By APNWLNS payday loans
May 21, 2013
I got a great surprise after a poor response to a bad surprise.
After updating Android on my cell phone, Google Maps began aborting. Being a reformed tech guru, I naturally wasted a lot of hours combing through message boards to determine if I could fix it myself instead of throwing the phone at my carrier and demanding that their technically suspect store clerks do the repairs.
After a while it became clear that the bug was in a new graphics driver, and thus was caused not by my carrier, Google or even the handset maker. I penned a letter to the president of the carrier company, politely explaining that as the vendor and integrator of record, they needed to fix their products, regardless of who broke it. Realizing that the solution lay somewhere between Google, the chipset vendor, the handset maker and my carrier, I was not expecting quick action, especially since reports of the problem on the carrier’s customer forum web site had been raging for a while.
So I was surprised to get a phone call from their product manager and four days later received a new phone with twice the CPU and memory, eight times the storage and a different chipset that didn’t manifest the same defect.
Every customer interaction defines your brand. Until I took the time to send snailmail to the carrier’s president, my interactions with them had been fruitless. It is damaging to prop-up a customer self-help forum and assign monitors when complaints and product defects posted there are not addressed. In other words, pretending to listen is worse than not listening at all (and to Google’s credit, they say up front that they don’t listen to many of their sponsored forums). The sense of abandonment customers experience when false fronts mascaraed as support ports is palpable. In the forum hosted by my carrier, some threads border on open rebellion due to long-standing issues with no feedback or help from the vendor.
Contrary, when the product manager called, I was more than satisfied. Even if a fix was not immediate, I was willing to work with the vendor and even assist in their debugging. Their willingness (albeit forced by my letter) was a sign of customer commitment. When the product manager took that extraordinary extra step to resolve the problem by giving me a better phone, I was extremely impressed. He single handedly rescued a negative customer interaction and salvaged his company’s brand.
Your brand hangs on every interaction, or lack thereof. When erecting online points of interaction, state clearly if you will or will not be participating, and if you are, do it fully. Listening requires upward or lateral action, not the mere appearance of participation.
May 14, 2013
To dominate or not to dominate. That is the non-rhetorical question.
Being a former IT guru, I hang-out virtually with some of my former peers in forums where we argue about everything from driver code to global warming. Many years ago I announced to that cabal that Android would dominate the smart phone market due to its business model. iPhone fanbois who littered this clan insinuated I had lost my mind – that Apple’s elegance, simplicity and market lead would forever overwhelm Android’s then 3% market share.
This week Gartner announced Android makes up 75% of all new smart phone sales.
My prognostication was based on market mechanics while my techie chums were enamored by Apples early technology differentiation. But like Microsoft before them on the desktop, Google decided to use the ecosystem to spread an operating system, which is a good way to get a lot of companies to drive sales and share. Google’s goal was to dominate the market and gain profits by means other than hardware sales.
Which was never Apple’s objective.
There are many ways to make money. In smart phones Apple and Google have different objectives based on how they plan to grow richer. Google wants to be the center of people’s online universe and to sell advertising. Theirs is a low margin, high volume end-game. In order to make mega money in mobile, Google had to dominate the market to drive tangent revenues.
Apple makes money via margins. Recent studies of the PC market show that Apple has insanely high margins, allowing them to be vastly more profitable on a per PC basis than every other vendor. The same strategy is at play with smart phone and anything else Apple sells. The only thing Apple has to do is maintain and extend the impression that they provide the slickest and easiest to use technology on the planet (this was their brand until the infamous Apple Maps fiasco and the seemingly interminable wait for a much more clever iPhone 5).
Marketers often lose sight of corporate objectives. Marketing strategy exists to achieve corporate strategy. Yet many marketers spook when confronted with seemingly superior competition using different business models. Google measures their success differently than Apple because they have different objectives. I’m sure hands are being wrung at Apple given the rapid market dominating success of Android, and there are temptations to fight Google on Google’s turf. Rumors abound that Apple will release a cheaper iPhone just to stem the bleeding (even though their sales are rising despite people delaying handset upgrades, awaiting an updated iPhone 5). Apple’s strategy – to invent, create insane brand loyalty and charge obscene prices – is good and remains sound. But Apple has to stick to it and not chase Google’s model.
All marketing actions – in Apple or your organization – must drive the corporate objective. Only when those objectives prove flawed and are changed should marketing change their strategies. Measure your success against metrics that make sense for your corporate objectives. HP measures PC unit volume (the highest in the business) and because of that is less worried about their low margins. Apple measures success by margins and less so by units. Always avoid using your competitors’ measurement of success … doing so causes failure.
April 30, 2013
“Maybe Microsoft suffers from too much leadership.”
That surprising statement came from an industry analyst with one of the major groups. We were recently splitting lunch and enjoying some obscenely great Silicon Valley weather, discussing the tech industry as a whole and wondering if Microsoft might soon be known only as “The Xbox Company.” We mutually marveled at how seemingly inept Microsoft has become, with one market disaster after another. Since we both had experience with start-ups and big vendors alike, the discussion focused keenly on leadership and ossification.
You never want to be the leader for the former.
Microsoft has two primary problems when it comes to innovation, the first of which is that they remain consumed by former glories and the old ways of thinking. This same analyst told me that – at least until recently – Microsoft sized their markets based on the number of PCs in an organization, not the number of information workers. Like the IBM of old where all activities revolved around the mainframe, Microsoft revolves too much of its thinking around desktops. Given mobility and Microsoft’s late/flawed strategy for making mobile work, it may be that their PC inertia is throttling their other ambitions.
This is sadly amusing given that mobile is a very personal computing experience and Microsoft started as a personal computer company. To flounder so badly at this fundamentally personal computing pivot point would be perplexing were it not for historical comparisons. The most vivid is IBM, who despite bringing Microsoft to fame via the original PC, was myopically focused on their mainframes. Indeed, much of IBM’s PC business was constrained by making the little machines part of the mainframe ecosystem, not letting it evolve and profiting from that evolution. One could argue (and I will) that Windows 8 was an attempt to bridge mobile to maintain desktop superiority, and failed both markets.
This may be why my analyst friend thinks Microsoft suffers from too much leadership, for they led the Microsoft troops into creating a digital Frankenstein monster that was universally repulsive.
The intersection of markets, trends, leadership and management is conceptually simple. An organization is either ahead or behind a trend (really great companies create trends out of stuff thinner than air). This is where leadership is essential, because leading requires creating and communicating a vision of something that doesn’t exist. Even Microsoft demonstrates this from time to time as they did with their Xbox project, which was so tangent to desktop computing that Microsoft had no choice but to let the Xbox team take their own path.
Management is the essential antithesis of leadership. It is a more mechanical process, one driven by numbers and bureaucracy. Leadership into new markets requires decentralization and flexibility, whereas maintaining a product line leans on management. The tangent problem herein is that management can be infected by inertia, such as Microsoft counting PCs and not people as their market. For Microsoft to have a chance requires delivering different products to different groups, and this requires different groups within Microsoft lead by different visionaries, bridging teams only when necessary. It is a really good to have a single underlying software architecture, but leave the user experience and marketing thereof to decentralized team leaders. After delivering a core OS, separate servers, desktops, mobile and games entirely. Leave the applications group to decide on which platforms they can make a buck.
Microsoft may not have too much leadership, but what they have is too highly concentrated in a single place.
April 9, 2013
You have to go through Step-B before reaching Step-C … or Step-Z.
Try telling that to a start-up CEO and you’ll earn some nasty looks.
One of the greatest errors of leaders, political or business, is to move too fast. Many militarists believe Hitler could have ruled Europe had he taken his time and not rushed to open fronts everywhere at once. Great products have vanished because CEOs aggressively tried to push it into every segment simultaneously. Make too many changes while delivering too little value and you’ll have too few customers.
This topic gurgled forth because J.C. Penny, a company born over 100 years ago and thus slightly older than my jokes, ditched their CEO. His overhaul spiraled the once legendary retailer nearly into ruin and its share price was cut in third. Nothing nice has been said about CEO Ron Johnson’s re-rigging, but a common complaint was that he attempted a blitzkrieg and changed everything overnight. One analyst opined “He tried to do too much too soon. He had a lot of very radical and bold ideas, and he tried to execute them all simultaneously.”
People (and hence markets) tend not to be revolutionary. Even new products and technologies with obvious benefits meet suspicion, investigation, trials, slow roll-outs and finally mass acceptance (virtual machines on commodity servers looked weird when first conceptualized, but now the world runs on them). Marketing must often lead buyers through multiple steps before making a sale, and lead markets through chained-discoveries before achieving wide-spread interest. Marketers must also lead product development in delivering solutions to satisfy one segment (one battle front) before opening the next.
Which brings Windows 8 into question. The newest Microsoft Windows OS tries to move an entire market (the installed PC base) too far, too fast, with too many changes and has met with derision more bitter than any lodged at J.C. Penny CEOs. In all too typical a style, Microsoft abandoned existing user interface elements (start buttons, hierarchical menus, etc.) and tossed a revolutionarily limited user experience in peoples’ laps. Microsoft did not ease folks through the changes nor offer them a way to maintain their old computing habits while exploring new possibilities (much like they did not do with Office and the hateful “ribbon” paradigm). Microsoft did too much too soon and lobbed at their customers a lot of very radical and bold ideas, trying to execute them all simultaneously.
The management lesson herein is to manage movement. Rushing anything produces poor results. Customers always have options, just as J.C. Penny’s had the option of canning their CEO. Take markets and customers step-wise through discovery, leading them to one level gratification after another. Hit them with too much and they will hit back.
March 5, 2013
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Want to see me cringe? Be a start-up founder and tell me you don’t have any competition.
Every company and every product has competitors. They may not have offices, there may not be a product, and your prospects may not know they are using your competition. But everyone has competition and it can come from very unexpected sources.
Even Google has tangent barriers.
Google’s Android mobile operating system is the most popular on the planet, especially in China where they appear on 90% of smartphones. The competition is not the hodge podge of OSs in the other 10%. Nor is it the gaggle of Chinese knock-off companies that wish Google would release the source code to new Android versions more quickly so they could create near-real-time Android clones. The new competitive threat is the Chinese government.
Mao’s mavens are not entering the smartphone market. These control freaks simply don’t like anyone else having that much control. At least that is the opinion of the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (a department name that indicates exactly how important IT is to China’s future plans). In particular the Capitalist Commies fret that “The core [Android] technology and technology roadmap is strictly controlled by Google.” China’s geek ministry also indicated that their country could develop their own mobile OS.
They probably will, because it is tough to battle the American Capitalist Empire when your people gleefully buy directly from the source.
The new competition Google will likely face in China is not a mobile OS but crippling regulations and restriction by the Chinese government. In order to encourage a home-grown mobile OS, through which they can control advertising and other propaganda, as well as perfectly monitor citizens of both classes [elites and slaves], China needs to both develop product and restrict competition. Hence, even without a product competitor, Google will receive market penetration competition from the government.
(The best way to win market share is to get the government to hobble your competitors, which explains why interstate sales of health insurance has been illegal in the U.S. since the 1940s)
Everybody has competition, and sometimes it is simple inertia. When Quicken was first unleashed, sales were slow. People did not see a huge need to duplicate their check book register into a computer. The inertia of “how we do it now is Good Enough” kept people from adopting Quicken. However, once Intuit started facilitating the printing of checks (remember those, and the postage stamps required to mail them), sales grew mightily. Quicken’s competition was the status quo, and they had to invent new capabilities to make the old way appear to be the dumb way of paying bills.
For anyone in marketing, or any founder at a start-up, you need to thoroughly investigate how your prospects do business. Your competition might be the regulations they face, organizational resistance, severe price sensitivity, or a million other things that compete for your market share without being a product. If you don’t do this, you may face invisible yet impenetrable barriers.