Google’s Killer Product Problems

Google has been on a killing spree this year. Evidently, Google has axed a product or platform every 9 days so far in 2019. And Ars thinks that creates a trust problem for Google with consumers, enterprise, and with developers.

While the basis for his argument is sound: people need to be able to trust that if they spend time/resources on a platform like Google+ or Inbox, that platform will be around long enough to be worth the investment. His only suggested remedy is a public product roadmap, which obviously isn’t enough.

Because it completely ignores one critical factor: the tech adoption lifecycle. You know, the bell curve that starts with innovators and early adopters, all the way through Iowa-seed-potato-adopting laggards? No, seriously. That tech marketing framework was originally developed to describe the behavior of seed potato adoption. Anyway, Yes, these product executions are correlated with a lack of trust. But it’s not the root cause.

The root cause is Google products getting stuck in the chasm between innovators/early adopters and the early & late majority. The root cause is that Google is so big, even a dud has millions of users adopt it relatively quickly. But they’re the innovators, the ones who want to try new tech for the sake of trying new tech. Or they’re the early adopters, who want to use the new tech to gain a strategic advantage. They want discontinuity. Disruption. And then… nothing. For years. The products Google kills sit there in this yawing gulf between nerds like me and the early majority.

Early majority doesn’t want discontinuity. They’ve already invested in infrastructure and systems, and/or they’re not willing to become technically savvy enough to use a clunky product. They want the new things to fit into their existing paradigm and increase productivity, efficiency, etc. They want continuity. So, in that sense, yes. Google killing products = brand problems.

But not for the reason most people are suggesting. Because the majority was never going to adopt Google+, or Inbox, or Google Hangouts “Classic” anyway for one simple reason: the products never found a killer use case for continuity-seeking majority. The products being killed required behavior change from the users. Don’t post to Facebook, post to Google+. Don’t use Skype, use Hangouts.

Google has a history of large product launches that then fall flat because adoption is slow or stagnates. Big marketing blitz, flashy demos. But, in reality, these are products built for innovators and early adopters, not for the majority. Too much discontinuity with existing behaviors and workflows. Not enough sticky, productivity-enhancing-ness. Is that a word? Is now. And then? Those products don’t get used. They languish in mediocre product purgatory. Then, when Google finally kills them, the tech press says it’s causing brand problems? Nah.

Google’s problem isn’t that they’re killing products. Google’s product problem is that they’re launching bad ones.

Your content marketing sucks.

Your content marketing sucks. Probably because you’re thinking about it like a trap: if I can just put enough juicy treats closer and closer to the middle, I can lure the customer in and BAM! Spring the trap. Got ’em. Content strategy for the win!

Problem is, consumers aren’t prey. Or, if they are, they’re sheep. But not how you think of them, where you’re the shepherd, guiding them to green pastures. And then the slaughter house. You’re not the shepherd.

You’re the grass.

Looking at it this way leads to different questions. How can I become as nutritious as possible (metaphorically speaking)? How can I become so essential to my customers’ lives that they happily consume me? Instead of outwitting your customer, you are essential to their health, happiness, and wellbeing.

Don’t be the shepherd. Be the grass.

Art vs. Science in the advertising industry

“It’s as much art as it is science.”

I heard myself say that at the best Ohio ad agency this week… and vomited a little in my mouth.

In advertising, the age-old argument of “Art vs. Science” is a false dichotomy that misunderstands both. Art (creative) doesn’t seek the abstract, and science (analytics/measurement/effectiveness) doesn’t seek certainty.

Both seek Continue reading “Art vs. Science in the advertising industry”

Change the oil change business

I recently got an oil change at one of those quick-change places– you know, the ones that smell like burnt coffee? It got me thinking– this is a market that will exist for the foreseeable future. It’s also a commodity market– they all compete on price and there’s little product/service differentiation. It’s also a bit of a confusopoly. But does it have to be? Continue reading “Change the oil change business”

The problem with the “Maker” movement – Or, how to properly sell a handmade leather bag

The Maker movement is a return to valuing craftsmen (and women), and the incredible, hand-made quality of the goods they produce. There are some bad-ass makers out there. There’s even a really cool Tumbler dedicated to those who make. But the problem is, when people write about the makers, they write about the makers. Where they came from. What job they left to pursue their passion for Making. For example, I make handmade leather goods— briefcases, bracelets, knife sheathes. All hand cut, riveted, and finished. It’s detailed, painstaking work. And I love it. I taught myself how to make this stuff back in college because I couldn’t find a leather briefcase I liked enough to spend my cash on. Then, I went into the workforce as a marketer. It was a great experience, but it left me wanting more. Wanting to feel like I would have something to point to other than piles of money and long-forgotten ad campaigns. So, I started making handmade leather goods again.

handmade leather bag in process, made by Seth Gray handmade leather bag made by Seth Gray

handmade leather bag being inspected by Seth Gray

But who really cares? Nobody. What does that tell you about the leather goods I make or why you might like to carry around one of my handmade leather briefcases? Nothing. So why do bloggers and media types keep using that angle? Maybe it’s because we want to have a more personal connection with the things we buy. Maybe because we want to live better, not just have more stuff anymore. I don’t know. I do think the Maker movement deserves better, though. I’m  a marketing strategist by education and experience. I’ve made my clients and employers hundreds of millions of dollars by helping them tell clear, compelling, consistent stories about their products and services. One of the most effective ways to do that is to stop talking about the product. And stop talking about the company. Instead, talk to the customer. Let them know you understand their trials and triumphs, and that’s why you made your product. Then, give a couple examples. Something like this:

In a world of disposable razors, paper plates, and ephemeral communication, you’re yearning for something real. Something that’ll get scratched and dented, but still work. Something that your kids will pass down to their kids. That’s why I use super-tough, vegetable-tanned 7 ounce leather in my handmade bags. That’s why I saddle-stitch all the seams with braided, waxed nylon thread– these handmade leather bags are put together so tightly they hold water (for a few minutes). Not that you’d want to. You’d probably rather carry your laptop, iPad, and Moleskine, instead. Sure, you could get something from a leather shop in the mall for half the price. But that was probably made by unskilled laborers working 16 hours a day in a factory in china. Your handmade leather bag, the one you really want, was made with my calloused hands on a second-hand workbench. Your bag, the one your grandkids will bring when they come visit you on your front porch, took longer to make so that it’ll outlast you.

Handmade leather bag made by Seth Gray

handmade leather bag for laptops

handmade leather bag with an iPhone 5 pocket

Perfect? Nope. But neither are my handmade leather bags. And perfect isn’t always best. -Seth

UPDATE: my handmade leather bag that will outlast you is now for sale at Beauty and the Biker handmade leather goods.

Handmade leather briefcase that will outlast you
Tan colored Handmade leather briefcase that will outlast you

front/side view of dark brown sunburst handmade leather bag
Dark brown sunburst handmade leather briefcase that will outlast you.

Taking Time Off

I’m a full-time, not-so-single-anymore dad, married to an incredible, not-so-single-anymore mama. Last year, I took an awesome job at a fantastic company. Last month I walked away from that steady paycheck into the great unknown of grab-n-growl freelancing.

This is the part where other people in similar situations talk about how crazy that decision sounds. How scary it is. How they took some time off to reflect. To think. And then they came to some eureka moment, and discovered their purpose in life. Know what I did? Nothing (except take care of my kids). No deep thoughts about my purpose in life. No angst-ridden, sad Seth on a park bench. Why? Didn’t need to. Happiness, purpose, and meaning aren’t some mythical creatures out there waiting for us to find them. We have to make them. I’m going to make music. And some leather briefcases. And a music venue (maybe). And do some marketing strategy & copywriting. Above all, though, I’m going to grow some humans (our kids). They’re pretty rad already, but we’re not done with them yet.

What’re you going to make?

How To Promote Music – 3 Lessons From Daytrotter

How To Promote Music - 3 Lessons from

Daytrotter, yer doin it right. Also, I <3 you.

For those of you unfamiliar with Daytrotter, here’s how it works: they bring kick-ass bands to The Horseshack recording studio in Rockford, IL, record the bands live, and put the recording on Yesterday, they announced a brilliant promo called Daytrotter Presents #1. Buy a membership (for you or someone else) and they’ll send you the 12″ split record with The Civil Wars and The Lumineers for free. Both are fantastic bands.

But let’s look past the music. I think there are three lessons on how to promote music, from Daytrotter.

  1. Limited physical quantities: Daytrotter is only going to press as many records as are pre-ordered. Simple. People will still buy something if it’s special enough. Bonus: they’ve drastically reduced their risk by only pressing what’s ordered, vs trying to guestimate how many might be ordered. How could you limit your inventory exposure and make your customers feel special?
  2. The music is (essentially) free: buy an annual membership and get The Civil Wars and The Lumineers 12″ split for free on top of all the other great stuff behind the paywall. The membership is only $2/month for unlimited consumption of Daytrotter sessions. You probably spend more than $2 a day in gas driving to and from work. Crazy cheap. It’s more like payfence than a paywall.
  3. They’re targeting current members: current Daytrotter members can get the album for free if they buy a membership for someone else. This appeal has three parts: look cool for tipping a friend off to rad new music, be nice by giving the friend access, and get something tangible for yourself. Put some brightly-colored Ray-Bans on it and it’s the ultimate hipster trap. Plus, current customers should be your best evangelists. How often do you empower your customers?
  4. Bonus point! It’s actually a limited-time promotion. They’re taking orders until July 3rd. That’s it. If this one goes well, I’m sure they’ll do a Daytrotter Presents, #2. Are you one of those companies that always has some sale going on? Quit it. It takes the special-ness away.

What do you think? What’s your favorite example of somebody doin it right?

Pinterest Spam is here

The Oatmeal - "I tried to watch Game of Thrones and this is what happened"

Look out, intrepid Pinners. Spam has made it’s way to Pinterest. I posted a lovely cartoon by The Oatmeal about how frustrating it is to try to watch Game of Thrones, and within seconds had a “like.” While that’s not all that odd, what got my interest was that the like was from a company– they were using a logo, rather than headshot for their profile image. Curious, I clicked through to their boards. Wow. If I were a coupon clipper, I would’ve been in nerdvana. Then, I looked at the little activity ticker on their profile.   As you can see, they had liked about 49.3 billion other posts “just now” (meaning just then… right before…). Anyway, I figure that either they have a team of trained chimps hitting the heart/like button on Pinterest, or they’ve developed a spamalicious tool using Pinterest’s API.

Anybody know how they’re doing this? I mean, seriously. 307k+ likes?


P.S. To the product managers at HBO: you’re an interesting dichotomy. You produce outstanding shows, but are so stuck in outdated business models and distribution methods, that you’re leaving a lot of money on the table. “Piracy” just shows that you’re not effectively serving current market demands. Sure, it’s easy for me to criticize from the outside; I don’t know all the complications due to royalties, and blah blah blah MyBrainJustMeltedFromBoring. Yep. But you work there and I don’t. So fix it. I’d be happy to pay you per episode, or for a season pass to a show. But I’ll never sign up for a cable subscription again, which means I’ll never add the HBO subscription on top of that already ludicrous cable charge. You don’t need those cable companies anyway. You’re HBO. Act like it.