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February 10 2015

Technology & customer power

It is a very different world from that of the 20th century, and one that is moving ever more quickly in the direction of customer empowerment. Just consider for a moment the ongoing technological trends and drivers:

  • the availability of technologies (service-oriented architectures andthe like) that do away with the tyranny of siloed legacy systems;
  • the accelerating convergence of devices such as the PC, TV andmobile phone; 
  • the availability of software-as-a-service; 
  • the socially revolutionary effects of Web 2.0; 
  • new kinds of device connectivity to give access to new services (such as telematics: why shouldn’t a specially tagged undershirt recognize when a patient’s heart rate or blood pressure move out of acceptable ranges, and send a signal to the doctor?) 

Growing up with all of these technologies, the child of the internet generation has an understanding of the customer’s importance to any enterprise. Anyone born earlier has to make the conscious mental adjustment

From Creating and Delivering Your Value Proposition - Cindy Barnes, Helen Blake, David Pinder

Excerpt from Creating and Delivering Your Value Proposition - Cindy Barnes, Helen Blake, David Pinder

So much this:

Customer primacy was bubbling up in the second half of the 20th
century, when its most active supporters were not in the United States
or Europe, but in Japan. In the late 20th century, Mr Taiichi Ohno,
the genius behind the Toyota lean manufacturing system, said: ‘All we
are doing is looking at the timeline from the moment the customer
gives us an order to the point when we collect the cash. And we are
reducing that timeline by removing the non-value-added wastes.’4
A huge amount of wisdom is packed into those few words. It’s what
enabled Toyota to achieve customer focus and, in 2007, to become the
world’s No. 1 automotive manufacturer.
But, if you have been brought up in a Western-style consumer
society, you may not have thought through the reality or implications
of client/customer ascendancy. That is not meant in a critical sense. 12 Creating and delivering your value proposition
It’s just that you may well automatically accept the old client/customer
proposition that has now passed its sell-by date. Yes, you may
understand that information and communications technology has
enabled globalization, so that competitors are able to strike from
anywhere in the world, and quickly produce me-too offerings. Yes,
you may understand that the old sources of industrial strength have
evaporated. Yes, you may recognize that new technologies and new
competition have handed power to clients/customers, giving them
greater choice and the ability to exercise that choice. Yes, you may
accept that all of this has altered, and continues to alter, our world
in astonishing ways. But the old beat-up-on-the-customer model is
so embedded in our cultures and our mental models that mentally
and emotionally you still may not have taken on board the absolute
outcome of these shifts.”

February 05 2015

Facing the truth – that the world visits violence and poverty and discrimination upon people capriciously, with little regard for what they’ve done to deserve it – is much scarier. Because, if there’s no good explanation for why any specific person is suffering, it’s far harder to escape the frightening conclusion that it could easily be you next.
Believing that life is fair makes you a terrible person | Oliver Burkeman | Comment is free | The Guardian

February 04 2015

I was struck by how the descriptions of psychedelic journeys differed from the typical accounts of dreams. For one thing, most people’s recall of their journey is not just vivid but comprehensive, the narratives they reconstruct seamless and fully accessible, even years later. They don’t regard these narratives as “just a dream,” the evanescent products of fantasy or wish fulfillment, but, rather, as genuine and sturdy experiences. This is the “noetic” quality that students of mysticism often describe: the unmistakable sense that whatever has been learned or witnessed has the authority and the durability of objective truth. “You don’t get that on other drugs,” as Roland Griffiths points out; after the fact, we’re fully aware of, and often embarrassed by, the inauthenticity of the drug experience.
The Trip Treatment - The New Yorker

February 02 2015

General Electric is a well-known source of managerial talent, and its alumni are disproportionately represented among CEOs in the S&P 500. Groysberg and his colleagues tracked the performance of twenty managers from GE that other organizations hired as chairman, CEO, or CEO-designate between 1989 and 2001. They found a stark dichotomy. Ten of the hiring companies resembled GE, so the skills of the executives were neatly transferable and the companies flourished. The other ten companies were in lines of business different from GE. For example, one GE executive went to a company selling groceries, whereas his experience had been in selling appliances. Even with a GE-trained executive at the helm, those companies delivered poor returns to shareholders. Again, developing skill is a genuine achievement. And skill, once developed, has a real influence on what we can do and how successful we are. But skill is only one factor that contributes to the end result of our efforts. The organization or environment in which a CEO works also has an influence. The evidence shows that employers systematically overestimate the power of an individual’s skill and underestimate the influence of the organization in which he or she operates
— Michael J. Mauboussin. “The Success Equation: Untangling Skill and Luck in Business, Sports, and Investing.”

February 01 2015

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Blast from the past - the university intranet in my final year (2010)

January 30 2015

An editor’s farewell: The case for liberal optimism | The Economist

A wonderfully poetic yet serious goodbye from John Micklethwait:

"One of my earliest covers asked “Who killed the newspaper?” (August 24th 2006), and this newspaper has arguably faced more change in the past nine years than it did in the previous century. On April Fool’s Day 2006, when, appropriately, I began this job, Twitter was ten days old, our print advertising was growing and social media was something to do with a very good lunch.
So any modern editor who is not paranoid is a fool. But my optimism remains greater, both about The Economist and the future of independent journalism. That is partly because technology gives us ever more ways to reach our audience. In 2006 our circulation was 1.1m, all in print. Now it is 1.6m in print, digital and audio. Already half a million of you have downloaded our new Espresso app; we are adding over 70,000 Twitter followers each week. Media is not the race to the bottom that pessimists forecast. People want to read about the Kurds, Keynes and kokumi (see article) as well as the Kardashians. Ever more go to university, travel abroad and need ideas to stay employable—and will pay for an impartial view of the world, one where the editor, whatever his faults (or from now on, her virtues), is in nobody’s pocket.”

January 28 2015

I Want My Mindless TV! - Bloomberg View

"Avoidance of cognitive demand is a well-established human tendency. To quote from a study published in 2010 in the Journal of Experimental Psychology:

In six behavioral experiments, participants chose freely between courses of action associated with different levels of demand for controlled information processing. Together, the results of these experiments revealed a bias in favor of the less demanding course of action.

So why do we spend so much more time talking about the high-cognitive-demand TV shows? Is everybody just faking it to sound sophisticated? Well, no. When you look at rankings of shows that people pay for, the picture changes. Yes, an episode of the inevitable “NCIS” shows up pretty high on Apple’s current list of most-downloaded shows on iTunes, but when I last looked there was one “Parks and Rec” episode ahead of it and another not far behind. Last year’s most-downloaded TV shows were, in order, “Game of Thrones,” “The Walking Dead,” “Downton Abbey, “Breaking Bad” and “Scandal.” That last one may be a guilty pleasure, but I’ve tried watching and it’s complicated. This is a high-cognitive demand list.

These shows require a much higher mental investment than an episode of “Castle,” but the payoff is much higher too. They are addictive. Fans binge-watch them. And therein lies a great divide in television business models.

The high-cognitive-demand series attract smaller initial audiences, but these audiences are committed enough to pay for them, even years after they initially air. Whatever happens to TV in the future, these kinds of shows will be able to make money. The low-cognitive-demand shows face a more uncertain future. People like to watch them, but are less likely to seek them out. They only make business sense if supported by advertising or as part of a bundle, or both. (Yes, there are exceptions in sports, but on the whole I think the rule holds.) TV advertising is in decline, and while the cable bundle is still gushing money it’s looking more and more vulnerable.”

January 27 2015

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January 23 2015

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"Put another way, in 2014 iOS app developers earned more than Hollywood did from box office in the US."

January 15 2015

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Why I like Soylent (and examine.com)

Chris Dixon absolutely nails it in this post, and not just talking about Soylent but also about the idea of products by/for online communities. 

Soylent is a community of people who are enthusiastic about using science to improve food and nutrition. The company makes money selling one version of that improved food (some users buy “official Soylent,” others buy ingredients to make their own DIY Soylent recipe). If you look at Soylent as just a food company, you misjudge the core of the company, the same way you would if you looked at GoPro as just a camera company.

It’s not just that investors don’t understand or appreciate the power of online communities, most marketers and companies don’t really understand how communities form, what unites them, how they communicate or recognise when and how opinion shifts.

Many investors decided not to invest in GoPro because they saw it as a camera company, and camera companies generally get quickly commoditized. However, investors who properly understood GoPro saw it primarily as a highly engaged community of sports enthusiasts, something that is very hard for competitors to replicate.

It reminds me exactly of why I love examine.com and all the time and effort that’s been put into distinguishing fact from fiction, collating all the research and RCTs and especially results in humans and their significance. Examine.com and Soylent (and places like Reddit nutrition) might be talking to a very small group of people who absolutely love nerding over what goes into their bodies, but that’s the beauty of online companies (who also do their marketing and advertising online) over traditional ones - their narrow interests and being helped with a product or service that will make them disproportionately happy:

Traditional food companies are primarily marketing and distribution companies. They blanket the earth with advertising and fight to distribute their products as widely as possible (while blocking the distribution of competing products). 

As far as advertising goes at least, most companies and their ‘mission statements’ are at best bland and at worst absolute bullshit used to fill up space. However, at Poke we simply believe in making things better & making better things. 

Traditional companies and marketing come from a world where you made whatever it is you were good at and used your budget to push out that message. Lovers of Sun Tzu style strategy and the last 20 years of business school thinking seem to be under the impression that modern marketing is about always being cleverer than the competition (or driving them out of business), which just ends up being detrimental to the people you’re supposed to be serving. There’s been no room to ‘make better things’ from scratch. 

What investors can probably get onboard with is that it’s a cut-throat world out there and that results and profits are the things that ultimately matter to them - but it’s a much harder job these days to get through them through sheer brute force. 

January 06 2015

Welcome to the future of advertising, where digital is redundant

Man speaketh the truth, but then agencies will be the last place to organise themselves around ‘user needs’:

"There is not a more meaningless divide and obsession than the notion of digital media. Media channels were once clearly distinguished and named from the physical devices that we used to consume them. Radio ads played on radios and were audio, TV ads played on TV’s and were moving images, newspaper ads were images in the paper while outdoor ads were the images around us. In 2014 the naming legacy is both misleading and of no value. I listen to the radio on my phone, read the newspapers on a laptop, watch YouTube on my TV and read magazines on my iPad. Our old media channels mean nothing yet their names survive and mislead us into artificially limited thinking. We focus endlessly on battles of no meaning like on whether digital is eating TV, rather than unleashing our minds on the new possibilities and how best to buy media and supply messages in the digital age.

We’ve arranged our agency environment around a false divide and two oddly different tribes. In the same way modern consumers don’t go online, they just exist in a world with the internet everywhere, they don’t watch digital or non-digital media either. Whether a TV show is watched on a phone, laptop or TV, and if it’s over the airwaves or over the internet is of huge significance to the agency world, as we’re arranged entirely around the pipes, yet it matters not one iota to the viewer. We’ve spent our time arranging ourselves around silos to create for, supply and buy pipes which increasingly have no meaning.”

Today in tabs I need to close:

January 05 2015

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The most simplified tone of voice guidelines around. Doh. 

January 04 2015

BuzzFeed’s Jonah Peretti Goes Long

The lost art of writing so that everyone understands, especially if you want to have an audience in the future:

"When you think about the media industry, it’s also, “How do you reach people and how do you get people to understand?” If you write something and nobody understands it, it’s easy to be, like, “Oh those are all the dumb people.” Sometimes writing something that’s very sophisticated and difficult and technical for a particular audience is totally fine, but you should be able to communicate in simple language."

January 03 2015

The difference between a startup and an established company

Branding woes: what problems do Fitbit, Jawbone and other activity trackers solve and who are they for?

At work were recently invited to pitch to a wearable device manufacturer with a camera and recording functionality (which shall not be named) and struggled with the question of selling point for a while: from a legal and consumer perspective, what is the proposition (i.e. promise)? Or in even simpler terms, what are you helping people with?

That’s one of the fundamental questions of branding, marketing and communications. What a device does is not necessarily the thing you want to or can advertise to people for a multitude of reasons.

There’s a long and interesting investigation into wearable activity trackers by BuzzFeed:

Fitbit told me that third-party tests have confirmed that its trackers are the “most consistently accurate activity trackers on the market”; Jawbone says the UP is intended to function as “an overall lifestyle tracker” with a goal to “really understand your baseline, and discover things you might not have known, so you can start to make decisions.”) 

Fitbits and Jawbones sell well, but “decay levels,” to use Gandhi’s words, are high, and customer satisfaction, even gleaned from Amazon review pages, is relatively low: The Fitbit Flex and Jawbone UP24 are currently rated 3.5 out of 5 stars on Amazon.

The reason these devices don’t routinely score raves is because they lack a clear promise that they can in turn fulfil. “When you look at the marketing for these step counters, it’s very broad and aspirational,” Gandhi explained. “If you go and read the five-star reviews of Fitbit, they’re largely about losing weight, but if you read their public marketing, Fitbit still has this aspiration of being more of a health and wellness brand than weight loss.”

You will never find a review for Jawbone or Fitbit that says ‘works as advertised’ because no one knows what they’re advertising.”

There are many things happening in the wearable space that are interesting from a communications or marketing perspective. Peter F. Drucker said in 1955, ‘the purpose of a business is to create and keep a customer.’ A lot have been created as far as we can tell, but what for and whether they’ll be staying is a different problem.

If no one knows what you’re advertising but they bought the product anyway, it leads to a lot of possibilities, to name a few:

  • The people who aren’t the audience you intended are now using your thing (for its original, intended purpose). It’s great that they found it without being advertised to directly, but raises all sorts of interesting questions for your business model and whom you should decide to focus on next; who are they, how did they find you and are they the people you want in the future? Are they even likely to stay with you? Sometimes this is deliberate (also known as an influencer strategy, whereby the person it’s intended for is not the person advertised to - e.g. advertising Old Spice to women to get the men in their lives to use it) but when it’s not there are some juicy research questions to be answered.
  • The people who are the intended audience are using it, but not for what you want (or designed it for or thought they needed); if you’re not speaking to them right now to figure out what they’reusing it for, you’d better hurry up. This should help inform, not guide, future actions and communications. If people have discovered a way of using the thing that you don’t condone, it can give a way in to others just like them: they’ve got a use case that is extremely personal and relevant, there are more like them out there, and even better, that’s the key: to make a small audience or market disproportionately happy with your service.
  • Another one is that the audience you intended it for is using it for the right reasons, but probably not as often as you’d like them to. There’s a bit of the first case scenario in here as well: the judgement may have been wrong from the outset and it turns out they’re not the heaviest users. Alternatively they could be heavier users but they just haven’t figured out how. If the ‘thing’ is being used out of the box with not much guidance, setup or on-boarding then people are missing out on features they don’t know they have; you might be getting ‘meh’ reviews or not generating a lot of enthusiasm. The good news is there’s a lot that can be fixed here (especially through relevant messaging). 

In superficial terms for the sake of argument, the Fitbit promises 'the most accurate tracking', which could suggest it’s aimed at people already into the idea of tracking, solving a problem of inaccurate tracking from other devices, e.g. hard to understand metrics (Nike Fuelband) or imperfect technology (mobile apps reliant on having a phone on you). It can help ‘make fitness fun’ (looping into an existing habit but suggesting it’s for people who are not fitness inclined) or let you ‘take charge and energise your day’ (addressing some of the symptoms but not the source itself).

In just as superficial terms, the Jawbone promises to ‘show you things you didn’t know’ about yourself, which suggests it’s aimed at the kind of people who might be making health and lifestyle commitments (e.g. losing weight, exercising more, being in better health - see How fast you’ll abandon your New Year’s Resolutions on FiveThirtyEight). A sizeable audience, but with goals and paths to those goals so different your work has only just begun the moment you landed that customer.

This brings you to the second key question: what sort of people are you for?

In discussing the characteristics of monopolies, Peter Thiel noted that companies with large cash flows far into the future usually share some combination of the following characteristics: proprietary technology, network effects, economies of scale, and branding.” 

Branding (also in superficial terms) happens when the answer to the previous two questions is clear in everybody’s minds.  Do mainstream wearable devices have branding? I seriously question that at the moment. Skinny Bitch Collective and Barry’s Bootcamp have branding that the gym round the corner from you doesn’t have (you know where you stand with them). Wearable devices don’t yet - Beats has more branding in the world of headphones and laptops than all wearable devices put together. 

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