The Consumer Never Wins In Format Wars

October 8th, 2017 by dewprocess.

Betamax was better than VHS (smaller tapes, better color reproduction, APS, 250 lines vs. 240 lines of resolution, superior sound, a more stable image, and better HW (recorders) construction).

HD DVD was better than Blu-ray, from a production scaling perspective: a fact that would have proved even more profitable given the lack of wholescale Blu-ray adoption for which Sony et al were hoping. While Blu-ray picture quality is superior to HD DVD, the cost for upgrade (to studios, manufacturers, and consumers alike) will have proven too great, once we look back and see how non-existent the transition from DVD to Blu-ray was.

History is littered with the corpses of superior or more reasonably positioned systems, all killed by the same disease: poor strategic marketing. Herewith, another one bites the dust:

The Windows Phone OS family (WinPhone 7 – Windows 10 Mobile) was a fluid, elegant, sophisticated OS group, murdered by marketing failures galore (as well as by the marketing successes of the opposition). For more than 6 years, I have been writing about Microsoft’s failure to effectively position or market their mobile platform and operating systems. A lot of good that did!

What are the lessons learned, and has Microsoft burned their mobile user base enough times now, that their Windows Core OS offering will fail to elicit enthusiasm from mobile consumers who carry too many scars?

https://www.windowscentral.com/microsoft-windows-10-mobile-features-and-hardware-are-not-focus-anymore

Be Less. Do More. (Commentary from NdeW)

June 14th, 2017 by dewprocess.

So this aggressively self-promotional “social media guru” recently posted a piece equating himself with Mark Zuckerberg and Mark Cuban, despite the fact that nobody outside this particular guru’s little bubble really knows him. I found it a little distasteful, but not really out of the ordinary, when one reviews the diversity of “gurus” and “experts” who spend more time selling their name and brand than actually helping build other businesses, products, solutions…let alone making the world a better place! We all slip up once or twice, in our efforts to be noticed – especially in an increasingly noisy world. I consider myself fortunate to have a strong core of friends and associates who regularly remind me that the best effort is always applied on behalf of others, not exclusively for altruistic reasons, but rather because our legacy will always be marked by what we do for our communities, not what we acquire for ourselves.

#Ozymandias

Thank you to those who help me minimize my foolishness, and maximize my value to others.

The Ties That Bind.

February 22nd, 2017 by dewprocess.

present-past-future

I am a big admirer of Satya Nadella. However, when Mr. Nadella states in a recent interview, “It always bothered me that we confused an enduring mission with a temporal goal”, he seems to be confusing and conflating the concepts of a VISION and a MISSION with the notion of VALUES. Perhaps this is an effort to distance himself and his administration from the legacy presence of the brand’s co-founder, but I fear that would be misguided strategy. Perhaps he was misquoted (it happens). Perhaps he didn’t say what he meant to say, or in quite the way he intended. Media interviews are fraught with the peril of partial clarity.

It bears reviewing that a vision statement should, if pursued properly, have an expiration date. At that point, the sitting leadership should reinvigorate the brand strategy with a new vision statement. Similarly, a mission is not well defined if it is not clearly achievable, and thus temporary. The values of a company may also change, but they can also endure.

Bill Gates’ vision of hardware ubiquity, expressed in his mission of “putting a PC in every home”, was well stated at the time, and largely accomplished, as Mr. Nadella concedes in this interview. Quite correctly, Nadella also points out the geographic and cultural limitations of that mission: a perfect opportunity to refresh the Microsoft brand, with a new more expansive Mission Statement, a new Vision Statement, and – if he and his leadership team so choose – a new Statement of Core Values (which is what I believe he is attempting to do here).

If a company accomplishes its previously stated mission, this is cause for celebration, not criticism and distancing. I hope Mr. Nadella will recognize and underscore this, going forward, and give his company the credit it justly deserves. I believe Microsoft has an exciting path ahead of itself, and how its leadership frames the past will do much to develop market and shareholder confidence in its future.

Whither/wither interstitial advertising?

November 14th, 2016 by dewprocess.
They say the ad industry has lost touch with the consumer, and I find myself agreeing, but not only from the creative perspective. When watching streaming or OTT content, I am disappointed by how unimaginative the ad allocations are, resulting in nauseatingly frequent repetitions of the same commercial spot, to the point where the brand actually suffers from being forced upon the viewer with mind-numbing frequency. Recently, a rather amusing Geico ad turned into a Gitmo ad, by the time I had been tortuously subjected to its pitch no less than 7 times in the same show. It’s a simple enough algorithmic exercise to parse out advertising content in a manner more digestible for consumers, and ultimately more profitably for brands. Indeed, with some intelligent and imaginative programming, online content ad streaming could be so much better targeted and varied, as to really promise the clickthru and brand adoption rates that conventional broadcast content has never been able to even suggest, despite all their metric mumbo jumbo.
 
While ECM is certainly a major challenge that needs prompt addressing, the creative content of ads is also in dire need of innovation. The drug ads have become little more than legalese white noise (to the point where our family doesn’t worry about the daytime Viagra ads, as we know the kids aren’t listening or watching), and the rest is a leftover soup of copycat automotive, CPG, and family restaurant dreck. One would hope that brands would take advantage of the upcoming holiday period to reposition themselves as partners in consumers’ lifestyles, both functionally and aspirationally. Several British brands seem to have got the message (see links below), but I’m having a hard time finding US brands that have positioned themselves as anything but hard sell commercial pitches. Another missed opportunity. Here below are a few of the British ads for this upcoming holiday season. Let me know if you find any other spots from the US (or elsewhere) that recognize the value of building a relationship, as much as hawking the initial product.

Is “Periscope Depth” still too shallow?

July 6th, 2016 by dewprocess.

The power of live streaming is incontestable, as most recently demonstrated by the awful but important footage captured by Lavish Reynolds. This media innovation has the potential to revolutionize journalism, communications, storytelling…but then Twitter had that same potential, when it rose to prominence. Technological innovation will usually manifest compelling results, but many pioneering brands will stumble along the way. Is this unavoidable? Are there better ways to grow a product or solution, so it may realize its best potential more effectively, efficiently, and sustainably?

The recent Democrat “sit-in” in the US House of Representatives launched Twitter’s subsidiary Periscope into the spotlight (at the edges of which it had been operating for more than a year). This app has the potential to merge the functional merits of both Twitter and YouTube. Will this “Video Twitter” evolve into a long-term media platform enhancement, or is it little more than the latest social media fad? Who remembers Meerkat?

Snapchat took over from Instagram, which itself apparently supplanted Pinterest, after the latter briefly challenged Facebook. Of course, some will argue that I have one or two of the brand incursions mixed up, but that only underscores my contention: Will everyone have the Periscope app on their smartphones for the next 6 months, only to hop to the next shiny bright object, as soon as some bright young startup creates it (with a surfeit of investment from Venture Capital companies eager to reap quick cash rewards, before their latest vaporware is supplanted)? Will Periscope instead grow “too big to fail”, as Twitter seems to have done, yet – like Twitter – represent little clarity, in terms of functional positioning? Are our social platforms and channels destined to come and go with the whims of youth, or are some focusing on developing a degree of operational maturity that will more securely establish their merits and utility, both on our smartphones and in our communities? For all of Facebook’s flaws, it has consistently pursued this maturation with the degree of academic humility and professional confidence that is the hallmark of most engineers. Its relative longevity is as much a result of its willingness to adapt and iterate, as it is due to its refusal to be molded by its user base.

Therein lies the lesson.

Too many brands have relied upon the “Crowd” to manifest and elevate their identity and fortunes, simply because it was this same “Crowd” that first adopted the company’s initial value proposition. The “Crowd” is a powerful current, but while it runs most aggressively in shallow waters, it carries the greatest power in deeper seas. In much the same way, it behooves companies that operate in the Social space (which effectively includes all M&E and Communications companies, along with a host of other markets) to study more assiduously the role of their user base in the ongoing development and growth of their brand. It is not the Crowd’s responsibility to identify or define the brand, nor its value proposition. Furthermore, the longer we allow Startups to scale too quickly, simply as a means to secure larger investments, IPOs, and other Get-rich-quick objectives, the weaker our innovation pipeline will become. The vast majority of Venture-backed startups fail in their first year, and the many articles acknowledging this long-known but too often ignored fact effectively concur that the solution lies in more sustainable development, both of IP and workforce.

I have spent the past 15 years promoting this thesis: that Startup success should no longer be gauged by how fast a company sells, but rather how solidly it is able to build its value proposition; how securely it is able to hire and retain talent; how reliably it is able to integrate its offering into the physical and functional communities within which it operates. While the ROI may not be as immediately “sexy” as the silly Unicorns investors still chase, the longer-term returns generated by the far less mythical “workhorses” I have been supporting are more rewarding, both financially and otherwise. With this in mind, I look to brands such as Periscope, and I wonder: will they be seduced by the noise and sparkle of short-term ROI aspiration, which more often than not represents little more than a mirage of unattainable yearnings, or will they plot their course with thoughtful care and imagination, giving themselves, their investors, their employees, and users the best chance of hitting the mark, and driving forward into an increasingly valuable future?

What Lies at the Heart of a Business?

June 21st, 2016 by dewprocess.
Businesses all too often find themselves pulled by powerful gravitational forces into the black hole of “quarterly prosperity at all costs”. The vision becomes about paper profitability, and the true core value is lost in the mists of market competition.
 
Great business is, however, always tied to great community, great innovation, and great people. Without those ingredients, the heart of a brand fails, and all the remnant frantic activity is little more than life support, performed on a gradually failing entity.
 
No matter the size of your venture, be it startup or multinational, always remember your people, your vision, and your community are your core.

Are musicians getting valid ROI from video efforts?

May 17th, 2016 by dewprocess.

The music industry is admittedly not my wheelhouse, but an undeniably creative video, released yesterday by Coldplay, has highlighted a conflict that lies within the creation of promotional content: to what does the content owe its principal allegiance? In this case we have a marvelously impressive creative visual production (CGI heavy as it is), ostensibly produced to promote a song. If the core consideration is the song, however, it is arguable whether the video is doing it good service. Then again, if the song were abysmal, no amount of production sophistication could help. So, what role do music videos play today? Are they supposed to principally increase sales of the song, raise consumer awareness of the musician, or win awards and the media coverage that (sometimes) comes therewith? Is there some other purpose (such as simply generating buzz for the director, sufficient to springboard them into a commercial or feature career)?

Obviously, different music videos have different objectives, but I would posit that a core goal ought to be either to increase fandom (and purchase) for the song itself, or to increase viewer investment in the musician, sufficient to garner increased sales – be they merchandise, concert, or content. Maroon 5 achieved the former with their video for “Sugar”, while also generating a good deal of buzz for their inventive approach. Sia achieved the latter with her video for “Elastic Heart”. Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood” achieved both, I would argue (and the sales numbers corroborate that claim). I have long championed the videos of FKA Twigs, which establish the artist firmly as the lost love child of Madonna and Bjork. Indeed, there exist a number of compelling music videos that successfully compel the viewer to either buy the song or follow the artist more enthusiastically.

What, however, do Coldplay’s videos (or those by OK GO, for that matter) accomplish, extant high YouTube views? Obviously, those who never liked the music might claim they mitigate an otherwise painful audio experience, but a massive investment in a music video is not going to sell the song or musician to someone who hates the music. Nobody suddenly became a new fan of U2’s after watching the video for “Numb”. If you didn’t love Christina Aguilera before, watching her embarrassing Lady Gaga copycat for ‘Not Myself Tonight’ was not going to endear her to you. Then again, Lady Gaga did herself no favors with her Madonna copycat for the forgettable “Judas”. So where’s the value?

After watching Coldplay’s recent video for “Up & Up” (the third single from their last album, “A Head Full Of Dreams”), I barely remembered the song, and I notice that all the online comments are about the video, with nary a word about the song or musicians.

Securing viewers of content on YouTube is a tough challenge these days, with the vast majority being relegated swiftly to burst traffic. It stands to reason, therefore, that content posted to online video aggregation sites such as YouTube, Vimeo, (arguably) Facebook, and soon Amazon Video Direct, needs to be compelling enough to merit swift and sustained viewership, but at what cost, and with what intended outcome? Content production without strategic context will rarely return satisfactory value. People will notice something attractive, but to what end? If that is the goal, kudos. Music videos are supposed to promote further action on the part of the viewer, though, aren’t they? Is clicking “Like” or “Share” enough, these days?

This Is Not Your Father’s Brand Management

January 3rd, 2016 by admin.

At 8:43pm last night, ABC News posted a ridiculously framed tweet about the terrorist incident in Oregon:

ABC Tweet

Denizens of the Twittersphere went ballistic, in response to this apparent double standard in journalism (White American armed takeover of Federal sites is “peaceful militia action”, while *anything* involving Muslims is a “terrorist cell”.) You can find some of the responses in the growing number of blog posts, such as this one from Raw Story.

In the face of this indignation, ABC News was sadly silent, and the trolls jumped in. The news organization’s inability to understand social brand management left the door open for erstwhile fans and trolls to take over their online brand narrative. ABC News seemed to think that ignoring the matter would make it go away…#OldSchoolMarketing

If something more interesting happens in the next 12 hours, they might get lucky, and the hubbub may abate somewhat. The damage is done, however, to any sense that their news brand is anything worth considering as “above” the fray. ABC News is now fair game, simply because they could not be responsive in the first hours of their mess-up. All they had to do (simply as one possible option among many available) was post one follow-up Tweet at 10pm, just over an hour after the first “unfortunately phrased” post: “Many viewers hold strong opinions about the situation in Oregon. We want to hear/share all reasonable views. Chat on [Periscope/Facebook] in one hour.”

ABC News could have hosted an online chat for exactly 30 minutes, with all the fair and not-so-fair comments that would have ensued, and then summarized with a nicely woven acknowledgement of the fact that “sometimes ABC does not frame a breaking news situation as effectively as – in retrospect – we would have liked to, and it is with the help and feedback of viewers and fans that the news team is able to get a better sense of…blahblahblah”…Thank everyone for their thoughtful comments and assure them you’ll “continue to work hard to responsibly explore and report on the stories that affect our lives and communities….blah blah blah…”

In short: be seen as responsive, and manage the narrative enough so it doesn’t look like you are completely tone deaf and out-of-touch. News obviously never quite works when you let it go the way of fanfic, as CNN has discovered. However, BBC News has been doing quite a good job, of late, using social tools to bring their news stories closer to their viewers and listeners. ABC News could learn a thing or two from them.

You say Mitosis, I say Meiosis.

August 18th, 2015 by dewprocess.

The Facebook brand risks suffering from the multiple personality disorder that plagues companies that make too many acquisitions and market launches, without clarifying the nature of the independent parts, and how the aggregate merits augmented consideration. With the launch of Alphabet, the company formerly known as Google​ has clarified that its strategic brand is much akin to the old Idealabs: a parent holding entity that creates and nurtures businesses that are each destined to form their own ecosystems of sustainable operation. The aggregate value is early on, when the nascent entities may benefit from the mentorship of Alphabet corporate resource providers, and the collaboration of other companies in the family.

Facebook, meanwhile, keeps adding arms to its body, without clarifying anything. When their Messaging app launched, they took pains to give it its own functional space, thereby keeping the core Facebook​ clean (or relatively so, considering we’re talking about engineers here, who love to tinker, patch, repatch, and otherwise refine Frankenstein’s monster as an iterative process, rather than design and create Michelangelo’s David as a fluid act of final artistry). When they updated their Photos section, it wasn’t so dramatic that people began to seriously consider leaving 500px. However, Facebook’s latest iterative improvement is big enough to begin to strain against the bonds of the core Facebook brand proposition. The embedded Video update caused consternation, but the integrated Notes update is causing confusion.

Facebook Notes has long been “just another OK feature” amidst a wealth of tab features available to users seeking to enrich their personal brand value, whilst also engaging with their communities, both online and off. Facebook was a “connectivity facilitator”: not so much a platform, as a conduit. As users began to discover their voices, they might gravitate their expression to another brand that represented a richer immersion in to a particular form: 500px for the photographers, Medium or Tumblr for the essayists, YouTube for the video diarists. They continued to rely on Facebook for social community, whilst delving in to the new realms as channels of more specialized expression and exploration.

Now, however, Facebook has made it clear that they want all those voices to remain in their castle, and I fear this may prove counterproductive in the long run. Had the Facebook Video platform been launched as a standalone adjunct to the core Facebook brand (as was Messaging), I might have seen some potential in the move, so long as the UI and UX were consistently and intuitively improved. But Facebook wants it all to stay in the room…a room that becomes more and more crowded every day. We all know what happened to the Tower of Babel.

The latest update is to Facebook Notes, and makes the tab a direct competitor to Medium, but without giving itself room to breathe and spread its wings. Admittedly, the improvement is attractive, on its own merits. Maybe what we are witnessing are the latest growing pains of Facebook, experiencing a form of metamorphosis: once complete, the new entity will be more beautiful, more functional, more elegantly obvious than ever before. For now, it becomes more unwieldy and cumbersome, and risks losing its shape and functional value.

Facebook_creatures

 

A single body, made up of increasingly disparate parts, has historically proven to make for a great story, and a range of mediocre film adaptations. It has rarely functioned as a cohesive unit. However, if the organically solid parts are allowed to find relevant combinatorial sums that best express the identity of each individual Facebook user…

If Facebook builds out their tab improvements as standalone entities, a la “Messaging”, but with a design and structure sensibility that gives users the ability to connect the pieces together to better express their individual brand identities. Now, that might be an exciting proposition. If Facebook controls the clutter (so it doesn’t become another MySpace V1), but allows each user’s Facebook presence to become their de facto website, tailored toward their unique preferred mode of expression, that would be a truly revolutionary manifestation of the Web.

Another One Bites the Dust, or “When Can We Get Back to the Business Of Building Real Businesses?”

August 11th, 2015 by dewprocess.

For the past 7 years I have been aggressively promoting the notion of sustainable business development, and campaigning against the fad of Venture Capital infused vaporware growth. Valuations based on nothing but ideas and Powerpoint (or Prezi) presentations might lead to a successful lightning IPO or other lucrative short term result, but the Piper must be paid, else the music stops. Those left holding the bag at the end of the short dance are left with little but debt and shattered dreams. This is not the way to build and sustain long-term innovation pipelines, or quality workforces, let alone support the dreams and aspirations of sincere emerging entrepreneurs. The terms “serial entrepreneur” and “unicorn venture” just piss me off.

graves

So many businesses have been encouraged to scale super fast, disregarding the absence of solid structural, brand, and product foundations. Their Towers of Babel have been raised with alarming speed, designed to look impressive, and promising extraordinary views and world-class functionality, yet delivering very little of substance. Investors have repeatedly relied upon the advice of brokers whose only interest has been swift maximization of returns, and nobody seems to have spent much time worrying about employees, product sustainability, solution viability, brand audits, or anything else that would underpin a business proposition designed to last beyond year 3.

This is why I decided 7 years ago, to stop working with clients seeking aggressive short term returns, instead of measurable and sustainable growth milestones. This is why I no longer invest in flashy business propositions, but instead in people. This is why I only mentor businesses willing to invest in their long term narrative, as opposed to the short term climactic scenes to which so many startups and larger organizations seem to still be aspiring.

When the State of Oregon recruited me last year to set up a business ecosystem supporting Digital Storytelling startups, some members of my new Board wanted to replicated “conventional” VC incubator and accelerator models. I resisted, and was thrilled that enough members of the Board accepted my vision, as well as my alternative business plan. As a result, we were able to help launch and build twice as many companies as had been required by the government, and nearly all of them continue to exist and grow today. The growth is at a rate that permits adaptation and management of both expected and unexpected challenges and opportunities, whilst protecting the people and assets around which the businesses operate. It saddens me when I hear of talented people or great ideas imploding under the weight of the overly ambitious aspirations of impatient investors. We cannot build sustainable new industries this way. I’m convinced that my model works. My proof is logic based, and has examples. I sincerely hope that the example set by companies such as Zirtual, Goodmail, Secret, Springpad, Outbox, Wahooly, and the hundreds of thousands of other companies that fail due to high churn, overly aggressive growth, and other errors in judgment, will soon set enough of a precedent that market practices will correct themselves, and more than a few of us will see the merits of more responsible investment, mentoring, and sustainable business development.

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