Archive for December, 2009

Tool Fashion

December 23rd, 2009

Figuring that I need some kitchen tools because I had dumped my old ones when moving out of the last place some months ago, I went to the supermarket and had a look, because they had some on offer.

It turns out that you have two options when selling, even with simple items like kitchen knives:
a. Sell it so that everybody understands, like “stainless steel, manufactured locally”. No questions asked. Easy as pie.
b. Emphasize the non-obvious benefits (which they did): “extra-sharp conically polished blade”. Now I’m confused, starting to wonder what the exact advantage of this feature might be. No explanation. Instead, I’m not willing to buy it anymore.

Using fuzzy facts does not give you an advantage. Nobody is impressed by things they don’t understand (unless everybody else is, and you profit from a mass hysteria). Here’s the point: if the fact doesn’t have a story, don’t mention it. I don’t care if the handle is ergonomically shaped, I expect it to be. I don’t care if it’s been designed by someone who I’m not sure of to have an expertise on kitchen knives (this can be an upside, once you have the right story). I don’t care what shape the blade has unless there is a reason, preferably one of (no pun intended!) leading edge scientific research for this.

Tools are rarely subject to fashion, but utility, durability, and warranty (hint: “lifetime” is a good start).
The risk of overselling is always higher the lower the perceived value of your item is.

Failure is a Launchpad

December 21st, 2009

Today, Seth pointed out that good ideas are in most cases only the wheat that’s been separated from the chaff, yet more often you may end up just having the chaff but no wheat (these are the bad ideas). This is another scenario when the individual mindset determines the outcome.

Starting from scratch is hard, having something that has failed before is easy, because the first step of creating has already been taken. Now there is a substance, something to work on, analyse and measure, thus finding the (possible) weak spots and to improve on them, and enforce the strengths of the original idea (if they did not turn out to be the reason of failure — always cut the fat first). This applies not only to ideas of course, but also your products, services, systems in general.

Success can be a pitfall, because in most cases people only celebrate but never question it. The harder it is to face reality when failure occurs. But this only applies when your mindset is based on the luck factor. It is an easy explanation, because it takes away self-responsibility and maybe earns you compassion because you’re the victim of destiny. But it bears no chance of improval, because after every attempt your mind resets to zero, denying the opportunity of learning from the failure and getting an advantage in the future.

Failure should not be reduced to an equation of “[you] = dumbass”. This is a complete misinterpretation of the situation. It is the product of one or more of the following: non-clarity of objectives, prioritization, wrong assumptions (about whatever), expectations (about whatever) not being met, conditions changing during the process, to be continued… It is important to be aware that neither of these is an excuse for the result — it isn’t. But every single one is a point or stage worth examining.

Doing the uneasy job of analysing and identifying when the wheels got off the rail will give you more insight to yourself, the people involved in the (failed) transaction, and the communication between the both of you.

think | claim | do – and one more

December 18th, 2009

If what you think you’re doing, what you claim you’re doing, and what you actually do are all consistent, you’re authentic.

Except you’re not. Why?
Authenticity requires a context.
New formula.

If what you think you’re doing, what you claim you’re doing, and what you actually do is consistent with what people believe you’re doing, you’re authentic.

For better or worse.

Who’s watching?

December 18th, 2009

Coming back to the topic of public broadcasters looking for new ways to finance their organizations, the sparse discussion on the topic focuses on the wrong end. Here’s why: (in Germany but other coutries too) Public TV exists to ensure the availability of neutral information, or the multitude of sources of information, because Freedom of Information is a Constitutional Right. They are ordered by the public (or rather the legislator) to exist. The government must not interfere (which prohibits funding by taxes, because that could be a reprisal — and yet they do interfere, because they have delegates in all relevant commitees). What the whole current discussion boils down to: What legal base should the charge have that an individual (or a household? how about businesses?) has to pay? And how to charge – for each device or per adult or…? All in an effort to get the maximum justifiable amount of cash. But this discussion omits one important point: relevance due to bandwidth.

On traditional broadcast media (TV and radio) bandwidth is technically limited, so there is only room for a limited number of channels. Even on satellite, because compared to the internet with millions of channels available, 500+ channels on satellite is a puny number. In this old environment, Public TV still plays an important role, because they use quite a lot of bandwith due to their numerous amount of channels. Which means the likelihood of you watching or listening to one of their programmes is quite high.

Then came internet.
And what these people don’t get is that on this “convergent platform” as they call it, their relevance has shrunk to close to zero. The old justification was “when you have a radio, you have to pay because you can use it, whether you really do it or not” doesn’t apply on the net. Because of two reasons: a. on the radio, the chance of dialing in to one of their programmes is 80+% (on antenna TV 100% in rural regions, less in the cities and on cable). They certainly wish it were that high online. But it isn’t, and because of that, their demands for charges on computers and cellphones are not only ridiculous but also immoral. b. On the web, they cannot fulfil their duty of delivering neutral information. This is because the web by its nature is a free medium, so it naturally breeds various free information. The argument of “historically trusted source of hi-quality journalism” has no relevance here. And what’s more, should anybody ever decide to filter information or commit censorship, what’s to stop them from cutting of these “trusted sources” in the first place?

They do not understand that the game on the web has entirely different rules, and they cannot change them to work in their favour. But they’re also not willing to change their system, which makes it very difficult for them to cash in just because they’re available. So instead of reinventing their business (ouch the pain!) it’s much easier to try to use their political allies to turn democracy on its head.

To do what, exactly?

December 15th, 2009

No matter what the occasion, sooner or later you will run into someone who thinks he knows better.

Last time I noticed was on Derek Sivers’ web page, when he wrote why he gave his company to charity. Long story short, he set up a foundation to which he transferred the ownership of the business and then this foundation sold the company. By doing so, all the money from the transaction would go into the funds and not be taxed. The cause of this foundation is to sponsor music education when Derek has passed away.

Now there are people who think they know better: “You should have given your money to cause XY, I’ve been working in that field and it’s so much more important than music education… ” Matter of fact: There are thousands of good causes people could support. But for some reasons they choose to support the one(s) they identify with. And if there’s no one who does something you appreciate, who’s to stop you from starting your own? Especially when you are lucky enough to have heaps of money. Derek did not only want to give away what he had, but to something he values.

The thing is, giving unsolicited statements like “My [insert belongings, beliefs, or business] is better than yours” does not help anything, it does only worsen the relationship. Because in most cases, people did not care to frame the precise context of your opinion or decision. (And even worse, it implies a judgement. ) So if you’re not completely turned off by people acting as described above, the question to respond with is: To do what, exactly?

But when time is scarce and choice is abundant, no one will stop to ask this.  They just skip to the next. So if you’re about tho tell somebody about the advantages of your [whatever], be sure to know exactly what they want [whatever] to do for them.

What matters now

December 14th, 2009

Seth Godin has just announced the release of a great new e-book. For free. Get it.

Push for Charity

December 14th, 2009

Today I went to the supermarket to return some bottles (Germany is one of the countries that has deposits on most bottles), which is handled by a machine. When it came to print the receipt, I noticed these new machines had not only a “print receipt” button, but – Surprise! – also a “donate” button right next to it!

4202ccf7f2Turns out that this is a project started in 2008 by a charity that gives expired or overstock foods to people in need. As of their press release in October, their co-operation has now about 5,000 of these new machines installed, which helped them raise over 1M Euros in 18 months.

Two things are worth noting here: First, this is just what we need. Help a good cause with the push of a button. Second, ideas like this must spread faster. Yet many charities still communicate like it’s 1970. No permission base, no email news (only if you sign up for a press account), no RSS feed. If you’re doing something for a cause, being invisible and untouchable is no perspective.

Discount Outlet vs. Stock Exchange

December 11th, 2009

There are two models of dynamic pricing in the market: a. Discount Outlets like supermarkets offer commodities for cheap because they got hold of them for even cheaper. People rush in and grab what they can get. Price goes up, the rush breaks down. b. Stock Exchange works exactly the other way round: Price goes up, people are more likely to buy. Grab it while it’s hot. The buzz will attract more people. The industry example is (of course) Apple.

Thing is, for both of them there is no way any Human (or Econ) as of today would adapt their behaviour if they decided to price the other way round. So the question for you as a marketer is: What business are you in? Or rather: What kind of business does your customer associate your business (i.e. your brand, your products, your services) with?

Basic Viral Checklist

December 10th, 2009

Currently revisiting Seth Godin’s Permission Marketing, it came clear to me that you can’t help but smile about the illiteracy of today’s marketing departments, especially when trying to come up with something viral. Over the last decade there are so many examples of “this is how you do it” (still outnumbered by “this is how you should NEVER EVER do it”), that everybody could easily come up with a checklist of no-gos, such as:

  • mentioning your brand slogan-wise
  • including statements that boil down to “this thing is sooo average, you have to like it” (subtext: “because we spent sooo many hours tweaking it down from being very edgy to so-so”)
  • having a “professional look” (like shot on film or high def camera, proper (=boring) lighting etc.), but not being at the edge of what’s possible in ANY direction.

Well, basically everything that makes a TV ad the way we know it ever since. Once again, the web is not another TV channel where your message can be forced onto the viewer and they keep their mouths shut. On the web, the best that can happen to you if someone dislikes your interruption, is clicking it away. Far worse is when they decide to spread the word that you suck big time and are boring and they wish you’d rot in some nasty place. They are very likely to get more leverage than you.

Money for Nothing

December 9th, 2009

Recent reports have said that by next year people in Germany will have to pay for using their computers no matter what. Behind this outrageous plan are the states’ broadcasting offices (of which there are 9, because it is federally organized — yep, that’s a major money drain nowadays). So, ironically enough, after having been ordered by court to limit their online activity, these organizations now try to charge fees for something they are not fully allowed to offer. Think about that for a sec.

In most other European countries, people are only to pay for TVs and radios. Sticking to this system has some sense, but what it does under the hood is not always clear and by far not to understand for everybody. Part of it is for maintaining the technical broadcast infrastructure, although analog broadcasting is almost no more used for TV. But cable and satellite are not operated by the public TV stations, and the telephone wires certainly not! Combine these two conclusions (there are some more, but that’s something to cover later), and (if you’re affected by this issue) ask yourself if you’re really gonna take this one.