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Archive for April, 2010


Why You Had A Happy Customer and Still Failed

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

I wanted to spend a minute on my blog telling a great, telling, instructive story about delivering great customer value.

For the purposes of this discussion, I want to keep all the names confidential, but here we go:

I was at SXSW a year ago and was talking to an incredibly well known creative director/site designer who works for an incredibly well known web design consultancy.  Let me put it this way: He is one of those guys that everyone knows and thinks is awesome and he works for one of those agencies everyone wishes they could hire.

The consultancy had recently completed a project for a web application that I used from time to time, so I am talking to this creative director at SXSW and I mention a few things about the interface that had left me ambivalent or confused.  His response: “Yeah, I totally agree.  Unfortunately, we had a really small budget and just didn’t have the time to do a better job.”

Unfortunately, I thought that was totally the wrong approach.  This project was kind of unique in that it is one of the more popular and better known web applications in the world.  While the company has a ridiculously popular product, it was still quite start-up-ish and not rolling in cash, so you could tell that the consultancy probably did the project because they wanted to be able to say, “We were the guys that they wanted to do this project!”  The company blogged about the awesome work that the consultancy did for them during and after completion, the consultancy blogged about how they did the work, etc.  The marketing was clearly a big part of the sale in convincing the consultancy to do the work despite the constrained budget and there was good marketing.  The marketing was so good that even I was aware of it.

Unfortunately, the project work was just OK.  My impression is the the company was all too aware of their budget limitations (maybe good project management by the consulting firm there!), so they were quite happy with what they got for what they spent, but for outside parties, it was quite evident that the work done was inadequate in a number of ways.

If Apple asked your company to redesign the iPod and then they would take out full page ads in every newspaper in the world giving you credit for the work you did, could you afford to do anything less than awesome?

Having the opportunity to redesign an interface that millions of people interact with is a unique opportunity for a design firm.  In many ways, the work you do there will become a proxy for your portfolio.  Being able to say, “I designed the iPod” instantly translates into an understanding of the kind of quality of work you do.

I think what the consultancy missed in this story is that when you accept that opportunity, you have to commit to being awesome.  You cannot afford to be anything less.  If you make a terrible iPhone interface and then Apple tells the world you made it, it doesn’t matter if they paid you $10 or $10 million.  You own it.  If they agreed to do the work even though the budget was limited, they have to do the best job they can.  They have to treat it like a million dollar project because external parties will only care about the outcome.  An application used by everyone is an amazing opportunity to make your mark in the world.

Are you identifying areas where you need to go above and beyond the call of duty to make your product (in this case, their portfolio of work) remarkable?

What Defines Online Advertising Dominance Fashion?

Monday, April 12th, 2010

Several years ago, I read a great article about Outkast and one of the things that I read and have never forgotten was about how Andre 3000 dressed.  For many years, he dressed like a fairly normal rapper and then as time went on, his approach to fashion got further and further out towards what we will call “THE EDGE”.

When he was asked about it, he said, “I wanted to look more like the music”.  I loved that.  Here is a guy committed to his craft.  Complete immersion.

Andre 3000 is now thought of as one of the most fashion forward, progressive dressers in the universe.

This led me to wonder, “Should this be impacting my life?”  What is “Looking like the music in online advertising”?

There are several things that we are aware of that we will call “1.0”

  • Classic nerd.  Think “Revenge of the Nerd”  Characterized by thick rimmed glasses, short sleeve button downs and pocket protectors.  Ironically, Urkel and Andre 3000 appear to share some fashion concepts.
  • The Silicon Valley Uniform: blue shirt and khakis.  Or, as Kara Swisher described it, “khaki-oxford-jacket Internet uniform 101”
  • Ironic t-shirts.  A nerd staple.  A good ironic t-shirt is sure to demonstrate something to someone.

Let’s assume that what has come before will not be the future.  How do you dress like the future of online advertising?

Not my most coherent post, but getting a burning question off my chest.  Let’s figure this out.  Have you thought about how you can bring “dressing like the music” to your industry?  I think about it from time to time.  I suspect Raybans are involved.

Leave your comments.

The Web Has Created A Better Business Ecosystem Than Apple

Saturday, April 10th, 2010

I bought an iPad recently.

I have an iPhone.  I have a Mac.

And when I want to do interesting things on them, I am frequently left sad.

One of the amazing things about the Web was the rise of the ad-supported business model.  Almost everything out there is available for free and things that aren’t free feel cheap.

But more importantly, with the abundance of APIs, I feel like the expectation is that people pay for application logic, not for user interfaces.

Let me give you an example of this, specifically, the example that made me sad enough to write this post:

I use Remember The Milk for my to-do lists.  Remember the Milk is a free web site (no ads) and then for $25/year you get access to blackberry, android, iphone and other platforms.

When I made the move to Mac, I asked everyone “how do people keep to-do lists on the Mac?”  Everyone told me “Things”!  So I went and checked it out.  Things’ pricing model is not nearly as friendly: $49.95 for the mac version.  $19.99 for an iPad version.  $9.99 for the iPhone version.  I felt like I was getting nickeled and dimed.  Every place I want to access my data requires I pay.

These companies are basically the same size.  When I look on their web site, the maker of Things, Cultured Code has 9 people.  Remember The Milk has 6 people but 5 job openings.  Functionality is not dramatically different, which is no surprise given the similar size and state of the two businesses.

Why do you have to pay so much more for Cultured Code’s product?  I think the obvious answer is that web-based products have better scale attributes.  Remember The Milk can simply sign up more customers faster – they recently blogged that they had signed up more than 2 million customers.

This is true in a variety of markets.  Balsamiq has a bigger market opportunity than Omnigraffle, so they are pricing their product in a way that not only maximizes their market opportunity, but is a fraction of the price of Omnigraffle.  While Omnigraffle is better today (IMHO), I wouldn’t count on that lead being sustainable (Once again, IMHO).

The contrast becomes even more stark when you look at ad supported vehicles.  There is a lot of free stuff on the web.  Inside of Apple’s world, where they are training people to pay for everything, everything costs a lot of money.  Apple is rolling out iAds to try to address some of that inequity.