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

e2831dbbe6ff4442ac0255c4d37b7c26_full

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)

Advertisements

Cross-device publishing finally exists!

In May last year, I wrote a post relating to the abundance of systems (or rather posters and presentations of systems) claiming to represent the much-vaunted ‘content-goes-in-here-and-comes-out-working-everywhere’ solution.

At the time, I was working as Chief Product Officer at an international agency. The agency worked with many brands, all of which had a significant interest in – if the many presentations, posters and banner ads were to be believed – the myriad solutions available to them.

The problem, as it turned out after much research, was that none of the systems actually delivered on the claims. Sure, some excelled in one area or another, but none provided the ability to assemble, animate, integrate and measure the same content across the many devices our brand customers demanded. This represented a real challenge, especially as I was under pressure to propose a solution for a retail client desperate to provide its customers with an interactive derivative of their catalogue on iPad.

Working closely with the tech team, we architected a solution that drew upon some of the elements of some of the systems available. It was never going to be a scalable platform solution, and would certainly mean that processes and workflows would have to be duplicated to produce subsequent catalogues, but at least it would provide the vehicle for our client to launch an attractive, ecommerce-enabled catalogue on the iPad. It was pretty successful as well, going straight into the Guardian’s Top30 iPad apps list – much to the joy of our client. Everyone was happy. Until the second catalogue.

You see, the inevitable impact of not having a platform solution, a solution that addresses many of the repeat tasks associated with producing subsequent pieces, is that processes must be repeated. The producers on the project had to repeat tasks; Developers had to repeat tasks; Our customer’s own design team had to repeat tasks. OK, the result was going to look great but the work involved was also great. There was an unavoidable cost implication.

At this point I want to make something clear: I don’t write this blog as a means to publicize or promote. I write it purely as a commentary on what I experience in the industries in which I work. My opinions are my own and they are always considered. I feel it’s important to mention this given that I’m about to refer to a solution, a platform, in which I have a stake.

Let me explain: Having left the agency last year, I joined a small tech company with which I’d been associated a few years prior.  The company intended to launch the supposedly ubiquitous solution I’d been searching for: a SaaS-based platform providing the tools to create, animate, integrate and measure, interactive, shoppable content experiences that work across web, tablet and mobile. Sound simple? Of course not.

A few months ago, the first version was launched. We expected some hiccups and we had them. But since then, thanks to the brilliant product team and the scrum process to which they so diligently adhere, we have released no less than 20 new versions. And last night, we went live with undoubtedly the most significant version to date.

I’m not going to use this post as a feature list, or even explain the significance of yesterday’s update. All I’m going to do with absolute confidence, is say the solution, apparently ubiquitous in May last year, finally exists. It really does.

And guess what? the first live App, produced by Conran, with no need for coding whatsoever,  went straight into the Guardian Top30 iPad apps list! (This time for a fraction of the cost to the customer…)

The website is here. The product is truly impressive. And yes, mine is a thoroughly considered opinion!

Is this man the Father of modern content marketing?

Content marketing is essentially non-interruptive marketing. Interesting, relevant content (in pretty much any guise) forms the basis for engagement, with the brand message laced within or around it. It isn’t a new concept by any means, but perhaps the earliest and purest example of modern content marketing was pioneered by a lawyer-turned-musician named Oswald Nelson.

Oswald Nelson 1906 -1975

Oswald (Ozzie) Nelson conceived, wrote and performed in ‘The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriett,’ an American sitcom featuring the real-life Nelson family.

The show (and here’s the content marketing bit)  didn’t just broadcast an initial sponsorship message as many such programs did, it laced the message throughout, making it an integral part of the show.

You might think this would be annoying, perhaps even the opposite of non-interruptive marketing. You might think the show wouldn’t stand a chance. But, having first launched as a radio show in 1944, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriett moved to TV with ABC in 1952 (with Ozzie having negotiated a 10 year deal whether the show continued or not – unprecedented at the time) and continued thereafter until 1966, 4 years more than the contracted period!

To this day the show is the longest running live-action sitcom in TV history. Is Ozzie Nelson the Father of modern content marketing? I reckon he’s surely a contender. Take a look at this fantastic Christmas episode from 1956. Can you spot the ‘subtle’ product message?

You can’t have your privacy and eat it

Amid the furore over the bungled EU Cookie law there seems a real hysteria over ‘Online Privacy,’ with some effectively suggesting the term constitutes an oxymoron (a bit like ‘English summer’).

Take a few minutes to watch the below TED video featuring Gary Kovacs, CEO of Mozilla…(article continues below the video)

Ostensibly, Kovacs’ points are alarming. But before we get all ‘Outraged of Surrey’ about it, isn’t this what the Web was meant to be all about? Wasn’t it all about providing content relevant to the individual rather than generically to the entire online population? Without some form of identification associated to the individual, how is any Web mechanic supposed to provide relevance? You can’t have your online privacy cake and eat it.

I think the problem here is actually one of definition. Privacy is black-and-white. A lack of privacy implies an invasion, therefore a Bad Thing. However, if instead we talk about (and provide) transparency, then things change fundamentally.

If the language around this emotive issue was based upon providing transparency as opposed to removing privacy, then I believe attitudes would change entirely.

My Collusion profile after a day at my desk.
(If you watched the video, this would make sense)

Cross-device platform publishing doesn’t exist. Not yet anyway.

Having recently been commissioned to carry out a study of the digital publishing platforms1 currently available, one aspect has become abundantly clear: everyone is chasing the dream.

The dream, depicted as a kind of candy wrapper in posters on the walls of so many publishing exhibition booths, is of a mechanism by which source content is input (one side of the candy wrapper), some magic happens (the candy itself) resulting in packaged experiences available seamlessly across desktop browsers, tablets and mobile phones (the other side of the candy wrapper).

Aspiration?

Sure, platforms exist that cater well for specific devices, and some that cater well for multiple devices, but none by using the same original, designed content, played in a form that works cross-device.  Maybe this is an unrealistic expectation. The tablet user interface for instance, inherently differs from the desktop interface. Swiping makes no sense on the desktop, whilst mouse-over makes no sense on a tablet. Purely from a design perspective then, surely it is impractical to cater for both? And what about differences in format? A page/window/panel/screen (delete as inappropriate) on one device will have a different aspect ratio on another.

In design resource alone, brands looking to publish across as wide a gamut of devices as possible are faced with an expensive undertaking. Cost pressure alone is driving demand.

It may be that initial releases require compromise in design. Alternatively, compromise may be in functionality. Either way, platforms will exist because demand dictates. And whoever caters for the demand, and does so well, is likely to do very nicely.

1Where ‘platform’ is used to describe a mechanism by which source content is input, edited, transformed and published to multiple devices in a format sympathetic to the high design value of a glossy magazine and capable of harnessing the interactivity of digital media.

Why Facebook Stores Are Failing

Content, audience and engagement. Facebook has it all. So why are brands apparently struggling to sustain a business case for their Facebook Stores?

In the past year alone, Gap Inc, Nordstrom, J.C. Penney and Gamestop have opened and subsequently closed Facebook Stores. How can this be? All the ingredients for a successful online retail venture appear to exist, yet in practise the result seems half-baked. Why?

To find the answer, we should first remind ourselves why Facebook has become such a phenomenon in the first place: Quite simply, it’s a great place to hang out, meet, and interact with likeminded people. Its a round-the-clock party, hosted by friends, in a familiar venue, with constantly changing decor. (No surprise it was originally called Faceparty).

The fact is, people party to socialise, not to buy stuff. How many parties do you attend where suddenly, an uninvited guest buts into your conversation weilding a pop-up store? Almost certainly none. And why? Becuase it’s a social faux pas. It’s a turn-off. It’s party pooping of the highest order. And it’s a real challenge for Facebook.

“We just didn’t get the return on investment we needed from the Facebook market, so we shut it down pretty quickly. For us, it’s been a way we communicate with customers on deals, not a place to sell.” – Ashley Sheetz, vice president of marketing and strategy, Gamestore.

A perfect place for people to converse and recommend stuff, it seems Facebook has yet to resolve the natural aversion its users have to bridging the apparently logical step between recommendation and transaction. The problem is, since when has logic figured in socialising with mates? A party based on logic? Be there to be square…

Batman's cape had seen better days

Content [is/is not] King (delete as appropriate)

An interesting debate was sparked within LinkedIn’s Chief Content Officer group today. It centred around the (now rather tiresome) adage that ‘Content is King.’ It began when Ben Dorsey, a VP Marketing and Communications in Indiana, suggested that if Content is King, the organisation of that content is Queen. Disagreeing with this viewpoint (and struggling with the premise that organisation of anything can be particularly regal) I waded into the debate and aired my view that content isn’t ‘King,’ and that in fact, as suggested by the writer and activist Cory Doctorow, content is just something to talk about. It is actually the conversation triggered by the contentthat actually wears the crown. (continued..)

Who wears the crown?

(By way of warning, the liberal use of metaphors in this debate only gathers pace from this point on).

Stephen Berner, a content creator in NY, believes there is no King or Queen. Rather, there are multilple plates to be spun, ‘at the same velocity,’ and ‘incrementally dialled up.’ ‘Content is useless,’ he says, ‘unless it can be found..’

Margot Carmichael Lester, a content strategist from North Carolina, suggests that ‘..regardless of who wears the crown, CCOs and other content managers need to be the power behind the throne..’

King, Queen, Throne, Crown, Plates, Power, whatever, it seems to me that Ben’s original comment, his original content and the ensuing conversation, confirms that relevant content, made available at the right time, in the right format, for the right audience, inevitably triggers all-important conversation..

Have a read of the exchange in context in the LinkedIn CCO group.