own the project.

Show vulnerability. Great leaders show that they're not perfect. I love when a leader admits that they’re not the smartest person in the room, or tells a story of a mistake and how they rebounded from it. Acknowledge team members that have better expertise in areas that you don’t.

Ask how you can help. Show your team you’ve got their back. Josh Bob, from Experian, shared that he knows what his entire team wants to do in 15 years. How? He asks them. What do you want to do in 15 years? 10? What will you do in the next 5 years to get to there? How about in the next 2? Let your team know that you’re invested in them not only as team members, but as people.

 - By Trish Fontanilla, @trishofthetrade

VP of Community & Customer Experience, Vsnap

unCon 2013 Session: Overcoming the Challenges of Making Big Data Useful

Moderator: Ola Mayer, Attunity

Today we led a great discussion at MassTLC unConference on the challenges that organizations have around moving Big Data to stay competitive and gain business insights. As always, in typical unConference style, the discussion evolved into many interesting directions including talking about what Hadoop is, data co-location, storing aging data and how to architect your datacenter information repositories in the face of large amounts of data and the need for timely analytical insights. During the session, we had approximately 20 participants with different backgrounds and field expertise including medical and hospital IT solutions, robotics, IT and consulting companies.

What we heard from the participants was that several are still struggling with how to store and analyze data and still have yet to focus on how to actually get the data there. That said, several data integration challenges emerged in discussions.

As the session evolved, an interesting use case surfaced describing a hosted environment that deals with, on the front end, collecting millions of OLTP transactions from millions of customers, including large supermarket chains, and on the back end deals with the need to provide real-time business insights from the data, analysis of the newest collected data, and historic data going back two years and further. This challenge includes both the need to collect the data quickly, but also the ability to deliver to a central repository that will help with data analysis. It is cases like this where a fast, robust data integration solution can provided added-value by enabling the data delivery in near real-time without consuming too many resources on the front end.

Overall, the session flushed out the problems that organizations are facing today when dealing with large and continuous amounts of Big Data. It was clear that these organizations have a long way to go and face many challenges along their journey to address their needs. It was satisfying to help them identify best practices and approaches for managing efficient data delivery and analytics.

Ola Mayer


unCon 2013 Session: District Hall Innovation Activities

Moderator: Kevin Wiant, Venture Cafe Foundation

How could we best use District Hall, the public space in Boston’s seaport Innovation district?
Currently, groups approach the Venture Café Foundation to book events, like the recent design event. Kevin is looking for activities to host to spur collaborative innovation.

Ideas from our brainstorming discussion:

·         Venture café: make the networking more inclusive, yet maintain the innovation focus. People should come not just for free beer but to collaborate on ideas. We can also have lunches for collaboration and networking.
·         Open sourcing: instead of mainly tech-focused participants like at Microsoft’s Angel Hack, bring together people from varied backgrounds (finance, education arts, tech, marketing, students/interns etc.) for a weekend or day to go from pain points to a business plan; have "all the right brains in the right place.”
·         Salon series: Host an hour-long event including 3 or 4 TEDx videos, a formal talk or performance, and dinner.  The talk would be well-rehearsed and could possibly be uploaded  We could live stream the event. The hall could also serve as open place to broadcast.

Interactive demos: something like Science Galley Dublin that has highly-curated, interactive science demos and displays. It’s a technology showcase with the pop-up model (like the pop-up library in Chinatown)--installing permanent exhibition spaces in unexpected places.

Live video portal: Install a large video screen and/or several smaller ones where you can bump into people who are elsewhere. In a company, the live video can connect you to people at a sister building or company. Here, on the main screen, we could see an event broadcasted from, for example, San Francisco, and we could also broaden and share the event experience from Boston.

Pop-up retail: something like the pop-up space in San Francisco where companies can operate for free for six months in a renovated, affordable building. By then, they’ve either dropped out or have made enough returns to rent the space. The space’s success required great ideas, charismatic leaders, and backing from real estate developers willing to take the risks.  The same spaces are opening in Boston—looking for dilapidated spaces to renovate for start-ups and pop-up retail. The Venture Café could give the space for free to a funded project in its early stages; if the project continued with backing and with a certain minimum number of people, they could keep the space until moving to their own.
Hour-long artsy activities: learn dancing, painting, cooking, etc., while also reaching out to the broader Boston community. For example, we could spend time learning to paint with inner city students—a valuable experience for the entrepreneurs and for the students who meet the innovators and can see the opportunities the district offers.

Innovation tours: offer tours of the innovation district, perhaps including a tour of collaborative workspaces and innovative offices. They’re a great way to get local students excited about Boston’s entrepreneurship scene and to show something cool and different to international clients visiting Boston-based companies.
Broaden the audience: in addition entrepreneurs, the Venture Café could hold events open to intrapraneurs or those with more traditional jobs. They could target company teams for team bonding activities. Some events, like the collaboration-focused ones, could be open to students, too. We could also host sessions that target students, with a focus on food, music, technology, networking, etc.
Office hours: offer coffee and lunch during the day, so people working in the Seaport district can meet and collaborate. We can also host sessions in the morning, e.i. every Thursday morning for entrepreneurs to start their day with stimulating discussion and activities.

Green week: with much enthusiasm about green-tech in Boston, we could host a green week, supporting participation in sponsorships (e.i. a no car sponsorship) and competitions—how green can you be?

We look forward to seeing how the Venture Café Foundation will take advantage of their chic space to feed collaboration and innovation in Boston!

Written By: Ellen Askey

unCon 2013 Session: Generative Research: Small Data and Human Scale Insights

Moderator: Jason Roberston, Senior Strategist, Continuum

I just spent a two days at a conference in which the concept of Big Data and how to get the most out of it was discussed rather thoroughly.  So, it was interesting to hear a pitch for a MassTLC Innovation unConference session on “small data” or human-scale research.

Generative research implies using research to generate ideas. The small data, or human scale, terminology indicates a method that requires close observation and deep analysis of a limited number of human subjects.  Where big data is great for seeing trends and both historical and predicative analysis, small data focuses at getting at the “why” behind individual choices and understanding the human context and emotional backdrop that informs those choices.  Generative research delivers:

  • Nuance
    • Why (not just what)
    • Contradictions and unspoken needs
  • C.D.E
    • Context (human level context)
    • Depth of understanding
    • Emotion
  • Flexibility
    • Every problem is different
    • You can change your method on the fly based on any number of inputs

Through close observation of the daily reality of a target audience, companies and organization can develop use cases that are reflective of an actual reality, not a marketing department’s educated guesses.  Several examples were cited of inaccurate assumptions made by an organization about its target audience that were only uncovered through human-scale research. Among these was the example of a juice manufacturer that was targeting Mexican families.  The product (a juice powder that needs to be mixed) was designed to appeal to children under the guidance of a parent.  Ideally the juice would be mixed in the kitchen of the family home.  However, close observation revealed that typical Mexican kitchens are the exclusive domain of the mother – children are rarely allowed in – which meant a fundamental disconnect in the positioning of the product that would have gone unseen without human-scale research.

One of the more interesting elements of the session was a group conversation around how to eliminate personal bias when questioning or observing a research subject. Some hints included:

  • Write all your opinions and bias out on paper or white board in advance. This often has the effect of defusing a simmering bias
  • Work with a team on research methodology extensively first, before going into the field.  Acknowledge the bias and solve for it.
  • Let the subject lead the research – open ended questions are perfect here.  Follow the subjects lead through her answers.
  • Be mindful of your personal presentation: If you’re interviewing people in lower socio-economic strata wearing a fancy watch and reading your questions off of the latest iPad may be a bad idea. Similarly, if your interview subject is a Wall Street titan, dress and act in a way that meets your subject on her or his own terms.

Human scale research enables a new perspective on data that:

  • Makes strategy better
  • Makes companies “smarter”
  • Informs better, more focused human-oriented product design
  • Allows companies to care about their audiences as people, not data points
  • Helps identify real world problems

Ultimately, small data should be used in conjunction with big data methods. It is not a substitute or in opposition to any of the large-scale research and analysis tools.  These methods support each other and, taken together, give any organization the best chance a truly understanding its market and audience.

Christopher M. Nahil
Message & Medium - Marketing and Communications Consulting

unCon 2013 Session: The Unrecognized Value of Values

Moderators: Katie Rae and Mark Guadagnoli

Today at MassTLC unConference Katie Rae and Mark Guadagnoli sparked a thought-provoking conversation on “the value of values,” ranging from personal to organizational.  The session began by touching on how values influence motives for a startup and the notion that those values will empower people to make great decisions.  This inevitably makes establishing values a crucial part of starting a company.

Staying true to the name of unConference, participants broke into small groups to collaborate on a list of three values we agreed were most crucial for a company – no matter the size or age – to follow.  When the five groups came back together to share our chosen values, conversation opened up about how values might intersect and how we can make them actionable.

One of the major themes of the discussion was creating a sense of community and establishing a culture within your company. The entire room was more or less in agreement that “being human” is an essential value.

Another hot topic was the intersection of honesty, integrity, and ethics; where they overlap and where they deviate from each other.  Questions were asked like “can someone have integrity but still be dishonest?”  The debate of the interpretation of these values really led the group to look at how we define our values and consequently, do we even concretely know what they are?

When asked, we found that less than 5% of participants in the session knew their company values offhand, revealing to the group that first and foremost, your company needs to sit down and have the conversation that nails down the concrete list of values.  In world of jam-packed schedules, it’s preferable and more beneficial for a company to spend a little time now on establishing values, than a lot of time later.  And as one participant concisely put it, you don’t have time not to.

Shannon Todesca


unCon 2013 Session: How to Build a Start-up from the Heart

Moderator: Bill Warner

What’s important to you?

This was posed as the fundamental question all entrepreneurs should tackle when getting ready to launch their start-up. As the session discussions evolved, attendees gained a better sense of what it means to build a startup from the heart.

At the start of the session, we are introduced to the three main reasons why people don’t execute their ideas:

1.     Other people won’t allow it
2.     You think other people won’t allow it
3.     You won’t allow it

Right off the bat, the first factor to take into consideration is how much time is going into the design of your company compared to how much time is going into your product. Most of the time, entrepreneurs focus most, if not all, their time and energy into perfecting their product. The structure of the company, as they believe, follows and simply “comes naturally.” They expect to stumble upon a “default” company- the idea that their start-up will form into something that they SHOULD get. This mindset is what­ XXX defines as the epitome of a startup from the head. These companies tend to work from the reductive point of view for the concept of the company design, where entrepreneurs work from the big picture- the “what” of their company/product- to figure out the “why”. In that way, they fall into the trap of agreement to reach other peoples’ expectations; and consequently stripping away the energy and spirit of the product. That said, we can think about the three elements of a startup design in the form of three axis:

·         Intention. Otherwise known as the innate ability or drive for the purpose of your product.
·         Belief. This sets the stage for the execution.
·         Invention. The actual execution of the product (also the “what” in the golden circle)

Out of the three, invention tends to take centre stage, making up the bulk of one’s pitch. But to truly build a startup from the heart and deliver a convincing pitch, you’ve got to learn to focus instead on your intention and belief. In fact, don’t disclose your invention at all. Just stay away from the “what”- instead, use personal stories and anecdotes to tackle the “why” and really persuade others to believe in what you believe in!

Over the course of the session, participants were encouraged to take part in an exercise that focused on altering our minds to speak for our intentions and beliefs. On the first try, everyone who contributed to this activity struggled to sell their ideas without talking about the “what” of their companies. It was interesting to realize just how much entrepreneurs emphasize the actual product without really acknowledging why the product exists. Finally, after 30 minutes of trying to keep our pitches simple, delivering them slowly, and emphasizing our body language, we left the session with these key five words: I intend to help people _______. We have a choice between subtraction and addition, but we shouldn’t have to make that decision knowing that ultimately, adding the value of people is what makes for a startup from the heart.

Caitlin Cheng

unCon 2013 Session: Perfect Pitch - Press and Media Relations Clinic

Moderator: Scott Kirsner, Boston Globe & Tina Cassidy, Ink House Media

To quote one of the most infamous men to enter into business, “we live in a very noisy world,” once said Steve Jobs. This quote is a great introduction to the session earlier today led by Scott Kirsner, Boston Globe columnist and Tina Cassidy, VP at Ink House, “Perfect Pitch: Press and Media Relations Clinic.”
The media is so fast-paced and difficult to keep up with that pitches often get lost in the muddle and shuffle of headline and breaking news stories. This poses the question then, how do you write the perfect pitch? Scott led this discussion with four other press experts on guiding companies to create the best pitch for their company and product.

By taking volunteers from the room, we got to hear from a variety of startup companies. After telling their product pitch, Scott and his team of press experts critiqued and gave advice on how to improve or modify the pitch to be successful in receiving press. Overall, there were four key takeaways from this session that would be beneficial to other companies looking to connect with the media for press coverage.

·         Clearly define your message – make sure you clarify what it is that your company is doing or selling. If you’re in the beginning stages, test out examples on your family and friends and see what sticks. Ultimately, you’re creating your mission statement.
·         Learn who your audience is – you could have an amazing product but you’re not directing it towards the right consumer group. Do research and determine who is interested in what products, from there, you can figure which news outlets best suits your company.
·         Research the media – when you’re pitching a reporter, make sure you know their background. Read their past articles, check out their Twitter feed – then you get to their personality, what they’re interested in and what they write about, which inevitably helps you pitch your product better.
·         Differentiate yourself in the market – more often than not, there will be another company out there with a similar product or solving a similar problem. In order to separate yourself from those competitors, you have to find that niche that makes you unique and more appealing. Ultimately, that is what will get the press’s attention.

Once you get the perfect pitch, it’s about maintaining that relationship with the reporter. As a lasting note and tip to close out the session, Scott said “be a source for your own space.” Ultimately, secure and continue the relationship with the press by offering other news that is not just yours. Inform them of other companies doing similar things, because that’s when they start to trust and credit you for helping them do their job as well.

Kayla Krause


unCon 2013 Session: Teach a Marketing Intern to be a Marketing Genius

Moderator: Josh Reynolds, Oracle

It takes an excellent moderator to set a topic in motion. Josh Reynolds, North American Marketing, at Oracle put our open discussion of working with marketing interns in motion by asking all in attendance to introduce themsleves, and talk briefly about experiences with the topic.

Josh then asked a set of three questions:

What activities should an intern focus on?
He expanded this by asking, if you bring someone in, what is the level of skillset that you start with and then move evolve and grow?

Roger Matos, vice president, Neurala shared: “The person should be able to do something better than people on our staff. I need to see that the person can be trusted. As it moves along, I’ll add more.”
He expanded on some social media ownership questions and concerns by saying, “If social media is in their tasks, then have them find interesting things in news to tweet about. Then, evaluate what they write and provide feedback. Let them in on the overall strategy and let’s see where it goes.”
It was pointed out that good interns will find balance between showing their personal and professional online personalities.

Lauren Chadwick from CashStar shared that she was comfortable letting interns work on some social, some events, and blogging on Wordpress. She appreciated that energy and understand of the platforms and tone of voice.

Your humble bylined blogger (Adam Zand) shared history of part of his history with PR agency interns, and how he made sure they picked up the phone and pitched before they were done with their time there.
Bruce Tannenbaum, MathWorks added that it is important to have them show that they can “Tell a story” about your company. He did this through assigning a video for them to make.

Joe, a current marketing intern who Josh introduced at the start of our session, said that there are a lot of great candidates for your internships and therefore, you need to make sure you give them responsibility and eventually pitch what they did to the rest of the company.

Alison, previous Marketing Intern at MarketMeSuite and now full-time Community Manager, said that cross training is important – “wear different hats” is great way to circulate and learn.

Annika, a current Northeastern U. student said there was incredible value in time spent as an intern with MassChallenge. She feels that a great intern needs to be driven and really care about the company. This is not a busy work role – trust is the key foundation.

Joe, a fellow MassChallenge intern in social marketing media intern, said he chooses a position based on where I’ll be uncomfortable and get new skills. For example, you can be assigned to  create content for Twitter, but you should also have your own internal project that the company will evaluate and run with if it makes sense.

Daniel Bingyou, echoed this saying, “I want to be challenged and given the tools to make it happen.”
Josh Reynolds asked his last moderator question of, What do you want to happen after your internship leaves? How do you make that happen.

Lauren at CashStar: said we will grow with the person and make it happen. Her intern is looking at competitive analysis now and was really enjoying it.

Adam (this blogger) asked about length of internships – he appreciated the long-term six months with a Northeastern student that can great build a high-performing, trusting working relationship.
Barb  Finer, with the E3 program at Emerson College & TechSandBox said, you can take on a client as a project with professor being involved heavily.

This blogger may be doing this soon in his role at TomTom, Inc. in Concord.
A great session and I know the audience feels charged up about getting value from their current or future marketing interns.

By Adam Zand, President of Social Media Club Boston, and PR Manager at TomTom, Inc