Apple vs. Amazon; Device vs. Content

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The word “content” is used six times in this 448-word article on the Kindle Fire. Out-of-the box content, the article asserts, along with a decent price, is what accounts for the Fire, clunky as it is, being second only to the iPad in tablet sales. Coincidentally, the article also notes that Amazon is second only to Apple as consumers’ favorite brand.

The Apple vs. Amazon question is, essentially, the Device vs. Content question. Apple is the standard bearer of the device. A gadget-maker, Apple’s goal is to get devices into the hands of the consumer. To Apple, content is leverage. Its strategy is to hold content hostage (iTunes) in order to sell devices. As for the printed word, Steve Jobs once famously said–and didn’t seem to be bothered by saying– that people don’t read anymore.

Conversely, the Amazon strategy is all about providing content, with a solid foundation in the book. The company removes the friction for consumers to get and pay for the content they want. It puts cheaper and cheaper devices into their hands to do this. Amazon doesn’t seem to care if their first generation devices are thought of as “clunky” (Kindle version 1 and Fire version 1.) Interestingly, consumers don’t seem to care either. While Apple devices are rightfully lauded for hitting a design pinnacle no one has been able to achieve before, Amazon devices are snapped up by content-hungry consumers, glad to have a “good enough” access point to the content they want. And the voracious consumption of Kindle books contradicts, of course, the aforementioned position on reading.

It will be interesting to see how the contest between these two companies shapes up. As for me, I will be rooting for the content. Because it is content, not devices, that keep culture and civilization alive.

Is Steve Jobs Jesus?

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See my post today on open salon.

In the early days, Steve Jobs came to a company Halloween party dressed as Jesus (NYT, link below). Now, after his death, the media and fans are treating him like a dead messiah.


Technology Truth #5: The Pile of Snow

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It’s an icy day with snow piling up outside. Someone presents you with two choices of task.

You could

(A) Stay inside and sort out the mess in your jewelry box, or

(B) Go outside an shovel the walk.

A right? Who wouldn’t choose A?

Then, five hours later, you’re still sitting cross-legged on the floor, a straight pin in each hand trying to pick apart a Gordian knot containing a broach, three necklaces, and four dangle earrings. The shoveler finished hours ago and is sipping hot chocolate while watching football.

Software Development Rule: The pile of snow is always simpler.

Developers by their very nature avoid tasks that seem boring and laborious. You write programs to do the heavy lifting! So rather than spend an hour doing data entry, a developer will opt to write a program that does it for him. He’ll argue, “The program can be re-used.” But what if it isn’t? I’m amazed by the number of times “re-use” never happens. Furthermore, what if the simple just-write-a-script tasks ends up in a five-hour jewelry box disentanglement? Leadership needs to be on the lookout for when tech folks simply need to shovel that pile of snow.

Management themselves are often attracted to whiz-bang. Who wants to hear about a boring, low-tech approach that saves $3,000? Is that why I have all those cool, tattooed tech guys in the basement talking about things that I don’t understand (but pretend to)? No, I want to year about a $50,000 tech investment that will increase sales 400%! That’s the pitch I listen to! But six months into a tech project now vastly over budget I may look longingly at the shovel.

So, beware. And ask yourself, what unglamorous “pile of snow” tasks and initiatives you and your tech folks avoiding?

Grumpy About the Cost of Digital?

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Lessons Learned from the International Women’s Writing Guild

Right now, my own digital marketing person is trying to get me to focus on a website refresh and to send a monthly email. The whole thing makes me grumpy. Keeping one’s digital marketing house in order takes so much money. And don’t even get me started on how much time composing, proofing, testing and sending one company email takes!

It is enough to get you to ask, “Is it all worth it? What would really happen if I didn’t put in the effort?”

This mini case study provides the unequivocal answer.

We rarely have the opportunity these days to look at virgin soil—the control group of control groups. An entity that has done virtually no digital marketing. But last year, tmg-e*media got the chance. I was introduced to the International Women’s Writing Guild, an organization founded on the principle of empowering women by helping them find their writing voices. Its 84-year-old founder, a true visionary in writerly things, had never ventured far out of the analog world. We redid their website and collaborated on an aggressive email campaign targeted to the IWWG conferences. And along the way, we discovered some key lessons:


1. People are paying attention

When you’re in a small organization with a lightly trafficked site, it’s easy to question how much your site matters. Is anyone paying attention? It turns out they are. Upon the launch of the new IWWG site, word spread among members who had not been actively engaged in the organization for ages. I got emails from women I didn’t even know who said, “Hey! Great site!” It allowed the IWWG to reconnect with its member base.




2. A website is key to setting expectations

Whether it’s access to your bio picture so someone can spot you at a networking event, or getting the word out about how you interact with customers, a site gives you the chance to set key expectations.

For the IWWG, expectations of the IWWG Summer Conference event had become a real pain point. A shift in venue in 2010 produced near pandemonium. After being in one location for over 30 years, members had to re-adjust to a new campus. Where was the dining hall? Why was it such a long walk to the sessions? Where were the classrooms anyway? Member dissatisfaction soared and the new venue was rejected as a site for 2011. Which meant yet another change.

Yale won the IWWG business, but the organization ran the risk of having the same, even worse, problem. The website was used in a common-sense way, but one we often forget. We simply put up campus maps, room descriptions, directions to and from housing to the dining hall. We did this thoroughly. And lo-and-behold, attendees had fewer complaints.


3. Websites are validation.

The previous IWWG website did not speak to the values and prestige of the organization. Therefore, it did not help convert conference-considerers to convert to conference attendees. When people hear about you or your event, the first thing they do is go to the website and check it out. We heard from attendee after attendee that they went to the site and got a good feel for the conference. And then, the conference itself had the same feel. This consistency produces a sense of stability, trust and reliability.

See Before and After above.


4. Digital media works hand in hand with other media.

To promote this year’s summer conference, we had emails, radio ads, the site, meetups and word of mouth. Conference attendees reported it took two or more contacts for them to make a decision to attend. For example, one woman said she received an email and filed it. Then a radio ad prompted her to look it up again. Alas, it was lost and she did not remember the web address. She Googled madly for women’s writing conferences and that’s when our SEO-conscious site redo paid off.


5. Use the web to provide choice

Air conditioning or no air conditioning?–That was the summer question. Only some of the Yale housing provided air conditioning. There was concern about a general uproar. No air conditioning? At a summer conference? So we used the web to set pricing and give attendees choice: The non air conditioned rooms were available, or a person could have air conditioning for a higher price.

Contrary to some extreme initial fears, we got no complaints regarding AC.


So when you get grumpy about the time it takes to do digital marketing, consider the lessons above. You don’t have to accomplish the most bleeding-edge strategy. But covering the bases in a common-sense and consistent way has a big payoff, even for a lightly trafficked site for a small organization.


Technology Truth #4: It’s Not a Technology Problem

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When my phone rings, and a client says, “We have a technology problem,” immediately, I know one thing for sure: They don’t have a technology problem.

A few years ago, I got the “technology problem” call from a client. A private equity group had invested in a new publishing venture in a then-hot sector. The venture was subscription-based and also had potential data revenues in addition to ad dollars. This sounded good. So much better, I thought, than the majority of media companies who spend all their energies trying to convince themselves (and everyone else) that the ad-supported model works.

However, the technology wasn’t working according to plan. Features hadn’t been delivered. Integrations were failing. There was cut-and-paste where there should have been free flowing data. Sounded like a technology problem.

Digging a little deeper, I discovered $7MM had been invested in a proprietary content management system and backend database. To boot, the passwords for the entire system were in the hands of a disgruntled employee threatening to sue. In a scene out of a bad B-movie, I agreed to meet this person in a train station, handed over a check and collected the passwords. All this drama and intrigue for a website that had a total subscriber base of 450 registrants.

That situation was a lot of things. But the one thing it was not was a technology problem.

Though perhaps my most dramatic example of a non-technology-problem problem, I have encountered dozens of similar situations throughout my career, enough to conclude that when I get called in to solve a “technology problem,” my best bet is to look anywhere but the computer room.

It’s odd, perhaps, to hear a technology consultant like me saying she doesn’t solve technology problems. So what is it, then, that I do?

In truth “technology consulting” is business consulting in a modern guise, because so many of our business issues and technology issues intertwine.  And “technology problem” is really a 21st-Century verbal fig leaf disguising all kinds of profound management problems.

It’s safer, however, to blame the machines.

A word of advice, then, to business leaders: When you hear the tell-tale We have technology problem in your company, ask yourself what real business wolf is masquerading in this sheep’s clothing.