But What If It Fails?

(originally posted on the Lithium Lithosphere at http://lithosphere.lithium.com/t5/Social-Customers-Matter/But-What-If-It-Fails/ba-p/33725)

I recently attended the annual Forrester Consumer Forum in Chicago. And, in usual fashion, I came away with a new outlook on my digital creativity.  Oh, I wasn’t in a rut… well, maybe a little.  And, considering the oodles of free time on my hands between 8am to 10pm, I figured I needed a fix beyond more caffeine on what I could do next.

As I was halfway thru the first day, lessons of an older time began to surface out of every conference session—starting, in fact, with the very first keynote.  James McQuivey, Ph.D. ,  Vice President and Principal Analyst at Forrester, relayed a story about an idea he proposed at an internal research meeting.   An idea that others perceived might not be successful.   Yes, a potential failure.

McQuivey pushed to have an iPad application created.  That certainly wasn’t a new idea.  The entire research team wanted the application, as there’s a general feeling that Forrester clients want easier access to published research on mobile devices and tablets.  The issue was—it had to be more complete…the mobile app team wanted more time, more features, and they needed proper resources to get the app ready.  McQuivey argued, just “get an application out that shows you the last 10 papers you’ve downloaded” (“Yes!” I replied to myself).

But, “No”.  The push-back:  Holy cow…what if doesn’t work?  What if no one likes it?  Read = what if my project is a failure?  McQuivey’s key point was “don’t try to get it perfect, get it out there and learn”.

In today’s hyper-sensitive, time-intensive world, who the heck has time for less than perfect?  Some might even call your project a failure.  It’s not comforting to put ourselves in a position of losing responsibility or even our jobs due to lack of performance, particularly when it may be an external/customer-facing program.  However, it’s a fairly well-known fact that great wins have often come as a result of learning from early losses.

There have been numerous articles on this topic.  One of the most popular articles was in BusinessWeek a few years ago called “Fail Fast, Fail Cheap”, by Doug Hall.  Mr. Hall states, “I am not encouraging you to fail. Rather, I am stating the fundamental truth that you can’t know the answers before you start. It’s foolish to assume you know things that it’s not possible to know.”

We’re not talking about “Enron”-type failures.  Like positioning your entire company’s market value on non-existent assets.  I’m talking about taking that leap into a major initiative to figure out what will work and what won’t.  After all, the worst that will happen is that you’re marketing at the same rate as anyone else.  If I don’t try, you know you can’t get ahead, and you’re limiting your ability to innovate.

THE QR PILOT

At the Forum, Lithium also staffed a booth on the exhibit floor.  We knew that this event would produce a steady stream of great visitors, and it did.  But, along with our sponsorship of the event, we also had an insert included in attendee materials.  So, we came up with the idea of handing out one of our most popular tchotchkes – the “Nation Builder” t-shirts in our favorite pan-tones.

To promote the t-shirt give-away, we included a QR Code on the ad insert (sample in orange).  If you scan the QR Code, it initiates an email with a pre-populated, subject line – “Reserve My T-Shirt, I am a size <enter size>.”

Upon clicking send, the email would go to marketing@lithium.com, and we would be able to identify the exhibit hall visitor using their email address.  The technology worked great.  And, while it would be quite tough to call this a raging success (there were less than 1% of the attendees that scanned and sent us an email), I wouldn’t call it a failure either.  Since there were a few responders, we can now walk away with a clear data point on whether or not this “works” or is even remotely useful for the attendees.

Thus, for every new idea or campaign, we can learn that:

  1. Finding the right way may be by first seeing the wrong way.
  2. A small success can be turned into a big success.
  3. A limited failure may end some ridiculous, time-sucking conversation that’s taken place over the last six months which can finally be put to grave (i.e. you can state this in the meeting without hurting anyone’s feelings—we tried it, it sucked, let’s move on.)
  4. You can make good ground on a major initiative and save the company thousands by not biting off more than you can chew.

THE OPPORTUNITY

If you have that inkling to launch that mobile initiative, create a new conversation lounge for your premier customers, build that partner network, the blog, the iTunes app, the event, the knowledgebase, or the customer experience you’ve stared at, talked about, but haven’t lifted, let’s give it a whirl—with the right dosage and expediency.

Oh, and you could fail and be successful simultaneously, which will always be better than not trying at all.

Warm wishes for your 2012 planning session and new customer experience ideas.  I’m off to flag down my CMO and see if my new campaign will reap a “you’re nuts!” response.  Then, possibly, I’ll know I’m on the right track.

How to Describe This Business

When you get to just about any web site, you get a description.  Many sites don’t need a description.  They’re the site you know like eBay, Microsoft, Craigslist, or Amazon.   You know what those folks do.  But, when you start looking at software technology — it can be just about anything.  Tons and tons of software companies.  Public companies, tech start-ups, sole proprietors, and everything in between.  There are so many tech companies across so many sectors across so many continents. It’s just impossible to keep up with all of them.

That’s why I was real suprised when I heard about Versata.  I had actually heard about them, but not in this context.  My good friend Phil had sent a note over to take a look at their company description on the home page.  Here’s what it says:

Versata provides enterprise software solutions that deliver business results,
performance and scalability while dramatically reducing IT spending.
Versata’s patented solutions decrease IT expenditures by reducing hardware
and associated maintenance, leveraging open source technology, and
accelerating value delivery to business customers.

Huh?  Go ahead, read it again. 

Is it possible that it reads worse the second time than the first?   I really can’t describe where exactly it goes South, or maybe more importantly, what were they thinking.   I have no idea what they do.  But, regardless is anything that hard to describe.  Did they think that SEO ranking would be affected by it?  Did a consultant write it?

I’ve met marketers from this company, and believed was that they were good people.  Not sure they were involved in this messaging though.  So, what the heck happened?   Well, the best I can really do, is offer a few replacement suggestions.  Yea, sure these don’t describe the company like the existing piece that describes the company, but I can pretty much guarantee, people will get it or they will enjoy it.  So here goes:

  • We make great IT stuff, call us so we can sell you some
  • Yes, we have competitors, but ours is better
  • Come buy our IT wares, they’re grrreeeaaaaattt!!!!
  • There’s IT software, then there’s IT software
  • We can’t explain it, but trust us people like it
  • Don’t spend another dime until you’ve seen what we can do

Any of which is better than what I’m seeing on this site.  And, no doubt my suggestions are improper too. Perhaps you know the folks or executives at Versata?   Perhaps you know how you’d also like to improve the Versata home page?   At this point, almost anything would be an improvement.  But, I would just start with 1 sentence that explains (i.e. a description) of what you do.  At least people would know instead of scaring them away.

Poor Al, What Now?

Is it really poor Al?  Maybe I should say Rich Al, What Now?  After all, Al Davis, majority owner of Oakland Raiders is rich.  Rich with money, poor with progress.  Poor with understanding fans.  Poor with team management.  Poor with knowing what’s required to run an NFL team.  Poor with pulling together the right player personnel.  And, above all, poor with finding, placing, and keeping a coach in this modern NFL era.

Oh yea, sure, he was great Al at some point in Raiders history.  Over a 40 year period, form 1963 to 2002, the Raiders only had 7 losing seasons.  Won 3 SuperBowl titles.  Yup, the Raiders have one of the greatest histories in the NFL.  A whole story line of favorites:

  • Ken Stabler, Dave Casper, John Madden, Fred B., Cliff Branch, Lester Hayes, Mark van Eegan, Marcus Allen, Jim Plunkett, John Matusak, (enter your favorite here)

Now, take a moment to reminisce thru all the ups and downs of this growing laundry list of Raider coaches.  Particularly, the post Gruden years…

Head coach       Season(s) Record  Playoffs
Eddie Erdelatz     1960-61     6-10        0-0
Marty Feldman    1961-62     2-15        0-0
Red Conkright     1962           1-8          0-0
Al Davis                1963-65    23-16-3   0-0
John Rauch           1966-68    33-8-1     2-2
John Madden        1969-78   103-32-7  9-7
Tom Flores            1979-87   83-53       8-3
Mike Shanahan      1988-89   8-12        0-0
Art Shell                1989-94    54-38       2-3
Mike White           1995-96    15-17        0-0
Joe Bugel               1997          4-12         0-0
Jon Gruden           1998-01   38-26         2-2 
Bill Callahan        2002-03   15-17         2-1
Norv Turner         2004-05    9-23          0-0
Art Shell                2006         2-14          0-0
Lane Kiffin           2007-08    5-15          0-0
Tom Cable            2008          0-0            0-0

At what point, can Al stop blaming someone else for all the blunders that the Raiders have encountered.  Why is it that by the time these coaches leave, which means waiting until the inevitable event of getting canned by Al, there’s so much ill will between the head coach, his coaching staff, the players, the management, and with Al.  Every time.  It’s the same story.  Even 45 years ago, when he placed himself in the coaching spot, he generated a “write home and tell mama” 55% winning rate.  Compare that to Madden’s 73% winning rate, and you can quickly deduce why Madden is where he is.

At some point, you need to start to wonder.  Ok, forget it.  We’ve known for years.  We’ve stopped wondering.  It’s time for action.  Al Davis stinks.  The Oakland Raiders deserve better.  Raider Nation deserves better.  The City of Oakland desperately needs the Raiders and deserves better.  At 79 years old, do you really think Davis can handle this situation?

Let alone the knowledge that it takes to run an NFL team.  It’s a business.  And, businesses need leaders and structure.  It’s not just a head coach that makes a successful franchise.  Look at all the successful team that won championship or had great runs with winning records.  The winners have strength up and down the organization – from the front office management, the scouts, the coaching staff, the players, and great fan support.  It’s simply the worse kind of management that when something goes wrong for you to point fingers.  Who the hell hired Lane Kiffin anyway?  You’re not going to take any responsibility for putting someone in a position that they were not qualified to do.  And, poor Lane.  Probably a good guy, probably a good coach.  Now, he’s damaged goods.  Hopefully, Kiff will get a spot with an NFL or NCAA coaching staff where he can rebuild his career.  He’s only 33 or 34 years old, so plenty of good times in front of him.  Look at Coach Gruden.  He went on to great things in Tampa Bay — the team that Al traded his coach to.

So, a shout out to Al.  I always admired an owner who could were white sweats and sit in the press box on Sunday afternoons. But look at where things are now.  Give it up.  Sell already.  You don’t have the brains, the capability, or the knowledge of managing an NFL franchise in this era.  You’ll never get it.  You’ve made so many poor decisions (don’t get me started on Jeff Hostetler or Jeff George – oh man, stop me).  And, you’ll never know it, cause your way out of every situation is to blame everyone else but yourself.  Now, the Raiders are off to a new exploration for that dream coach.  How long until this one blows up?

Go U Raiders.  Take a hike Al.

Wa-Mu Boo-Boo

They’re fairly memorable ads.  Those Washington Mutual ones.  “Bank Another Way” they claimed.  They generally have a bank rep talking about why it’s so much better to be with Wa-Mu than “one of those other guys”, and a “what are you going to do about that Ed?”

To further demonstrate the extent of Wa-Mu’s ad network, I also enjoy this lovely sign on top of a SOMA (San Francisco) Building.  It’s placed for traffic heading West on Hwy 80 as you decent off the Bay Bridge into San Francisco.  This freeway section is one of the hairiest, tightest, crash-magnets in the Bay Area (Caltrans is completing a major Bay Bridge reconstruction and drivers are left with just being patient while the necessity proceeds) where the relief of finally coming off the bridge is met by a winding, swirl of “am I on the right road” syndrome.  Where everyone is just making damn sure you get thru safe, get off the freeway, or make the lane you need to continue in the desired direction.  If you can’t read it, the sign says “Online sign-ups.  Faster than a bike messenger with bad brakes.”  It’s very SF if you’ve seen those bike people whipping their way thru downtown, but only mildly funny.  And, I guarantee you 99.9% of those that blow thru that freeway roller coaster section, don’t even know that it’s there.  And, even if you see it, it’s so poorly positioned that you may not even be able to pick up the words.

Unfortunately, Wa-Mu’s problems were festering long before this obnoxious, poorly selected advertisement.  Additionally, the US is facing a financial crisis across those specializing in lending (Fannie Mae & Freddie Mac bailouts), Wall Street investment banks – MerrillLynch, Lehman, and regular banks all-around. But, I’m picking on Wa-Mu for the one reason…they’ve spent millions in marketing dollars articulating a marketing message that they are different.  Better than a bank, more service-oriented that a bank.  And why, it gives the perception of longevity, someone that will be there in good times and bad.  Someone that knows how to run a bank.  But, is it real?  What’s going to happen?

The Wa-Mu stock is reaching junk bond status having gone from $42.95/share to closing at $3.20 today in just 24 months.  It has gone as low as $2.01.  Kerry Killinger, who in 2001 was named American Banker of the Year, was ousted as CEO this year and replaced by Rick Wagoner.  In 2005, Kerry earned over $15M, and from 2001-2006 earned in excess of $63M.  In the first half of 2008, Wa-Mu reported losses of over $4.4Billion.  This is just pure shameful of epic proportions.  And, is it really the fault of home-owners for getting mortgages they can’t afford, or the bank’s fault for administrating a loan they knew damn-well the home buyer wouldn’t be able to afford?

But, the real irony here is that they are being auctioned off by GoldmanSachs and likely will be purchased by the very bank that mimicked as if it was a disgraceful waste.  Now, look at themselves.  I bet they’re 1,000s of investors and 10 of 1,000s of customers, who are biting fingernails in anticipation of being bought by a bank that knows how to operate.  Rumored buy-outs include Toronto Dominion Bank, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, HSBC, JP Morgan Chase, and Grupo Santanger.

Wa-Mu will likely be saved by one of their nemeses and a few years from now, after all the re-branding of their banks, loans, and credit cards and check books, it will all be forgotten.   We might start thinking about MerrillLynch’s famously branded slogan — “a breed apart”.  Yup, a breed apart from those who actually know how to profitably & legally operate a large financial institution.  Woo-hoo!

Bill Gates Has Heart Attack While Watching His New TV Commercials

There sure was a lot of talk about the new ad campaign featuring Bill Gates and Jerry Seinfeld.  It was supposed to be hilarious.  It wasn’t.  They are complete duds.  There’s not a chance anyone, and certainly not even Bill Gates, would have a heart rate issue watching these ads, ’cause they’re really boring.  Sleep inducing.  About the only thing you might be having trouble with is keeping your hand from scratching your head as you try to reconcile what Bill, Jerry, Microsoft and some ad agency were thinking.  The only good part of these ads for Microsoft is that everyone is talking about how crappy they are, so at least they can attribute the marketing spend to “share of voice”. 

It’s been rumored that Microsoft will spend $300Million on this campaign with a new ad firm Crispin Porter & Bugusky.  And, Seinfeld is getting a cool $10M for his spot.  Now, there’s some heart valve clogging material for you.

In case you’ve been a little out of touch with seeing any good TV ads, Microsoft is seriously losing a branding popularity battle with Apple – even though the Apple ads only refer to “PC”.  It could be Intel, HP, Dell, or Microsoft they’re actually talking about, but everyone knows it’s an on-going jab at Microsoft.  And, Microsoft thought, “let’s just take our top visionary and a ton of money, and we’ll beat those Applewholigans”.

So, enter Jerry Seinfeld.  The head comic, writer & producer of one the most successful TV sitcoms (at least in my generation).   You know we’ll be watching Seinfeld re-runs til eternity, about as long as M*A*S*H and the Brady Brunch.   We know Jerry for his comedy, his writing, his unbelievable wealth.  Why on earth risk your reputation with the fuddy-duddies of Redmond?  It couldn’t have been for the pay-day.  Did Jerry have some sick debt to Gates with no chance of retribution?  And, we’re subject to the aftermath?

It’s completely beyond comprehension why a man of Bill’s stature needs to be involved with such a terrible spot on TV.  Is this his last gasp to inject positive vibes into the Microsoft brand?  Did he really buy off on this?  Please don’t tell me it was actually his idea (read = you better do what Bill says).   You’re talking about a person that’s done hundreds, if not thousands, of appearances.  Mostly all very serious and thought provoking, and I’m sure he’s left a few scripted chuckles along the way.  But, other than having a great, geeky smile, he’s not someone we rely on to hit the funny bone.  Surely, if you were able to play a roaring practical joke on him, it would be outrageously funny, but unlikely anyone would sign up for that.   Love him or hate him, Bill certainly can never be replicated, duplicated, or in any way replaced, but doesn’t mean we need to see him do the robot or shake his booty on TV.

In a web2.0 world, where Ray-Ban, Nike, and Levis are kicking butt with viral videos and ads using a combination of YouTube, print ad, and TV, why is Microsoft simply left in the dust?   Because in the web2.0 world, it’s not about outspending.  It’s about outmaneuvering, creativity, and novelty.  With all the money in the world – literally – it’s truly amazing Microsoft could compile such a horrible attempt. 

Microsoft would have been better off paying a bunch of college grads $2Million to come up with whacked content and rough-cut video, and the result would be better viral branding and positive messaging than the waste they put on TV, and now subject to during national sporting events.

Why Obama Didn’t Pick Hilary as Running Mate

I remember distinctly mentioning to my dear wife about 13 weeks ago.  It was one of those conversations with my spouse I actually admit to remembering.  It was June 7, 2008.  Hilary finally conceded the Democratic nomination to Obama.  And, as I watched the tube, I blurted, “If Obama picks Hilary as VP, he’ll win in a landslide.  It wouldn’t matter what the Republicans do from here”. 

But someone, something got into Barack’s head, and he chose Biden.  And for a full-week (the week of 4-day long Democratic National Convention not to be confused with the DNC – see earlier post), Biden seemed like a good choice.  A good choice until Sarah was introduced.

Now, I’m not one to speculate.  I only like to make decisions based on facts.  On metrics.  Justifiable Ones.  But I just cannot get over what to think if Obama had picked Hilary.  So, I present to you…

Top 10 Reasons Why Obama Didn’t Pick Clinton as Demo Running Mate:

10.    Would you want to go on the road for 60 days with Hilary?
9.      Would you want to go on the road for 60 days with Hilary AND Bill?
8.      Barack asked her to swap out for another color pant suit (i.e. other than light blue) for casual Friday and Hilary gave him the silent treatment.
7.      Something about Chelsea refusing to sit next to Barack on the bus.
6.      Would you want to spend 60 days on the road with Joe Biden?  Oops, wrong blog post.
5.      Demo party leaders convinced that conservative McCain would never choose an unknown woman for an executive position and disrupt everything.  Not in a million years.
4.      Hilary reminds us too much of Carly Fiorina, a republican (Carly’s pic at right).
3.      Hilary didn’t actually seek the VP role.  Yea right.
2.      Barack was worried that Hilary would drive his campaign into deep debt like hers.

And, the #1 reason why Obama didn’t pick Hilary as his running mate:
1.      Ran out of lipstick.

It’s a major “what-if” to think that if Barack did this.  The campaign talk right now would be completely different.   The talk would be Clinton vs. Palin and Obama vs. McCain.  With about 53 days to go, current victors are the Republicans by causing a major disruption to almost every strategy and tactic (strategery, thank you Mr. Bush) that the Obama campaign spent months putting together.

The Obama/Clinton tickets would be less of a war of words and more a war of experience.  But, that ain’t the case, and for now, Obamaites need to go back to the drawing board.  Digging up dirt and slinging it at Palin seems to be the only tactic right now, and seems ineffective at changing the interests of voters.  Unfortunately, people like Palin, and like her more than they like McCain.  Hilary is on the sidelines, waiting desperately for her cabinet position.  And, Obama can’t reverse his decision, and likely his VP choice won’t affect the eventual decision in favor of Obama.

Where is Joe Biden anyway?  Has anyone heard from him?   I heard he plans to be “Casper the Friendly Ghost” for Halloween.

The So-What Reunion

Don’t know how I ended up on an “NFL After the Game”, sports wrap-up show on NBC.  I thought I had read something about this back in June/July.  But now reality settling in, there I was seeing Dan Patrick and Keith Olbermann, being introduced by the must-be-in-the mix Bob Costas and just one thought came quickly, “oh, Lord.  They didn’t”.  Some sports production exec (Dick Ebersol?) thought that paying a ton a money to re-unite this pair that was popular, original, and damn funny 12 years ago as the “Big Show” would now be a fantastic idea.

After about 30 seconds into their sports news anchorship, a few revelations started to unfold for me:

  1. Why do you need a host for a sports-wrap up show?
  2. Why do you need Bob Costas to host the show?
  3. When in doubt, refer to #1.

Then, a couple more words by Keith Olberman and a few more revelations:

  1. These guys were a lot funnier when they had ESPN story writers, and no production script.
  2. I must have something better to do at this point on Sunday…where did I put the nail clippers?
  3. Aren’t most people so drunk by 4pm (or 7pm eastern) on opening Sunday football day that a show with some babe that knew nothing about football, but wore a bikini standing in front of beach photo, reading verbatim from a tele-prompter would be 1,000 times more popular.
  4. Did I remember to buy carrots at the store? 

I could just hear Dan’s agent talking in the background.  “Dan, quit everything, this will be huge.  You’ll be popular and make more money than ever”.  Nevermind that Dan Patrick’s most recent radio show had been dropping in the ratings.  He also had been writting a column for ESPN The Mag, and he wrote a column for Sports Illustrated, and occasionally humorous.  But, other than that, it’s been a long time since the glory days of the “Big Show” despite being at ESPN for a seemingly quick 18 years.

Olbermann, on other hand, took a much more unpredictable predicament.  Leaving ESPN for a consumerish, political, uncategorizable news job that lacked the punch of his sportscasting days.  Most recent stints includes the Countdown with Keith and co-hosting on Dan Patrick’s syndicated radio show.  The same one with the falling rankings.  It seemed so weird for Keith to go from the overwhelming popularity on ESPN to the rocky water of general news & politics.  Perhaps he was bored.  Which has now translated to boring.  He was unable to find that edge that Kenny Mayne is now cutting into.

This is the last gasp of desparation for these 2 to work together, led by Dick E. having way too many at the ESPNZone Manhattan one night.  (Probably in celebration that the Olympics were starting soon and NBC was going to be on top of the sports world soon). Somewhere, somebody in the NBC exec neighborhood is so wrapped into their circle of relationships, their lack of creative power leads everyone else to think “where’s the remote”.  To think that I would tune in after already seeing every major highlight of the day during the commercial breaks and in-between huddles of every play in the afternoon game.  This is the worst time slot on gameday Sunday.  Ya know, the time slot where you take a shower, put some fresh clothes on, and check the fridge to see if you have a cold one ready for the Sunday nite game.

Here’s a thought.  Why doesn’t NBC pick 5 homes, apartments, condos, bars, or a parking lot tailgate gathering every week.  At the conclusion of the football games, have a satellite feed and let the real fans do the talking.  Let them talk about their day, their failed last minute line-up changes, their side bets, their nacho recipes.  This would create a social movement around football that would as great as…well, perhaps as great as online fantasy football.  Pick a group of college kids, mid-aged folks, the senior center, the Y, the local bar, whatever and just get people talking. 

You could even have an in-studio anchor run the questions.  Er, just not Bob Costas.