Archive for the ‘marketing’ Category

Rise of the hacks (commodification vs. democratization)

November 3rd, 2014

There is no such thing as democratization of technology. If you think about it, this is quite obvious. Everything being sold as democratization of technology is commodification with glitzy marketing sprinkled on top.

What happens at the development level is that saturation has been reached, a specific kind of technology itself has matured and the only thing that’s left to do is increase the level of integration. This, however, comes with a cost. One example that everybody (in the western world) experiences every day is computer (including smartphones). You see, back in the days of DOS (and, before the Apple historians start howling in protest, the Apple II), when there was no such thing as a Graphical User Interface, processing power, or rather the lack thereof, was a huge (or tight – sic!) bottleneck (as were memory and basically everything, but that’s not my point…), so programmers would have to work very hard to develop and optimize their code so it would execute as fast as possible. This was a paramount objective since the beginning of the PC era which lasted until the mid-90s when the 486 and Pentium came along. Back then, Michael Abrash, who worked for companies such as Microsoft and id software (at which he played an important role in developing the game-changing (sic!) Quake engine), wrote:

GUIs, reusable code, portable code written entirely in high-level languages, and object-oriented programming are all the rage now, and promise to remain so for the foreseeable future. The thrust of this technology is to enhance the software development process by offloading as much responsibility as possible to other programmers, and by writing all remaining code in modular, generic form. This modular code then becomes a black box to be reused endlessly without another thought about what actualy lies inside. GUIs also reduce development times by making many interface choices for you. That, in turn, makes it possible to create quickly and reliably programs that will be easy for new users to pick up, so software becomes easier to both produce and learn. This is, without question, a Good Thing.

The “black box” approach does not, however, necessarily cause the software itself to become faster, smaller, or more innovative; quite the opposite, I suspect. I’ll reserve judgement on whether that is a good thing or not, but I’ll make a prediction: In the short run, the aforementioned techniques will lead to noticeably larger, slower programs, as programmers understand less and less of what the key parts of their programs do and rely increasingly on general-purpose code written by other people. (In the long run, programs will be bigger and slower yet, but computers will be so fast and will have so much memory that no one will care.) Over time, PC programs will also come to be more similar to one another-and to programs running on other platforms, such as the Mac-as regards both user interface and performance.

Again, I am not saying that this is bad. It does, however, have major implications for the future nature of PC graphics programming, in ways that will directly affect the means by which many of you earn your livings. Not so very long from now, graphics programming-all programming, for that matter-will become mostly a matter of assembling in various ways components written by other people, and will cease to be the all-inclusively creative, mindbendingly complex pursuit it is today. (Using legally certified black boxes is, by the way, one direction in which the patent lawyers are leading us; legal considerations may be the final nail in the coffin of homegrown code.) For now, though, it’s still within your power, as a PC programmer, to understand and even control every single thing that happens on a computer if you so desire, to realize any vision you may have. Take advantage of this unique window of opportunity to create some magic!

Which has proven to be still holding true 15 years later. And we see this not only in software, but also in hardware, as I mentioned before. Likewise, a new generation of users pops up, which I refer to as hacks. A hack is not necessarily a bad person, but easily perceived as such by the established players in a given area of competition. You see, broadcast engineering used to be (and still is, when keeping a technical minimum standard) a very complex field, which is why it’s still engineering and not play-as-you-go. Nevertheless, there are companies which go the aforementioned way of integrating mature technology and bringing it to the market for a price “everyone” can afford. Which correlates to the frameworks Abrash talks about, it is not a bad thing. The bad thing is that people buying this technology think it keeps up with the standard, which it does on the paper, but it’s just not as reliable, durable and serviceable as “the proper stuff” is. Nevertheless its users enter into the competition with the established players, which in a market, which is largely driven by price, creates unreasonable expectations which in return lead to ludicrous pressure within companies who see their market share flounder.

This is largely because people, in general, know less about more, which is based on the assumption that you don’t have to know how something works, you just have to know how to use it, which ironically enough, is propagated by the aforementioned pressurized companies—expert knowledge is costly, and costs are to be driven down, not up. And so the cycle is completed, as there are now even more hacks competing with other hacks about price, while the customer acts as a catalyst to all of this.

The only solution, of course, is to step away from the idea that every battle must be won at any cost. And to step away from the assumption that your customer’s only decision factor is price. It is in many cases, but my experience is that customers always appreciate service over price. And in my area of work, you’re only able to offer good service if you’re competent, able to fix problems, being a professional.

Professionals are able to create magic time and time again, hacks are not, or only by accident.

How to delight an engineer

July 29th, 2014

If you happen to work with engineers and they’re mostly unhappy with the way they’re being asked about potential projects, or if you’re an engineer in this very situation and your colleagues don’t seem to get it, here’s a simple how-to:

Step 1: Describe what the product or service is like when it’s finished, as precisely as you can, from A to Z. Put in the effort to sketch out the interface (if there is one), who does what in which particular order, who needs to know when something has happened, etc. Imagine how people will use it and what their expectations might be. Try to put yourself in every party’s shoes and walk through the whole thing. Think of legal constraints. Write everything down. (Use flowcharts whenever possible. Engineers love flowcharts.) Yep, that’s a lot, but believe me, it’s worth it.
Step 2: Define process boundaries. What is supposed to happen, what must not happen under any circumstance?
Step 3: Define development constraints. What is the budget? How much time is there to get this done?
Step 4: Have a meeting with the engineer(s) and give them all of what you have worked out so far, and they should be able to tell you what you need to know (can we do this in the quality proposed, considering all boundaries and constraints?) on the spot.

Bonus: How to delight engineers and non-engineers alike
Say Thank You, even if the answer you get is not what you were expecting.

Being Joe Average

July 6th, 2013

Facebook suggests the biggest advantage they offer for advertisers is higher relevancy of ads because they’re able to match them to the individual member’s preferences.

But what happens when members don’t want to expose themselves in the way they reveal all the movies they’ve seen, books they’ve read, music and activities and causes and religion and other worldviews they like, is spam. Because the ads they’re being presented are just as irrelevant as the one on the Altavista page in 1996.

Because if this info is not around, the ads you’re being presented are being calculated, it seems, on the popularity with Joe and Jane Average, or rather the negation of matches. The ads for the rest of us. Which should lead marketers, if they were smart and honest to themselves (which in many cases they don’t seem to be), to either demand better filtering criteria or think about their strategy and tactics.

Way to go for FB and marketers to keep their promises. Sometimes I doubt if they intend to. Otherwise, if they don’t care enough, it’s just a question of time till the whole thing starts slipping. It already does.

Projects are doomed when…

July 6th, 2013

… there is no desire to assign or take responsibility right from the start.

… there is no desire to make it happen.

… there is no desire to do it better than the last time.

… there is no desire to keep the staff involved as happy as your superior and/or your client.

… as a consequence of the four items above, there is a lack of planning.

… as a consequence thereof, each step of execution becomes an iteration of the whole process.

… the manual or protocol being followed is outdated and/or doesn’t match the requirements of this project.

 

Projects are not doomed when people are (being perceived as) stupid (read: either not smart or not knowledgeable).

Projects are doomed when people don’t care enough.

1,000,000,000 failures

May 22nd, 2013

Today it was announced that last year’s spendings in online advertising have been more than one billion Euros in Germany alone for the first time in Internet history.

Here’s a thought: Has any company been able to form a meaningful relationship with you over the course of last year? How did it come about?

And here’s a joke too: The spokesman of the German Central Association for Advertising (ZAW) said without advertising the Internet would not be able to survive.

The Single One Policy (an Organisation needs to follow)

April 21st, 2013

“We believe that everyone we have a relationship with, regardless of the kind of relationship, will contribute to the continuous process of becoming better at what we do as an organisation as well as individuals.”

or in non-corporate speech:

“We are open and eager listeners.”

Opposing Forces

March 11th, 2013

Have you ever felt the pain of unfulfilled potential? I’m referring to the (at first) external one, a circumstance that causes you a regular dissatisfaction with the status quo. This can range from a design you believe needing to be done better or changed, to issues of society and politics. And what did you do, assuming you’re not in charge of this particular thing? In those cases when you have some relationship (preferably a good one) with the person in charge, you might tell them what you’re thinking. And their answer might be “Well thanks for the input (, we’ll consider it / , but that’s just your opinion).” And if this becomes a routine, chances are the external pain becomes an internal one. You come to believe this is wrong and really needs to be changed. You believe changing this is your mission. But there’s a problem.

You’re afraid. The severity may vary, but what’s stopping you from dedicating yourself to this mission is your need for safety (i.e., fear of failure). Once you stick out your head, someone might whack it. You might be shunned by your tribe at the workplace for making trouble. Or, if you’re considering taking it one step further and doing this as full-time business on your own, you’re not going to have enough clients. So now that you’re between a rock and a hard place, what do you do?

There is really just one question you really need to answer (and if you can’t, you’re not going anywhere). This crucial question is: What’s your vision? Unless you can abstract this one issue that caused your dissatisfation (“this is broken”) to a positive vision (“this is ideal”) that you absolutely believe in, that you need to pursue no matter what, what’s in your mind is not a vision, it’s just a single self-assigned task. And that is not a foundation for a business, simply because you can’t sell it (more often than this one time). The only thing you can sell then is your time, and that’s freelance work. That way you’re not Turning Pro in this particular area, you’re still an amateur that does this kind of stuff for a living. Or as a hobby. Because you’re not defining the standard. Either does your client, or you’re avoiding the risk of really putting yourself out there.

Take this blog for instance. Four years ago, I was dissatisfied with a lot of things I had experienced during my career in the media business, and not only did I want to get it off my chest, but propose alternatives. I saw no use in putting blame on anyone, but also I had little leverage to change the things bothering me. Worse, I did not spend the time developing a clear vision of what I wanted, hence I did not fully commit to this cause. I was so petrified by the thought of being kicked out for making preposterous suggestions, I didn’t even try. The result is obvious. But I’m not unhappy (though I was for a while). Now this is a place where I can say things I think to be worth saying, still giving everyone the opportunity to benefit from my (smart ass) thoughts.

And at this early point in my life, I regard this question as either-or:
If you’re unhappy with the status quo and have a complete vision of how your knowledge, abilities and personality can make the world better, and you profoundly believe in it, get started. Don’t rush. It’s better (and harder) to work continuously at a constant pace. Without the unshakable belief in your vision you will most likely fail within less than a year. Not because of “them”, but because your fear wins by constantly sabotaging you in every way possible. My favourite example of someone having accomplished this is (no surprise here) Steve Jobs.
The alternative is letting go off the pain and focusing on issues you have a realistic chance of changing for the better. But it’s not unlikely that your mind will in magnetic fashion be drawn to the notorious “What would my life be if….?”. You have an answer for that now.

Two essential questions

December 30th, 2012

A few days ago, a colleague of mine launched her portfolio website. Of course I couldn’t help picking the holes, which brought me back to two questions that apply to any marketing effort someone is about to make:

  • What are you trying to accomplish?
  • What is the next step you want a prospect to take?

These two questions will trigger a process during which more detailed questions will occur, and all of them better be answered. Write it down. Measure. Learn. Try alternatives. And so forth.

But only do it if you really want it to have an actual effect. If you’re only trying to build an excuse it might be counterproductive.

One last tip (if it’s a website): Make it work and look good on a mobile device.

 

The comfort of knowing you’ve done your best

November 12th, 2012

It’s fear of failure in disguise, and it’s strong within organisations (and their people) who don’t give much room for failure yet do not reward people for not commiting it. As I pointed out earlier, the underlying mistake is a fuzzy definition of failure (and conclusively, an even fuzzier or lacking definition of success). And because we’re so afraid of failure, we avoid going even near it.

As a result, people bury themselves in their daily business, making the chunks as small as they can so they won’t choke, because that’s where a certain kind of safety is. There are defined processes they’ve been knowing for years, and they know they’re up for the task, because if push comes to shove, they just have to work a little harder. In the end, even if there’s no external reward for their effort, they know they’ve done their best and saved their day.

To them, the alternative is horrendous. They feel by taking (official working) time to stray from the beaten path, they put themselves in a spotlight where everybody will watch their performance. So their inner fear is beefed up by external pressure. But guess what, in most cases, there is no pressure, because people don’t care. They’re so caught up in their own business they just can’t bother.

Of course, the biggest challenge (as in most cases) is calling your own bluff, not the other’s.

Room for failure

November 10th, 2012

To make my point, I will distinguish two kinds of failure here: the one that happens in defined processes, and the one that happens in the course of exploration.

It’s obvious that in defined processes there should be no room for failure. If it still occurs, there’s either something wrong with the process design, or people have not been correctly instructed. Of course people make mistakes, but it’s again obligatory to design a process in a way that mistakes are being discovered and fixed underway.

On the other hand, when you’re setting out to do something you haven’t done before, there should be a lot of room for “failure”, beause in this case failure is to be defined different. It’s silly to expect that you will have figured out the new thing straight away and do everything right. Even if so, you’re then being confronted with the problem of figuring out possible mistakes and their remedying when you develop the process. No, in exploration there is only failure when you don’t learn from your mistakes.

Yet this is exactly the problem, because for many organisations failure is just that, not having met the goal, often not even knowing what the actual goal is. And these organisations are stuck, because nobody’s exploring anymore.