How being blunt can help small tech firms stay at the sharp end

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Navigating the corporate world in the hope of finding a fertile spot to plant a seed is far from easy. Sometimes there comes a point when the cost of pursuing an opportunity becomes disproportionate for the return. But if the return can’t be measured purely in direct revenue terms, (the opportunity is with a halo brand that would most likely, if won, trigger interest from other aspiring brands for example), smaller companies are often left with a very difficult decision: pursue or abandon?

Whilst larger companies may have the fuel – the time – to extend negotiations, the small company is more exposed to the risk associated with the cost and of course, the possibility of not winning the business. Conversely, there is the risk associated with not pursuing the opportunity. In other words, what could have been.

It’s a tough call, but one that can be made easier by gaining the full understanding of the buyer as early as possible. It’s a premise I’ve no doubt applies to all businesses but for small tech companies in particular, it’s fair to assume interest from large companies is based on the innovation the small company brings to the table.

This being the case, it is vital the small tech company gets the corporate to acknowledge, and understand, that the innovation is what provides the difference. It’s what sets companies apart.

Why is it vital? Well, unless the tech company can convey the danger to the corporate in being draconian in their demands and their terms, the commercial and legal exposure can be debilitating. To the small tech outfit, it can be the difference between survival and failure.

In short, pursuing the Big Corporate opportunity means having to quell the tendency to kowtow; it means having to state, in no uncertain terms, that by exerting too much pressure in the interests of short-term gain, the larger company risks breaking the smaller company and as a result, losing the source of what attracted them in the first place: the difference they provide.

(picture courtesy Rogue Pictures Inc)

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Not another iPad Article.

Actually it is. Another iPad article, I mean. You see, I’m conscious that in the ‘meeja’ world, iPad fatigue seems to be setting in. The frenzied pre-launch excitement has been replaced by an almost palpable resignation. Where once there was enthusiasm, there now seems plain old inevitability. But look closer and it seems the feeling of, well, if not reluctance then certainly skepticism, emanates most noticeably from a particular sector: consumer publishing.

Of all media sectors, consumer publishing has borne the brunt of iPad R&D and launch costs and has thus far at least, been unable to enjoy financial benefit. This is due in no small part to the challenges in creating a sufficiently compelling app to attract repeat purchase whilst at the same time ensuring the production process is viable enough to sustain regular production.

Whilst apps clearly sell, the vast majority are those that perform a specific, discrete function. In other words, they are purchased only once. A magazine app (as opposed to a magazine-branded app) is published repeatedly and therefore assumes repeat purchase. In many ways therefore, a magazine app must be extraordinarily impressive to stand out and attract repeat, regular purchase in sustainable volumes.

Earlier this year, I wrote about the 3 things the iPad brings to publishing: confusion, opportunity and a defining moment. At the time, the confusion was due largely to the lack of clarity in appropriate business models. This has since been diminished (by default) by Apple’s explanation of their subscription policy, which, contrary to many hysterical reports, is actually pretty clear (see below for a summary).

Sadly, Apple’s clarity apparently confounds consumer publishing’s woes, prompting a deluge of incredulous comment and even triggering disapproving noises from the normally conservative Forrester. Publishers should be under no illusions; the policy is unlikely to change. With the music industry, Apple has set a precedent for their 70/30 revenue split (the so-called ‘dirty percent’). And as a consumer, their data policy is difficult to argue against.

So what does this mean for content agencies? It means the opportunity is all the more prevalent. Brands know there is money to be made and they know Apple is the gateway. With no realistic competition anywhere on the horizon, the iPad is crying out for compelling content. The confusion has lessened and the opportunity has increased.

 

Motorola want you to get excited? Can you feel it?

The Motorola Xoom. Excited? Motorola certainly want you to be. 

Conceding to Apple’s formidable marketing machine, it seems poignant (and perhaps a little sad) Motorola feel the need to include a ‘Get Excited’ button on their website.

Click the image. Take a look.

Despite this, there remains relatively few iPad Apps originating from content agencies. And I’m not necessarily talking about magazine Apps. As a fan of great content, and therefore a fan of content agencies, this worries me.

“The vast majority of the apps available were created for the iPhone and do not fully exploit the capabilities of the iPad. Users report higher satisfaction with iPad-dedicated applications, however, and want more of them.”

– McKinsey ‘Understanding the iPad’ report, February 2011

Just a week ago Sky announced a radical switch from printed magazines to digital solutions; Apple launched the iPad 2 (barely a year after iPad 1); and McKinsey stated Tablet devices “are set to become the ‘control point’ for consumers’ media use..”

As last years APA Content Summit promo said,”If you’re not engaging, right now, you’re disengaging, and your customers will become someone else’s..”

Apple’s Subs policy in summary

  1. App Store Apps may only use In App Purchase (IAP) technology from within the App.
  2. App Store Apps must not direct users to commerce or transactions outside the IAP system.
  3. App Store Apps must price IAP and subscription content the same as, or lower than, equivalent content offered outside the App.

Apple’s Data policy

Customers purchasing a subscription through the App Store will be given the option of providing the publisher with their name, email address, and zip code. The use of such information will be governed by the publisher’s privacy policy rather than Apple’s. Publishers may seek additional information from App Store customers provided those customers are given a clear choice, and are informed that any additional information will be handled under the publisher’s privacy policy rather than Apple’s.

Association of Publishing Agencies Article originally written for  the APA

International Red Button Theory: a must for emerging European businesses.

Working with international clients and offices I’m reminded of a time, years ago (too many for me to comfortably recall) when I was working as a Product Manager for a large technology company.

Based at its European headquarters in Brussels, I travelled for at least 30% of my time and gained  great experience learning to deal with the nuances of conducting business with different nationalities. To a large extent my job consisted of a) doing whatever it took  to make an angry customer happy* and; b) introducing new exciting products to beta testing clients. The former was challenging in any language but it was in fulfilling the latter that I began formulating the International Red Button Theory.

The premise is simple: Imagine you are introducing a game-changing new technology. It is still officially in Beta but it will revolutionise your customer’s business and ensure they retain the all-important Competitive Edge.

Unless they push the Red Button.

The Red Button is a remainder of the original prototype left accessible during the Beta for debugging, should it be necessary. You inform your customer of the amazing new features but warn them, in no uncertain terms, that pushing the Red Button is a Bad Thing. ‘Unless instructed to do so by Technical Support, you should Never Push The Red Button,’ you say.

What happens next depends entirely on which country you are in at the time.. Below are a few examples. This is International Red Button Theory.

If in Italy, there will be a short delay while your contact confers with his colleagues, whereupon you will be asked to a meeting room, offered an Espresso and then asked what its worth not to push the button. Very enterprising.

If in Germany, the customer will nod gravely and commence erecting a fence around the Red Button. They will then appoint a ‘rotenknopfesmeister’ and ensure both the button and the Meister have the appropriate union representation. The button will never be pushed unless instructed to do so by Technical Support. Very commendable.

In France, the customer immediately pushes the button. He then reminds you that it is his button and he is well within his rights to push it when he pleases.  Very true.

In Sweden, the customer quietly accepts the situation and goes home. You never hear from him or her again. Very unsettling.

In Belgium, the Flemish shift manager fastidiously writes all your instructions down in both Dutch and German. He then leaves them for his Walloon colleague. Who only speaks French. And a little English. Very sneaky.

In the Netherlands, the customer absorbs everything you say. Then, a week later you receive a report from him detailing how the Red Button can be bypassed and exactly where the software designers went wrong. Very technical.

Do Not Push This Button

Button had travelled a long and winding road.

I could continue (and may well do) but you get the gist. All the above examples are actually based upon experience  – honestly  – and serve to highlight the differences in national attitudes and approach. It certainly helps to tailor your approach accordingly. Especially in France.

*at all times remaining within the laws of decency

Between Jobs

Predictably, following the news of Steve Jobs second enforced absence from Apple on medical grounds today, the great man was trending faster than the Frat look in ‘09. How many other CEOs would prompt such interest for a sick note? Not many. None probably. During his last enforced absence (in the same year as the aforementioned Frat look), the stakes appeared higher. Speculation that he was not long for this World was rife. Apple stock dropped sharply. The tech World held its breath. And when the tech World holds its breath, the real World follows.

But Steve recovered and returned to his iDesk seemingly more invigorated than ever. (Not long afterwards came the iPad). I wonder whether the same will be true this time.

In Jobs’ email to Apple employees, Silicon Alley Insider identifies what certainly seems a conscious avoidance of even suggesting a date for his return to the office – unlike his email sent prior to his last absence.

Apple’s amazing success in recent years is unquestionable.  Whether this would have happened without Jobs at the helm is conjecture but most sane people would agree its pretty unlikely. What might this mean? Well, for Apple’s embattled competitors it might signal a welcome respite. But I doubt it. Apple stole the march on competitors who had no idea they were even competing. They did so by fusing great design with competent technology. Simple. So simple in fact, no-one had thought of it before. Apart from Steve Jobs. Jobs’ legacy is engrained and permeates Cupertino and will do for years to come.

A colleague recently commented, “People don’t think design is important.” Point is, they do. They just don’t know they do. Jobs did that.