Massimo Vignelli on focus groups

It is one thing to believe something, and an entirely different animal to put that belief into an articulate argument for that belief. This quote by Vignelli explains the true issues of trusting focus groups and market testing.

"I don’t believe in market research. I don’t believe in marketing the way it’s done in America. The American way of marketing is to answer to the wants of the customer instead of answering to the needs of the customer. The purpose of marketing should be to find needs — not to find wants.

People do not know what they want. They barely know what they need, but they definitely do not know what they want. They’re conditioned by the limited imagination of what is possible. … Most of the time, focus groups are built on the pressure of ignorance." via BrainPickings

Whenever someone asks me to do a focus group, I usually begin with asking that person what they want the focus group to answer. It is usually quite easy to guess the normal responses. Especially if the product or service is entirely new.

It's not that the focus group isn't observant or brilliant, they quite often are. The problem stems from them not having enough time with the product or service to really give us the important information. And sadly we can't observe a tester for weeks.

Don't confused with testing for quality assurance purposes, I've never seen a project without a few rough corners left, and that sort of testing is essential.

The continuing decline of Twitter

As I've written about before I love Twitter, the service, but I'm not very impressed by Twitter the company. Twitter wants to change that, Twitters claims they have changed. This time things will be different. The problem is that Twitter seems to have become even less likeable. A few days ago Twitter launched Digits, a service completely unrelated to their core product. Possibly because they don't like the whole micro-blogging thing. Digits is a service to help people log in without emails or passwords (in detail over on the Verge).

The interesting part, to me, is how Twitter deals with developers.

Twitter now wants to reach out to developers, to tell us they've changed, by inviting us to a conference about what sounds like dev tools:

As a peace offering, Twitter on Wednesday is expected to announce a suite of tools that aim to make it easier for programmers to build apps, according to people familiar with the matter. - WSJ

But Twitter already burned developers severely a few years ago by closing down APIs. They burned developers so much that Marco Arment just wrote a scathing blog post arguing that we can't trust them. And I think he's right.

Responding to Marcos comments a Kevin Weil ("vice president of product for revenue") tells the Verge:

He (Weil) named a few companies that have made millions of dollars developing on Twitter’s platform, including TweetDeck, Hootsuite, and the social-media monitoring company Radian6, which sold to Salesforce for $340 million. The changes in 2012 were intended only to ensure Twitter had control over its core service, he says. "Our API was so open that we allowed people to compete with us, and so there were changes we had to make."

Wait. What is Weil saying here? That Twitter as a platform should only be available to companies who don't make money? Or just the companies Twitter would like to make money? Or is Twitter NOT a platform at all, but a closed service that has an API just to taunt developers?

None of the services mentioned compete with Twitter as a platform or service. One could argue they had competitive UIs though. But shouldn't all that traffic made it easy for Twitter to monetize? Perhaps sell higher volumes of API access? It's hard to understand just what Weil intends to say with this strange answer. My only possible takeaway is that Twitter prefers its partners to not actually succeed.

I think this proves Marco's point wonderfully. Twitter doesn't want developers. Twitter is not a platform. And they want those meddling coder kids to stay off their lawn.

The definitive guide to value creation

In my youth I dabbled with dark arts. I thought experimenting wouldn't hurt, so I tried a little, but little became a lot. My addiction took up all my spare time and heavily impacted my social life. I became alienated by friends and had a hard time talking to people close to me.That's how I spent six years studying economics.

Creating value is tossed around these days as the way for startups and freelancers to contribute to the marketplace. So why is no one talking about what that really means, or how to do it? The short answer is because they don't know. The long answer is that the ones that do know think it's so obvious they don't the need to explain it.

What is value, and how do we get it

I'll just touch upon the economics of Value first, but don't worry, it'll be short and painless: All value is derived from trade. That's what value IS.

The idea works like this; if I have a ton of gold, but no one wants it, it is worth nothing. Literally nothing. Because I can't get anything for it. If someone would give me a loaf of bread for it, it'd be worth a loaf of bread.

Thank god we have money (an abstract form of value, think of it as shares in the work you've done) so we don't need to slog around with all that stuff all the time.

The interesting thing about this idea is that it implies that everyone gets richer all the time. You wouldn't trade for something you didn't want would you? We all trade what we think is worthy, which makes us better off. So in every trade there are two winners. Not one. Everyone is better off. If they aren't, the trade has been forced or is certainly the last trade between them.

How do startups and freelancers get value? They trade with their customers (and everyone you trade with is a customer). If the customers are better off after the trade they are likely to keep being customers.

Seems abstract? Let's get all practical with examples.

How to Create Value

The question of how to create value is now a lot easier to answer; we need to create stuff to trade. By stuff I mean anything that people are willing to trade for. It can be a product, or a service, but whatever we create we must have a clear definition of what it is before we trade. Otherwise customers might get impossible expectations or simple refuse the trade.

But the main point here is create. We must be constantly creating to add value, and to show our customers what we can create.

Defining a product

A product is anything that can stand alone is a product. A book, a play, and a website are all products.

Defining a service

A service is anything that can not stand alone, anything that only exists while you do it. Cleaning, making a website, and acting in a play are all services. Seem of them create products, others just create value either by saving the customer time or lending them expertise.

The good sale and the bad sale.

Good salesmen focus on adding value to their customers, which is why they often have good relationships with their customers.

Poor salesmen are just trying to sell whatever is the flavor of the week, which is why poor salesmen often have high spikes in sales but rarely recurring customers.

Summary

The only way to create value is to trade something. Making your product or your service easier to understand by defining, simply, what the customer gets is a great way to increase your trade.

Creating stuff is the only to add value. So never stop creating.

The mobile revolution at sime

The first day of SIME, the European tech/startup conference, was a vivid circus of great speakers with great production values. This time in Stockholm. Sime is a special sort of conference because it is focused on marketing entrepreneurship and creating a forum for entrepreneurs and investors. While similar conferences might slog through technical details while zombie hordes of coffee ingesting listeners try to stay awake, SIME is more about showmanship. Almost every session is 20 minutes or less, even for the big players, and our host, Ola Ahlvarsson, is always on stage pushing things along.

The first day was a back to back parade of speakers from the tech business, talking about where we are and where we're going as a business. The message was unanimous: > The customer is already mobile. Where is your business? - Facebook, Microsoft, Google, etc

It's an important lesson that really can't be repeated enough. I Sweden, around 40 percent of all Internet connections are through a mobile network. Some are computers but most are other sorts of devices. Around the world there is s landslide increase in mobile use, smartphones are almost half the world market of phones, there are over 100 million tablets sold, and everyone is expecting information to be ubiquitous. But companies are holding out.

Companies everywhere are waiting for others to lead, they hope to see hard numbers on why they should move to mobile before they take the plunge. There are of course a lot of really bad agencies out there, simply not able to deliver responsive web, but for the most part statistics are holding us back.

While the large players show us statistics on mobile usage. Companies have become affected by tracking blindness and can't act before the users are mobile on their sites. The problem of course, is a classic chicken and egg problem. If the site doesn't work on mobile, customers will just use other sites, and since the companies can't see mobile usage increasing they won't rebuild their sites.

SIME is all focused on pushing the message of where tech is to everyone, making sure that the users, developers and companies are all looking in the same direction. And I hope that this years focus on mobile hit the spot. Because I really don't want to be tied to my laptop.

Tracking, the flawed belief in statistics

Tracking is the basis for everything online these days. We track what content gets the most clicks to make sure we create better content. We track the ads we run to make sure our ads are targeted to the right people and that they convert well. We use tracking in all aspects of our lives to make better decisions and take the right action. But it's not working, is it. No matter how long you stare at those numbers they don't give you a golden bullet. So what's wrong with this theory? Everything.

While tracking makes our decisions gradually better, tracking does not make any new connections. Do you think RedBull is tracking any direct ROI on sponsoring Felix Baumgartner's record breaking sky dive from the edge of space? No. But I think few people would argue that they didn't get more than their share of media coverage. Very few marketing schemes get that kind of eye-ball-action, but the important thing is that tracking would never lead you to invest in such a venture.

Neither would tracking lead you to think that a generous return policy could generate profits. Yet every single report tell us that it does.

In the 50's a young designer made a nondescript electronics company a house hold name by creating memorable and user friendly designs for their products. The company was Braun, and the designer was Dieter Rams. Rams, who've since been credited as an inspiration for designers behind cars and even Apple, didn't do it by tracking.

There is nothing wrong with tracking. In fact, without tracking it's extremely hard to reach a goal, once it's set. But tracking is quite probably holding you back. If tracking is the basis for your strategy, you're probably not seeing the full market. That light at the end of the tunnel might turn out to be a train.

Strategy is taking the broad view of a business and aiming your organization. Tactics are how we get there. Tactics make great use of tracking and statistics. Strategy does not. Depending on strategy will keep you constantly running to catch up with the world, because the numbers can only really show you what used to happen. And only in a very specific situation at that. It's harder to argue without numbers. Which is why most people eventually stop trying. Next time you are in a meeting and someone offers a contrary view of a situation you might want to think about it a few minutes. Don't throw out your innovation because of the result of a skewed question asked by bored data miners.

Why great customer service is the best marketing

Customer service is often a necessary evil. Something companies must do to wheel out stats from when there's a PR crisis. But usually it's costly and no one really wants to do it. Bad Customer Service

Ye Old Way

I'm starting to think all PR education begins with the creed "keep the customer as far away from the company as possible" since most companies I contact have elaborate systems in place to "streamline" the communication out of existence.

Enter a new marketplace: The social web. Suddenly recommendations are worth double their weight in gold, but companies are still struggling keeping up. They start Facebook pages with no idea of what to do there. They start Twitter accounts that only tells tweeps to call customer service.

The new way

But then there are the other companies. Companies that have embraced the tribal culture online and depend upon customer interaction for their business. They are no less motivated by profit than the other sort of company, but their strategy makes them a very different sort of animal.

Yesterday I downloaded an app to my iPhone. The app was supposed to show me my Google Analytics numbers quickly and beautifully. I was thrilled I finally found an app that looked like I might use it. But it didn't work. I couldn't log in.

I immediately browsed over to the company's site and looked for any information of the problem. When I couldn't find any I emailed them a question, expecting to never hear from them again.

Within ten minutes I had a response.

Someone from the company read my message and sent me a quick response. Short, to the point. Solving my problem. Apparently the guys and gals at Google had changed the API and while the app had been updated the new version wasn't in the AppStore just yet.

They even offered to buy me coffee while I waited:

Sorry about that. It sucks. We can buy you a coffee while waiting for the new version ( we'll PayPal you the money for Starbucks if you want).

Since it was late at night in Sweden I declined. But I was also a surprised and happy customer, not only had they solved my problem (or at least, explained what the problem was and had fixed it), but they had given me relevant information, a schedule, and a coffee!

When was the last time a bank or a telephone company did that?

The result

Because of this short communication, not only am I inclined to tell people about my experience. I'm also more inclined to recommend the product. The cost of this interaction for the company is negligible but the worth of a happy customer advocating the product is huge.

The take away

Invest in communication. Realize that all interactions with the customers are chances to turn them from faceless consumers to happy ambassadors of your company. Keep them close. Keep them communicating with you. The costs might be high, but compared to losing those customers to the competitor this should be a no-brainer. If you're in a huge corporation, try finding customers who became ambassadors and use them as arguments that the model does work.

And also, download Analytiks right now. It's awesome. And Blatt Labs does a great job.

 

Analytiks

 

Why telecom companies are so far behind the times

To people in the tech industry, telecom operators seem helplessly behind the times. To most people however, telecom companies are their only real connection to tech. So why are they so far behind?

Telecom companies still don't sell most computers on the market. But they do sell the internet connections, the smartphones that are increasingly like computers, the minutes and text messages we plow through every day to communicate.

I used to work for one of the largest telecom companies in Sweden. I started my carrier there with the hope I would help them transition from the "minutes/texts" model to the content distribution model. Because eventually, all the services a telecom company offers today will be software only. Based on open internet technology. How do I know? Because it already happened. Delivering content could've been a profit model that outlasted the current model by decades. Then the iPhone launched.

At the telecom company I worked for there was no uproar. In fact, I remember walking around in stunned surprise because of the lack of reaction. They didn't get it. Or got it but didn't let it show. Needless to say, the iPhone took the content market out of our hands. The App Store was now the de facto content distribution system. Then Apple launched iMessages.

I came in at work wild eyed and excited. Apple's iMessages work by sending text messages through their notification system. Telecom operators usually charge per text message iMessages are not distinguishable from other notifications making them impossible to count and impossible to stop. Even if the telecom operators would like to stop iMessages they can't. Not without breaking the notifications on the iPhone, making millions of customers complain and even worse; the CEO's mail would stop working on the golf course. Now I knew there was only one way out, telecom operators would have to step back, and start charging for network bandwidth. A lot like the internet connections pre-broadband. But that isn't happening.

Telecom operators take in most of their profits from text messages. The rest from voice and contracts etc. They generally take in very little profit from charging for data. On the other hand most of a telecom operators costs, except building the network, come from counting and billing for minutes and texts. It's a hard and advanced process. Billing for data traffic is very easy. The future is clear, telecom operators will sell data plans and earn their profits form that. So why are telecom operators all over the world still bundling minutes and trying to block Skype?

I looked for answers at my company. I talked to everyone around me, no one cared very much. After weeks of this I started to realize that the middle managers didn't care but the executives understood. But were stalling. For what? The same reason the music industry doesn't embrace digital distribution.; the income model will change so drastically that the market will become instantly competitive and changing again. This is frightening.

Every manager and executive in the telecom industry today have basically made it their policy to stall for change. Until the market has evolved so far that they can not hold it back any longer telecom operators will continue to wish for the music industries dream: Not in my lifetime.

This is what they hope for. That the change will come after they quit. That the drop in profits during a turbulent shift will not be on their resume. That the scandal of firing hundreds of employees to pivot a large company does not land their name in the press.

This is why telecom operators are holding back progress, and trying to stifle products that run through their network. This, almost insane, way of doing business is helped by the fact that telecom operators are large enough to nudge law makers in their direction.

The next time you wonder why the network isn't faster, why video calls are still no where to be seen and why your iPhone doesn't do something amazing. Know that this is why. There are no technological hurdles to overcome. There is no law making it harder than it needs to be.

There is just a bunch of scared old men who have become scared of the inevitable. Who fear change.

Don't translate your catch phrase

From time to time I see big brands betting heavily on a phrase or a named function. The Windows Start button, the Facebook Like button etc. But time and time again I see these same big brands translating the phrase... Somewhere, some person at these companies missed a fundamental part of branding: don't change names all the time!

It doesn't matter if these phrases are verbs such as in the "Like" button. It's a part of your brand. If you translate your brand, you're starting a new brand.

Awesome button

 

(image via Techcrunch

Nokia N9 slogan - Just Swipe, dumbass!

Nokia N9 marketing

All screen No home button Just swipe Nokia N9 No way to know how to use it without reading a manual or being taught how Just swipe, DUMBASS!

Nokia must really love being different. Or at least love patenting interaction models, so they can differentiate from iPhone.

To bad different isn't the same as good.

The Long Tail

I just finished the book The Long Tail about how markets are shifting from focusing solely on hits to including the niches that might not sell huge volumes. The interesting thing about this theory is that it means that a lot of people are spending money on products that they wouldn't have bought a few years ago just because they were not available. The same thing is happening in games, the Wii is "expanding the marketplace" by including people who aren't hard core gamers. But expanding is really the wrong word, Nintendo is including people who enjoy games but haven't enjoyed the past few years of hard core focus in games.

So what will this lead our industry to? Will we follow the long tail and Wii in including all types of gaming niches? Of course not.

Developers seem much to inclined to play their own products. Todays casual games developers are actually not focusing on casual gaming. But rather hard core gaming with casual games. Think of Tetris, it's a puzzle game that you play alone and can't win or loose, and as such a casual experience. But most casual games I've seen on Facebook or mobile platforms recently have used this form of casual mechanic.. But rewarded hard core grinding...

So in effect, we're shooting ourselves in our collective developers foot with our own fanboyism.

I want to see games focused on people who play sometimes, for a few minutes, maybe. Don't tell me there is not a market for this type of game, there is. It just might not be worth a $200.000.000 development cycle.