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”

Why I Hate Teaching

I love education. But I hate teaching. Far too often we confuse the two, and I think that’s a big reason the US education system is the battered & bruised behemoth it is. Well, that and demagoguery by pusillanimous politicians.

If you look at how the US education system evolved, there are striking similarities to how our workforce evolved. The industrial revolution turned farmers with broad skill sets into incredibly specialized factory workers. Schooling moved from truly individualized curriculum in the living room, to a rigid, standardized, curriculum-driven classroom. Mass production meant less variation. Mass education meant we could educate more kids in a standardized system, as long as they fit in within the system. It meant less tolerance for “abnormal” kids.

Back in the day, Horace Mann thought that “public education was the best way to turn the nation’s unruly children into disciplined, judicious republican citizens.” He thought a standardized approach to education would level the playing field for kids from all socioeconomic backgrounds. Give them all a fair shot at the American dream. Lofty goal. A goal I agree with. But what happened was factory farms and factory education.

And it’s not that people haven’t been trying to make reforms– they have. For a long time. Back in the early 1900’s, John Dewey was pushing the idea of “Progressive Education.” He argued (rightly, I think) for a more balanced approach to education. According to Wikipedia, “The problem was that Dewey and the other progressive theorists encountered a highly bureaucratic system of school administration that in general was not receptive to new methods.” That rings true today, too. Massive, entrenched institutions are structured to preserve the status quo.

A more balanced approach to education?

But the status quo isn’t working. Obviously. Something needs to change. Just like Dewey, and Maria Montessori before him, I’m arguing for a more balanced approach to education. Rather than teacher-centric, vs. content-centric, vs. student-centric, it ought to be more collaborative. Maria Montessori put it best: “Education should no longer be mostly imparting of knowledge, but must take a new path, seeking the release of human potentialities.” There are people pushing for this today. Marshall Kirkpatrick wrote an article on RWW about how How YouTube is Part of a Global Economic Transformation. From the article: “It has become increasingly evident that to realize human potential in today’s societies and economies, lifelong learning is required, not just an initial period of formal schooling.” Hell yes.

Now, I’m not suggesting that the US education system has failed. Or that it’s terrible. Or that I hate teachers and textbooks. On the contrary. I think that on the whole, we’ve tried our best. But we can do better. Because in our attempt to give our national treasures an equal shot at success, we forgot that “equal” doesn’t mean they should be treated like so much carbon in a diamond factory.

Our children are not factory-made. Each has unique strengths and weaknesses. Each has unique experiences that will inform their learning. If we can minimize the demagoguery and leverage some of the amazing technologies (iPads, serious games, the friggin internet) to create mass-customized learning, we can help each of our precious stones polish themselves into the gem they can be.

 

 

A Musician’s Opinion on the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA)

I am a musician. I write, record, and play songs. I spend months pouring my deepest feelings into a dozen or so 3 minute tunes.

In the good ol’ days, I could’ve signed a deal with some huge record label, borrowed a ridiculous amount of money from them to record those songs, and end up putting 2 good songs, 5 mediocre songs, and 3 terrible songs on an album.

Then, I could have signed a distribution deal with some other company, where they’d promise to get my darling little album into those beacons of art-loving culture everywhere: Walmart, Best Buy, and Target. Of course, the distribution company would have charged me a “breakage fee” that is the same percentage as when they were distributing vinyl records, not virtually indestructible CDs. Oh, they’d also charge that breakage fee on digital downloads.

Then, if anybody bought my 2/5/3 (good/boring/bad)  album, the retailer takes a cut, the distributor takes a cut, the label takes a cut and repays themselves (with loan-shark-level interest) that fat loan I took to record. Then, if there’s anything left, I’d get about $0.50 an album. That’s $0.05 per song, for you non-math types. Seems like an awful lot of hullaballoo for me to earn $0.05 per song.

******

Stop SOPA and PIPA

As a musician, I don’t need those companies who are trying to preserve a bloated, dead business model by litigating their customers into obedience. I don’t need those companies who are trying to preserve a bloated, dead business model by censoring the Internet with asinine, heavy-handed legislation like the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA).

 

SOPA and PIPA would let a company effectively obliterate a website if it contained a link to a download copyrighted material. Or if a site visitor posted a copyrighted picture or quote. No due process. No nothing. Just, pow! Gone from the DNS. Gone from the DNS, but not gone from the Internet– anyone could still get to the “offending” website by typing in the website’s IP address. So gone. But not. And you and I both know that the “pirates” will just type in the damn IP address.

I don’t need that huge loan to record some songs anymore. I can do it with my computer and less than $500 worth of gear in my basement.

 And I don’t need that distribution deal anymore. I can effectively and efficiently deliver my music to anyone in the world who has Internet access.

And I don’t need those retailers anymore, either. I can use places like AmazonMP3. Or iTunes. Or Bandcamp. Or Soundcloud.

 

******

People who pirate music are actually just an under-served market segment. Music pirating is the market telling me it doesn’t value recorded music the way it used to. It’s my job as a business owner, then, to shift my unit of value to something the market is willing to pay for.

I actually do still purchase music– but not  nearly as much as I did before I signed up for Spotify. And if someone still wants to charge to sell their music, that’s fine with me– I just think it’s a stupid business decision. Instead, give the music away as a marketing campaign. Give it away in exchange for signing up for a mailing list. Or, give it away to anyone who comes to your show (give them a little card with a download link/code/something). Or, give it away to anyone who promises to share it with their friends. Use your recorded music as a way to get people to your shows, where you make money on ticket sales, merch, and a cut of the bar sales.

 

******

If you’d like to learn more, watch the video below. Then, once you’re sufficiently pissed off, do something about it.

Sign Google’s petition to End Piracy, Not Liberty.
If you’re an artist, sign this letter to Congress from Fight for the Future

PROTECT IP / SOPA Breaks The Internet from Fight for the Future on Vimeo.

3 Predictions About the Future of “Social”

The Future

In the US, there are  tens of millions of searches every month for things related to social marketing, social media marketing, and the like. But, if you look at Google Trends, it also looks like that search traffic may have peaked (for now, anyway). So have searches for Facebook, by the way. What that tells me is that, as George Colony from Forrester Research put it at Le Web (to paraphrase), social is running out of people and it’s running out of hours. So, here are my 3 predictions about the future of social media and social marketing:

  1. Social won’t die. But it will become a zombie mutant. When the printing press came along, written stories didn’t die, they mutated. When TV came around, radio didn’t die, it mutated. People are predicting “the end of social” and I think what they actually mean is “the end of social as we know it.”
  2. You won’t care about social media anymore. “Social” will become a parallel offering– not a differentiator. Oh wait. That already happened– even this novelty “flatulence gift underwear” company has a “social” presence.
  3. I lied, I only have two predictions, but who wants to read a post titled “2 Predictions About the Future of Social”?
  4. Psych! Here you go, Prediction 3 about the future of social: in 12 months, all the predictions made by talking heads in fancy suits skinny jeans, flannel shirts, and stocking caps, will look like the intro to the Jetsons. Speaking of which, where is my flying car?

Ok, here’s the point: calling something social doesn’t make it social. Having a Facebook page or a Twitter account doesn’t make your brand social. On the other hand, we humans are social people, so everything is social already. The trick is figuring out what part of your product/service/experience we humans actually care about, and building a clear, compelling, consistent story around that. Easy.

Failure Sucks

You know what? Failure friggin sucks. Seems like there’s been a lot of buzz over the past few years about Failure Chic– how it’s ok to fail. It’s ok to crash & burn. But it seems to me that most of these blog posts and articles are written by people who’ve never experienced true failure. The kind where you’ve put in everything you have (and then some!)– money, emotional energy… even years of your precariously short little life– and yet you find yourself holding the shattered scraps of a once-vivid dream. There are no redeeming qualities about failure. Saying “but I learned from it” is just a lame attempt to rationalize that steaming pile of cognitive dissonance slopping around in your brain. I think our recent glorification of failure is an #EpicFAIL. Like cat-stuck in-a-birdcage-fail

Because we can learn from our successes just as much as we can from our failures. So, what I’d rather see is a switch from Failure Chic to Learning Chic. Steve Jobs said he realized after he was ousted from Apple (sorry, obligatory Apple reference) that making awesome stuff in an awesome company should be the goal rather than profits. Success should be a byproduct of a lifelong love of learning.

So, forget failure. And forget success. Let’s learn how to make awesome stuff.

Process, People, and Sacred Cows

“I’m sorry. I can’t do that. It’s not part of our process.”

“I’m sorry we billed you three times for the same thing. Our process had some hiccups.”

“Sorry, but our process requires [insert absurdly long time frame] to make the changes you’ve requested.”

Milton, from Office Space, and his red stapler
I worked at a place once the had TPS Reports. For real.

Sound familiar? When we’re making the process, we’re doing it to make life easier. And it sure does work. It makes our life so much simpler. Don’t have to rethink every project. Don’t have to brainstorm an answer to every question. But then it becomes a real boy, and we focus on the process, rather than the people we built the process to serve.

Or, it could become a sacred cow. Maybe it’s time to make a steak out of that cow.