The pace of technology – is it too fast for you?

In thinking about the theme of my next newsletter, I got to thinking about the pace at which technology grows. Why do we get higher versions of any software? So many were happy with Windows 98. On it goes, Windows ME, Windows 2000 and now Windows XP. Then I noticed a recent article that was a great illustration of my thought. Apparently Microsoft is unhappy about the rate of corporate acceptance of Windows XP. Well surprise, surprise!

Of course, in an excellent book, “The Customer-Centered Enterprise, How IBM and Other World-class Companies Achieve Extraordinary Results by Putting Customers First”, Microsoft was rated at the Product-Driven end of the scale rather than the Customer-Centric end of the scale. Isn’t that just the truth? Microsoft is a company that is driven by the capabilities of the technology? .. and if you’re employed by Microsoft, spend most of your time with people employed by Microsoft, eat, drink, breathe Microsoft, it’s tough to not be product-driven. Customer-centric is really tough. How can you get into the mindset of a customer? What do customers really want?

It’s not just Microsoft. Just think how often you have some device that works perfectly fine and it’s upgraded. The upgrade features are minimal but in the best case, one or two are nice to have. So upgrade follows upgrade. Then they stop supporting the older versions so you have to upgrade. You may think it’s all a clever marketing plot to get more money out of you. However in a Permission Marketing world that’s somewhat dumb. If you irritate the customers, you leave the door open for some competitor to sneak in.

My own guess is that many companies aren’t really manipulative. They’re so product driven that they go at the pace that technology allows, not at the pace that customers are looking for new benefits. If only they were more customer-centric,then they would undoubtedly have better product development and more profitable sales growth.

IMC 2004 – Footnote – the most memorable quotation

One of the most memorable items for me from IMC 2004 will be a quotation. There are very few quotations that will pass the test of time. Some seem good at the time but are forgotten. One for me that is never far from my thoughts is one by Peter Drucker. “Help is defined by the recipient.” That’s about 50 years old but I still find situations where it is very appropriate.

I heard a quotation for the very first time at IMC 2004 and it struck me as a phrase that will persist. Christine Perfetti, User Interface Engineering, mentioned it in her session. I believe it’s Jared Spool of UIE who coined it. “The Back Button Is The Button Of Death”. Several members of the audience immediately showed this was a phrase they knew well. For me, it was a revelation.

Just 8 words but what a message is conveyed. “The Back Button Is The Button Of Death”. Yet it’s something that anybody with a slight familiarity with computers may well not even think about. You are exploring a website and suddenly you end up on a web page that is not where you wish to be. So you right click your mouse to find the Back option or click on the Back Arrow at the top of the screen. You hardly think about it. For you it was at most a minor irritation. For a computer newby, it could indeed be the Button of Death.

Navigating a website should be natural. A clear path should be visible and apparent. Asking visitors to use the Back button is an admission of defeat: there is always an easier way.

Well yes and no. What about PDF files? If a site has a link to a PDF file, then this may be a path where the Back Button is the only way back. Usually it can be a real challenge to find the best way to do this. With the philosophy that the Back Button is the Button of Death, clearly PDF files in websites must be avoided.

Given the speed of change in this Internet world, it is highly unlikely that in 50 years, Jared Spool’s quotation will still be valid. However it is certainly a quotation that I will be using often in the next few years.

IMC 2004 – Mitch Joel's Pizza Test for Websites

Mitch Joel of TwistImage, Montreal, was one of the many exciting speakers at IMC 2004. However we learned of his pizza test for websites in a workshop on Usability that he was cohosting. He was encouraging the audience to get real people to check out a company’s website. Offer them a piece of pizza to encourage them to take part and then watch how they interact with the website, he suggested.

Sounds like a plan, eh! However it really sparked a whole series of related thoughts in my mind. Usually in market research studies, it is regarded as questionable practice to offer inducements for people to take part since this may influence their reactions. My mind wandered on to muse about websites that would perhaps exude attractive smells to keep people’s interest. In turn, this lead me to think about the degree of commitment that a website visitor might have in the website. Should this in some way have a bearing on how we do Usability tests of websites?

If someone is keenly interested in the subject of a website, then they may be willing to work harder to search out information they are looking for. If someone is rapidly surfing a number of websites, then different Usability criteria may apply. So who should you have in mind as you think through the Usability issues around a website? Should it be the highly committed individual who will work hard to find information? Or should it be the low commitment individual who will click to another website if it is proving difficult to find what they are looking for?

How can you try to understand how that low commitment individual might surf? One intriguing toy was the Google Slide Viewer . This would take you through a slide-show of the websites for any keyword phrase. You could set the speed of the slide show and it really was very instructive. However, although the introductory page is still there, the Slide Viewer has not been operative for a number of weeks. If it does return, you may find the results instructive in suggesting how a low-commitment individual might surf.

Even without that demo, we can still try to grapple with this issue. It is quite clear that if someone is keenly interested in the website then they should have zero difficulty in finding the information they want. That is a minimum requirement for Usability of a website.

However suppose initially someone has low commitment to your website. They are equally interested in your website or perhaps one of the competitive websites. If that person does happen to land on any web page of the website, ideally you want to keep them on the website and help them move towards the moment of decision. Even though they start off with a low commitment to the website, the information they receive may turn them into visitors of high interest. Such a person clearly is the biggest challenge as the target audience for any website. Nevertheless it is the right person to have in mind as the key individual for whom the website is designed. If the website works for them, then it will usually work even more effectively for anyone with a high commitment to the website.

Related: Bell Canada Website Usability

IMC 2004 – A website is a website is a website.

Helicoptering the IMC 2004, one impression that hit me was the different perspectives of the speakers and the majority of the audience members. The speakers are accustomed to dealing with websites of 1000’s of pages. Many members of the audience were business owners dealing with websites with less than 50 pages.

Any website is complex and different people will see different aspects as being important. It’s almost like those 6 blind men touching different parts of the elephant and trying to describe what they’re feeling. (It’s a tree trunk. It’s a wall. It’s a hose. etc.) My mental picture of this assembly is of 12 blind men. 6 of them are around a huge African elephant and trying to explain to the others what they perceive. The other 6 are grouped around a sleek antelope and trying to explain what they perceive. Clearly the confusion may be even greater than if a website was always the same entity.

A natural question then becomes, “What can either group of 6 blind men learn from the other group?” To use a technical term, what are the scaleable features that apply to both. Scaleable is defined as follows, “A scaleable system is capable of growing through additions of modular increments, without necessitating major modification to the original system.”

My own view is that one of the most important scaleable features is one that the antelope group will more easily recognize than the elephant group. This was illustrated by a fascinating question and response that was raised about an IBM website.

The most scaleable feature for me is created by something that is both a strength and a weakness of the Internet. This is the hyperlink. It is so easy to create another web page and give a hyperlink to that web page from your starting web page. Not surprisingly, if a website is being constructed by a committee the easiest resolution of a conflict is to add more hyperlinks so that everyone is somewhat satisfied.

The discussion at one Search Engine Optimization session at the IMC 2004 got on to why IBM has a problem getting good SE rankings for some of its desired keywords. You can illustrate this by a search for – notebook computers. I’ve just done a Google search and the first IBM page that comes up for Thinkpad is #75. An IBM representative acknowledged they had a problem in coordinating the efforts of different work groups working on different web pages. They had realized this and were now working on methods to overcome this problem.

So what is the most scaleable feature? My vote goes for, “Focus, focus, focus”. What is the competitive advantage you’re offering to your potential customer in your target niche? The antelope group relates to this almost instinctively. The elephant group may only see it when they run into problems caused by their lack of focus.

IMC 2004 – Customer-centric is not just being Customer-focused

Customer-centric and 1-to-1 marketing are becoming the preferred descriptions for websites that are designed for today’s market place. Both terms were widely used in different sessions throughout the 3 days of IMC 2004. However as I tried to get that “helicopter vision” of what the phrase Customer-centric really means to this crowd, I see it isn’t what I mean.

Customer-centric is now often used to mean a rifle-shot approach to contact customers rather than the shotgun approach of traditional marketing. The phrase Customer-focused could work equally well for most marketers. However Customer-centric means something radically different from Customer-focused.

It’s a question of perspective. First you’ve got to realize that no two people ever see things the same. That’s true even if they’re sitting at the same side of the table. When you come to a seller and a buyer, they’re on completely opposite sides of the table. Customer-centric means trying to somehow put yourself “inside the skin” of the customer and see the situation from that perspective.

Adopting a customer-centric viewpoint is almost impossible for someone in a marketing department. They live within the company culture, and receive many communications of all types from the company to solidify their company-centric view. The potential customer has had all sorts of different impressions derived from competitors, news media, government agencies and yes, a few from the company.

Some of these impressions of the company may have been received in unexpected ways. Perhaps the customer tried to telephone the company and suffered the typical frustrations that so many companies create. Perhaps a neighbour had a bad experience with the company and is broadcasting this to everyone they know. Perhaps it’s something very much simpler. It’s now a Permission Marketing world and the customer expects to be in control. Those intrusive pop-ups on the company’s website may have a very negative impact on some customers.

For a marketing plan to be truly customer-centric, you really must try to get that perspective that a customer has. It may take an outsider to be able to play back to the company how a customer may really be seeing the company. That outside perspective on the company is the only true version of the customer-centric view of what the company is offering.

… and now for something completely different.

This week, a most amazing coincidence occurred. My brother, John Welford, in Edinburgh has worked on a Map for Brainware and he let me know that he was thinking of launching it with the name, BWMap. That stands for BrainWare Map. It is a resource used in Creative Learning and other related processes. This blog started off with the name, BWrap, so if it had still borne that name, just imagine the confusion.

I did a little Google work and suggested that BWMap was already used somewhat. Better by far to try to find a unique name. So the BrainWareMap was born. So here’s a Creative Learning resource, if you’re into that kind of thing.

Helicopter Vision on IMC 2004

IMC 2004 ran for three days last week here in Montreal. It was a valuable experience with thought-provoking speakers and a knowledgeable international audience. Sometimes such an event can trigger “new thoughts” in your mind. It certainly did for me. In some cases, these thoughts arise by applying “Helicopter Vision”.

“Helicopter Vision” is a term that I always heard was coined in Shell Oil many years back. It describes the ability to view from on high some situation and see in sharp outline the right “big picture”. From IMC 2004, there were three “thoughts” that came to me like that, which I will describe in upcoming items. The 4th item I will add thereafter is just a striking phrase that one speaker said that got me thinking.

Helicopter Vision is a very useful skill. An analogy I use for the same thing is the way an eagle flies high with extremely keen vision to spot what is really going on at ground level. It’s all part of better thinking processes. Those interested can read more in one of my papers on How To Think Better.

7th International Internet Marketing Conference – Montreal – Final Day Report

The IMC 2004 concluded today and from a straw poll of some of the participants they found it a most practical conference with excellent speakers. It was just the right size for great networking opportunities with an interesting group of international Internet marketers. OK it slipped a little on time-keeping but sometimes that was because an audience wouldn’t let a speaker go! That was made even more difficult by a format where often there were 3 sessions running in parallel. Today again covered the full array of issues associated with Internet marketing. Indeed some related to strategic issues that might have been better on the first day, since they must be tackled first for maximum effectiveness.

Two fine presentations from Mitch Joel, TwistImage, and Rupert Ravens, Nices.com, brought out in very different ways the need for a strong core identity that outshines the competition and meets the needs of clients. Another thought provoking talk was given by Jonathan Cohen, Shapiro Cohen, who is a Board Director of ICANN. He alerted the audience to the potential traps in the area of Domain Names and Trademarks, particularly in international markets. Other topics covered were Usability, Competing in Local and Global markets, Promotional Contests, Competitive Intelligence, and Hiring Vendors/Winning the Job. There were a number of innovative ideas today, perhaps the most intriguing being Pay-per-Call. This is a new service now being offered by FindWhat.com, which Rick Szatkowski described.

Congratulations on this well received Conference must go to Lennart Svanberg, who assembled this group of fine speakers, and to Robert Swick.

7th International Internet Marketing Conference – Montreal – Day 2 Report

The upbeat message on the potential of Internet marketing continued apace today. Craig Snyder, Marchex, in his Keynote Session, confirmed the trends with some striking US Dept. of Commerce Data. This showed that E-commerce has more than tripled over the last 4 years to reach 17 billion $ US in the 4th Quarter 2003. Surprisingly Internet advertising peaked in 2000 at 6.5 billion $ US then dropped and is only slowly returning above 6 billion $ US. Search advertising did not see this fallback and has seen spectacular growth to perhaps close to a 50% share of this total.

Luckily despite this pleasing reality, the Conference did not immediately morph into a simple Search Engine Marketing (SEM) Conference at this point. It continued to explore the wider theme of what I continue to call Holistic Marketing.

This is not to say that there weren’t good sessions on Search Engine Optimization and Marketing. However the two best presentations in my opinion both dealt with Integrated Marketing Strategies. Sheila Mooney, Nurun, showed 6 fine examples of how interactivity through new and traditional channels is creating success and profitability. Gay Gaddis, T3, talked most entertainingly about Developing Strategic Integrated Marketing Campaigns. The success of both groups with their blue-chip clients shows the success of this approach.

The final day program tomorrow continues with this same wide-ranging approach.

Footnote
Gay Gaddis is a delight to listen to and pointed out the difficulties of Integration. She play-acted the exchange between an old-style traditional adman and the young IT geek as they tried to relate. I often think about that product-driven / customer-centric scale in that IBM book on Customer-centered Enterprises. Integration sounds as though it’s at the left-hand product-driven end of the scale. Holistic marketing, which deals with the same issues, is approaching this from the right-hand customer-centric end of the scale.

7th International Internet Marketing Conference – Montreal – Day 1 Report

The 7th International Internet Marketing Conference opened today in Montreal. It attracted more than any previous IMC Conference with 175 speakers and attendees from around the world. It takes a more, what I would call, holistic approach than many other conferences with “Search Engine” in their titles and is all the better for it. It’s not just for the Internet professionals, well represented here, but particularly caters to the needs of senior managers and executives who need to win Online.

More details on some of today’s fine speakers are given below. However a few key impressions are worth recording up-front.

1. There was a widely shared optimism (or perhaps realism) about the enormous returns that most companies can achieve by having a strong online (Internet) core to their marketing.
2. Some regretted that as more companies become aware of this potential, the costs of effective online marketing will rise.
3. Despite this, the return-on-investment (ROI) for online marketing will still make this the most worthwhile investment by far of all marketing dollars.
4. One problem is that online marketing has grown so fast that some of the traditional marketing services such as advertising agencies or direct marketing groups find it a major challenge to understand and effectively integrate the Internet into their marketing plans.

Without exception, the speakers were excellent and gave a great deal of practical, expert information drawn from outstanding success stories. The following personal notes outline some of the topics:
Geoffrey Ramsey, eMarketer – a great start to the Conference, highlighting the huge potential of online marketing;
Christine Perfetti, User Interface Engineering – a very insightful presentation based on many examples of real websites that seemed to be obstacle courses for visitors seeking information.
Barbara Coll, SEMPO – a fast-paced account of SEM (Search Engine Marketing) and the rapidly growing share it will be taking of marketing budgets.
Ashkan Karbasfrooshan, AskMen.com – a fascinating success story of the most successful online men’s magazine and the lessons to be learned from its growth.
Brian Bakstran, Concord Communications – on “Quality Sales Leads”, mapped out how online marketing must be embedded within a total selling process.

Closing the day, a lively panel session ranged over a number of activities involved in a holistic online marketing plan. This included the involvement of other channels, such as direct mail and radio. The questions from the audience kept this at a very practical level.

In all, a great start to the Conference.