Archive for October, 2010

Oct 28

Posted by Meghan

Posted in Clients

Client News: VUDU Streaming to PC, Mac and Boxee Box

Stage Two loves working with clients who are pushing boundaries and making moves in the digital home, so we were very excited today when VUDU announced its availability on the Boxee platform and D-Link’s Boxee Box coming this November.

VUDU users can download Boxee’s free media center software to access VUDU’s massive SD movie collection on PC or Mac. This means you can literally watch VUDU streaming when you want, where you want and it is the first time you can access VUDU without buying a new device.

On the upcoming D-Link Boxee Box, VUDU will offer the full HD and HDX library in 1080p with Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 surround sound. Over 3,000 HD flicks are available in VUDU’s library so go ahead and plan that epic movie marathon night for next month.

Read about it more on VUDU and Boxee official blog posts.

We’ve nabbed some great coverage today on this announcement – we will keep updating the list as the day goes on:

CNET

CrunchGear

Engadget

Fierce Online Video

Fortune

Gizmodo

New TeeVee

Paid Content

PC Mag

PC World

Venture Beat

Read Write Web

Technologizer

Ubergizmo

Yahoo! Tech

Oct 26

Posted by TeamS2

Posted in Memes

Meme of the Month: Surprised Kitty

Meme rule: The material that is created in response to the meme source material is far more awesome than the original meme.

At Stage Two, we love cute cat pictures and videos as much as the next group of consumer tech experts but, this month, one little critter warmed our cold, electronic hearts even more than watching the SF Giants beat the odds to go to the World Series. Allow us to introduce you to “Surprised Kitty”:

Now, as we said, Surprised Kitty not only unleashed its excessive cuteness on the world, but it also inspired some awesome copy”cats” (ahem…). First, check out what happens when you try to surprise a dog.

And, finally, here’s what happens when you surprise Lord Vader.

Oct 20

Posted by Jim

Posted in Stage Two

Stage Two Announces Ultimate Blogger Lounge

Stage Two is pleased to announce an exciting new venture – The Ultimate Blogger Lounge.

The UBL is an exclusive San Francisco media lounge opening in early 2011 that is a permanent refuge for tech journalists, credentialed press, analysts, bloggers, podcasters and social media gurus.

The inspiration for the Ultimate Blogger Lounge comes from the Bloghaus, a blogging suite that debuted at CES in 2007. Sponsored by Seagate and hosted by PodTech, Bloghaus billed itself as:

A place for bloggers, podcasters, video bloggers, and other online media creators to meet, have some food, relax, and share the day’s news at the Consumer Electronics Show.

We observed firsthand how bloggers and journalists at the CES Bloghaus utilized and appreciated the dedicated workspace. They took advantage of the free Internet, complimentary refreshments and comfortable surroundings to work, play and connect. From the beginning it was clear that a dedicated media lounge could attract attention, sponsors and journalists.

The CES Bloghaus

The tech event culture of San Francisco demands a permanent location for media members to interact with new consumer electronics and each other. To share best practices and horror stories. To have a beer, hold a meeting or file a story.

San Francisco is the cultural hub of the tech world and thousands of journalists attend media functions, conferences and social meetups here every year. San Francisco is where innovation happens. Just as new media personalities flocked to the Bloghaus at CES, we are confident that working press will utilize the UBL’s state of the art features on a daily basis.

We are excited to have early support from many notable industry leaders. Currently Robert Scoble, Brian Solis, Chris Heuer, Ben Parr and Jim Louderback are all UBL Advisory Board members. Stage Two executives Marie Domingo and Jeremy Toeman are also involved in guiding the launch of this high tech space.We look forward to working with these leading minds as we build the Ultimate Blogger Lounge.

Finally, a note on why we are doing this.

Stage Two is intimately linked with Bay Area tech press. We started the UBL to give something back to the bloggers, reporters and socialcasters who spend their lives sharing new technologies with others. We know how hard it is to work in this space. Our friends and family members do it every day. Journalists increasingly face diminishing resources and increasing demands in their profession. They file stories from coffee houses or from their cars; they stay plugged in 24/7 because they care about the technology industry and they care keeping the public informed. Stage Two wants to increase the resources available to journalists and bloggers and foster a sense of community within the press corps while doing so.

We believe that the UBL is an opportunity to give the press a facility with premium working conditions – very high speed Internet, private conference rooms, teleconference facilities, refreshments, etc. This is also an opportunity for leading tech companies to connect with leading journalists and social influencers. We are thrilled to announce the Ultimate Blogger Lounge.

You can follow the digital press club @sfubl and request press credentials by emailing credentials@ultimatebloggerlounge.com

Oct 20

Posted by Jeremy Toeman and Greg Franzese

Posted in Marketing

Secrets of Apple Media Events Revealed (column)

Stage Two Founding Partner Jeremy Toeman now has a recurring Cult of Mac column.  The focus will be the theme of “Apple’s Secrets” in which he contends effectively that there really aren’t any secrets.  As we’ve said many times, Apple plays their own game, and they play it very well.  From concept through development through launch through use, Apple’s products have the kind of thoroughness we love to see.

Here’s an excerpt from the full post:

This Wednesday, Apple holds a media event in Cupertino entitled “Back To The Mac.” As soon as they sent out the invitations, the internet started frothing with rumors. What will OS X 10.7 look likeWill there be a new MacBook Air? Will my iPad finally make coffee? The list of apple rumors is tremendous. Vegas odds makers are even taking bets on what Apple will unveil during the announcement.

Read the rest at Cult of Mac!

Oct 11

Posted by Jeremy Toeman and Greg Franzese

Posted in Stage Two

Stage Two Code of Ethics

We recently published The Stage Two Code of Ethics on our website and wanted to add this meaningful content to our blog, as well.

Integrity Matters.

Stage Two believes that great product experiences, great messaging / positioning and great PR come from speaking authentically, not shrieking hyperbolically. We make our living building and promoting great consumer technologies and we believe deeply in integrity.

The first step in building great PR and Marketing strategies is working with exceptional clients whose work you can stand behind.

A great product must be great, not just be well-hyped. Whether it is a web service, smart app, gadget or set top box, products must perform as advertised. They must play fair and not cut corners. A great piece of new technology is honest at all times: from the development stage to product launch and beyond. Stage Two is lucky enough to get to work with products we believe in.

Stage Two’s integrity informs our UI/UX methodology.

We assume that you have friends and family around to tell you what a good job you are doing. Our role is different. If a product needs work, we say so. We play fair and call things like we see them. At the end of the day, Stage Two makes its mark on the tech world through our work, our opinions and our results. You can’t write us a big enough check to give a “thumbs up” to sub par product design (of the many things we do, we do not have a service called “cheerleading”). It’s not in our corporate culture to do so and it’s not in your best interests. Even if you have an internal design team that says everything is great, Stage Two can offer a fresh, unbiased view of your product – and tell you how to make it even better.

Stage Two’s ethics inform our strategy, messaging and positioning work.

Stage Two does whatever it takes to help your product connect with users (oftentimes that is most about helping you understand who those users are). We routinely make tough decisions that launch consumer technologies. And we always put the best interests of the client first. We will recommend pushing back a launch date if the product isn’t ready to ship – even if our client has an internal target that conflicts with our timetable. Conversely, if a product is ready to go and months away from hitting stores, Stage Two will advise moving the go-to-market date up. We aren’t “yes men,” we’re the “get it done” team.

Our integrity also informs our relationships with the press.

Stage Two is a PR firm that actually understands technology and products – we do not regurgitate the speeds and feeds we’ve memorized. We know products, and we know the press – and we know them well.

If we write something online, we mean it. Hype is forgettable. It is noise. We don’t B.S. industry veterans or journalists. We don’t do “exclusives.” We never shill. If we blog about our clients, it’s because we like them, or the content makes sense, period. Media outlets approach Stage Two because they value our opinions. They value our knowledge and our forthrightness. We have personal and professional relationships with journalists in the tech space. Stage Two will never let a product supersede a relationship. We won’t pitch garbage. We won’t pitch announcements that aren’t really news. We won’t pitch something just because you want us to. We pitch to get results (even if we don’t always get the ones we want).

Stage Two’s reputation in the technology space is based on our integrity our ability to create and improve amazing products.

Finally, integrity informs Stage Two corporate values. What was that old phrase? “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.” It’s true. Our intention is always to find a fix to a tech problem, not tear down faulty tech with a barrage of complaints (unless it’s just so perilously bad that there is no solution other than to scrap it). Our goal in business is to inform and educate people about technology. And we always intend to improve technology and help share new experiences with others.

Oct 11

Posted by jsteele

Posted in Clients

Client News: Pogoplug unveils Pogoplug Pro!

Today Pogoplug announced the third generation of it’s award-winning Pogoplug device, Pogoplug Pro. Pogoplug Pro adds one of the biggest customer requests, integrated wireless to the already lengthy list of features. Not only does Pro add built-in wireless, the color has changed from pink to black.

Pogoplug Pro is available starting today in Best Buy stores nationwide for $99.

The company announced the new product via their blog, which you can read here. Members of the press and blogger community have picked up the story; we’ll update the list below throughout the day.

Oct 06

Posted by Jeremy

Posted in Gadgets, UI/UX

What the Sony/Google TV Remote Coulda Shoulda Been

Hello readers.  Look at this remote.  Now at your hands.  Now back to the remote.  Now back to your hands.

Maybe it’s a joke.  Maybe it’s a clever ruse.  Maybe it’s a prototype.  Maybe it’s clever CGI like they used for Gollum.  I have no idea.  But the picture here (sourced from Engadget) is supposedly the remote control shipping with Sony’s TVs that have Google TV integrated inside.  It is, in a word, a monstrosity (my friend MG said it best, “My God, it’s full of buttons!”).

Here are all the things wrong with it, in a nutshell:

  • Big and ugly – the current era of product design is about sleekness, not low quality plastic.  Even the Xbox controller looks like it’s better made.
  • Requires two hands to operate at all times - should be one, with the option to go to two when necessary.  You should never go full handed, always stay half handed.
  • All keyboard buttons appear the same size - this thing has to be usable in the dark, which means physical cues are needed.  The “tab” button is where the “Q” should’ve been, so the user can anchor themselves around the keyboard without looking, every time.
  • All control buttons appear the same size – volume and channel change are the same, as are all playback buttons.  Buttons which are used most frequently should be physically differentiated.
  • Two identical joysticks – while I’ll go out on a limb and assume the extra joystick is actually useful/functional, it should be mildly different to the user’s touch.
  • Too many buttons – just like notes, there is such a thing as too many buttons.  And this has too many.

Now, since it’s so easy to complain, I’ll take this a step further with the XX things I’d have done with this remote:

  • Combo buttons + touchscreen – the 2nd gen Sonos controller is a simple version of a hybrid remote, I think this is a perfect time for it.  The physical buttons should control the basic navigation, especially playback controls, and volume.  The touchscreen could do the keyboard, advanced options, setup options, etc.  Even if it’d end up the same physical size as the one pictured here, it would be slicker and better received.
  • Glowing buttons - for advanced products that are going to work in a dark room, back-lit, glowing, light-up, etc buttons are a must-have.
  • Single handed operation – without a doubt I’d have the basic configuration work in a single hand, held in a traditional manner.  If the user has to tilt it to make the screen work, or some other kind of touchscreen is needed to make this happen, it’s worth it.
  • High quality materials - this is supposed to be la creme de la creme of TV products.  Whether it’s a single piece of aluminium or carbon fiber or any other “really nice” materials, I’d spare no expense on the first generation remote.
  • OR… dual remote + phone interfaces - first and foremost, I am *not* a fan of the vision that the smartphone makes a great remote control – it doesn’t.  BUT, if you could ship a really nice, simple, easy to use, high quality remote that offers 80-90% of the functionality, then let the user go to their phone for more advanced features when they want to, I’d call that a viable option.  Remember, you could do keyboard input with a 10-key, it’s worked on feature phones for years.

I’m still in the “shock and awe” phase of watching everything related to Google TV roll out the way it is.  Our post on “taste” applies quite a bit here, as I’ve yet to see an ounce of it related to these products, strategies, or efforts.  And I’m disappointed – this is exactly how we burn consumers on technology.  Too hard, not elegant, etc.

Oct 05

Posted by Jeremy Toeman and Greg Franzese

Posted in Stage Two, UI/UX

What Steve Jobs Meant by Saying Microsoft Has No Taste

There is a great video of Steve Jobs giving an interview to 60 Minutes in which he states – rather boldly – that the problem with Microsoft is that they “simply have no taste.” He goes on to say that the Windows firm has “no originality” and “no culture infused into products.”

Taste is a huge factor in delivering winning consumer technology and is often overlooked or forgotten about on the long and perilous road to market. A sense of beauty and design must accompany flawless technical execution and a robust understanding of user expectations and needs. To look at a concrete example of products with good and bad taste, one need look no further than the latest phones from Apple and Microsoft.

First, there is the recently deceased Kin from Microsoft. Just look at this monstrosity:

  • These phones look like the unholy lovechildren of a calculator and a coaster.
  • From the bizarre shaped “egg phone” to the confusing two phone duality, there is clearly an element of taste that is missing here. The keyboard looks clunky, the screen looks small and that lime green button seems arbitrary, at best.

Even with a multi-million dollar marketing push, the kin failed to connect with users in a meaningful way. It may have had all the functions and technical capabilities that users crave, but because the element of taste was missing, the phone disappointed.  By the way, amazingly on this is that the Kin clearly had a constant aesthetic, but that’s not the same as having taste – hiring the top design firms to do your work is a good idea, but it’s not a get out of jail free card.

Now look at the iPhone. Any iPhone. Even the one with the broken antenna. It has a level of design and tastefulness embedded into its core.

We want to repeat that last bit one more time: a product whose core function is inherently flawed is still considered most satisfying by its users.  Why?  Taste.  Taste is letting those users overlook basic problems, because the problems themselves are not inherently related to the overall design of the product – we know this might sound contradictory or counterintuitive to some, but its actually quite consistent.  Why?  People aren’t buying the iPhone just as a phone, its style, its form, its usability, its social status, etc.  Plus the phone does actually seem to work from time to time…

Stage Two believes that a great product needs not only great technology but great taste, as well. In order to deliver an amazing experience with consumer electronics, a high level understanding of user habits and expectations should inform a functional, beautiful design.

Where does taste start?  When the user first interacts with the product, from on-box branding in stores to websites to company blog posts.  Taste continues through the out-of-box experience into set up and first-time-use.  Every single step needs to be elegant and clean and consistent (could you imagine an iPhone coming in anything but a tightly designed package?).

Taste inspires repeat customers and brand evangelists.  Taste brings love.  Taste trumps glitches (and yeah, we think dropping calls is more than a glitch, but apparently most consumers don’t!).  Taste brings your customers’ emotions into play, and those are powerful things.

The heart of a gadget has to be technical – that is a truism. But a great product will also have an artistic soul. To forget that is to create mediocrity again and again and again.

ps – we know we’ve been a little gushy to Apple recently, it’s not intentional, so coming soon we’ll focus on some other companies who we think have great taste!

Oct 04

Posted by Jeremy Toeman and Greg Franzese

Posted in Stage Two

Marie Domingo Joins Stage Two as VP of PR

We are thrilled to announce today that Marie Domingo has joined Stage Two as VP of PR. A veteran Public Relations executive with over 18 years of client and agency experience, Marie knows how to connect great technology with the press. Earlier in her career, Marie worked at Edelman and SHIFT Communications on the agency side. Internally, she has managed PR for Sony Electronics, HP, Sun and Autodesk. As Vice President of Public Relations, Marie Domingo oversees PR and Media engagements for all Stage Two clients.

Marie Domingo Joins Stage Two

The term “media maven” is now used so commonly that it actually means the opposite of what it once connoted, but if ever we’ve met a maven of new media, it’s her.  A social networking powerhouse, Marie will continue to host and attend industry events and other gatherings while serving the needs of Stage Two clients.

Marie wrote a small note of introduction and despite best instincts that would have us rewrite it in some otherwise embarrassing fashion, we’ve instead decided to include the original:

Hello friends!  I know some of you wondered what I have been up to. Now I can tell you that yes, it’s true, I’ve joined Stage Two. I am thrilled to be part of such a dynamic team. The innovative atmosphere and unique services offered here make Stage Two a one-of-a-kind, full service agency. Many of you have heard of Stage Two (the cool kids), perhaps some have not. All I can say is that you better be prepared because we’ve got tons going on as we head towards the holiday season and 2011.  If you’re ever in the neighborhood, ping me as I’m always up for a cup of joe. – M.D.

Oct 01

Posted by Jeremy Toeman and Greg Franzese

Posted in Stage Two

If You Don’t Believe in PR, Don’t Do PR

“If You Don’t Believe In PR, Don’t Do PR.”

We often run into potential clients who are interested in a variety of services, including PR.  But somewhere along the line, we hear a message like “our VCs tell us we shouldn’t pay for PR” or “I’ve never had much luck with PR” or something similar.  Oftentimes we end up “bidding” against some firm/individual willing to break their back to get the gig, for a one-third the budget we propose.  This post isn’t about us complaining about not getting gigs (who’d listen?), it’s about giving advice to companies debating if they want to go down the path of hiring a PR agency.

If you aren’t ready for a holistic public relations campaign, don’t do it.

If you think you can handle all the PR yourself, maybe you can, maybe you can’t, but either way, don’t hire a firm.

If you aren’t willing to commit 100 percent to targeted media outreach, don’t do it.

If you aren’t engaging broadcast and new media channels with your PR, don’t do it.

If you aren’t working with battle-tested professionals for your PR needs, don’t do it.

If you think you can skip doing your homework on who to pitch for your PR outreach, don’t do it.

If your “PR team” can’t meet with you this week, don’t do it.

If your “PR Team” is an SEO chop shop, don’t do it.

If your “PR Team” is cold calling media lists, forget it.

If you are going to jettison your PR firm because you aren’t happy with the first draft of the first press release you ever see, don’t hire them.

If your VCs, advisors, family, and friends are telling you PR is a waste of money, and you kinda agree, don’t do it.

If you don’t have a solid product, don’t do it.  *NOTE*: technically this falls into our overall philosophy on great products, but we think it fits here too.  It’s our blog, and that’s just how we roll.

If you aren’t willing to back up professional PR with a robust marketing strategy, don’t do it.

If you are putting your regional sales manager, head of QA, or gym coach in charge of managing the PR team, don’t do it.

If you found your PR firm through a text-link-ad or a pop-under ad, don’t hire them.

If your PR firm’s pitch sounds eerily reminiscent of a Craigslist scammer, don’t do it.

If you think PR should be cheaper than QA, legal, or domain name registration fees, don’t do it.

If you think a PR firm is nothing more than a walking rolodex, don’t do it.

If you think PR doesn’t require any form of expertise whatsoever, don’t do it.

If you think PR is “dead,” first, it’s not, second, don’t do it.

If you think your PR firm’s entire job is to spin bad news, don’t do it.

And most importantly…

If you think PR is a waste of money, it will be, so don’t do it.

You can’t do PR half way. I mean, you can - but why would you want to? Companies – especially start-ups and emerging brands – often half-ass their PR and reap disastrous results. It’s actually those examples that cause so much backlash on hiring PR firms.  Going into PR half-heartedly sets your agency and your firm up for failure.

Hire PR when you want, need, and are ready to embrace PR.  Create a reasonable budget (tip: ask your colleagues what they spend AND THEN look at the results they are getting), and be prepared to work within it, and sometimes extend it.  Set reasonable expectations for the results you want to achieve (just because firm XX gets client YY into TechCrunch and Oprah doesn’t mean they’ll be able to guarantee reproducible success for you – they’ll certainly try, but hey, not every writer is going to be into your story, period).  Most importantly: hire the team you want to work with, not the one who claims best Rolodex nor cheapest fees.  Find the people you like, respect, and trust, and they’ll go to bat for you – every time.

So one last time.

“If You Don’t Believe In PR, Don’t Do PR. You will F-A-L* Fail.”

*We know we spelled it wrong. It was done deliberately as metatextual commentary on failure and half-assed PR efforts. You can leave more PR horror stories, grammar nightmares and non sequiturs in the comments below.