“Under promise, over deliver” is advice in business that reflects an understanding that marketing alone cannot bring success. Yet despite this common knowledge, a brief tour through the Internet reveals mountains of poor marketing decisions. In this second part of a series on overselling, we look at how technical failure can lead to poor marketing results. See part one here.
“Under promise, over deliver” is advice in business that reflects an understanding that marketing alone cannot bring success. Yet despite this common knowledge, a brief tour through the Internet reveals mountains of poor marketing decisions. In this first part of a series on overselling, we look at how ignorance plays a part in poor marketing.
It has been a week since the New Year and if you are like most of us, you’ve already begun to stumble with your resolutions. Maybe it took longer to get to the gym or you decided to skip a leg day (don’t skip leg day). Or perhaps you’ve once again shelved your spiffy side project as soon as you were reminded to the reason why you still hadn’t finished it. And is any of this really a surprise? Let’s be honest, even if we kept the New Year momentum going year-round, it is only a slight defense against arch-nemesis procrastination.
Your gym is packed, inspirational status updates proliferate Facebook, and more than one acquaintance has dug out a pet project that has become the subject of every conversation. You recognize the symptoms: It’s the New Year.
A lot of businesses look at problems as one-dimensional. They see a pile of potential issues and have no choice but to turn down a client because the work is seemingly beyond their scope. This is a mistake. Never turn down work without making a counteroffer — unless not working is your goal.
There are a lot of reasons why you would turn down a job. Perhaps your potential client is working with a budget far below your pay rate or perhaps the scope of work is beyond what an individual can accomplish.
Previously, I described a client who came to me with academic work and how the ethical standards I follow led me to turn down the job. Over the last few years, I’ve developed a method of turning down work in ways that open up the potential for renewed interest.
Unfortunately because this is for academic credit I cannot provide any help beyond edits. I understand this is a very difficult task for you, but I know you are capable of doing it — after all you were accepted into the program.
My suggestion to you is this:
- Analyze your assignment, figure out what it is that you have to do.
- Write a list of keywords that are related to your field and what you may want to write about. Create your idea. It can be far-fetch, it can be strange — but no matter what your idea is, it won’t be bad.
- Search each term on Wikipedia — the content on the site itself is no use to you, but the links to the original sources at the bottom of the page are.
- Scan through the sources and find ones that are most relevant and easy to understand. Things published the last few years are great.
- Once you have your sources, connect what they have to say with your idea. Now write.
Writing is simply thinking and putting together thoughts. It will be difficult, it will take effort, but you can do it. I will do everything I can to perfect what you write, but you have to do the writing. They have to be your thoughts and your ideas.
No matter what you write, no matter how strange your ideas, they will be 1,000 times better than rewriting another paper. You’ll get the same or even a better score; you’ll have learned something; and you won’t risk your academic career.
Take the high road, sacrifice a few days for this project. I’ll be here to help every step of the way.
Picture this: It’s Saturday afternoon, you just woke up and don’t feel like dressing up to go shopping for food. But you need to eat and your waistline compels you not to order takeout again. So this time, you hop on the computer, navigate to Wal-Mart, and start shopping. Now, online shopping is not something new; stores like Safeway have had it for years with scheduled delivery service. The difference, in this case, is the response time. Your deliveryman isn’t a Wal-Mart employee, but rather your next-door crowdsourcing neighbor who happens to be an early bird who is browsing through Wal-Mart just as your order comes in. As an added bonus, you go ahead and throw in the fourth season of Breaking Bad Blu-Ray set for a marathon weekend.
Last year I wrote about my disappointment with Wal-Mart’s approach to dealing with a competitor. Rather than focus on finding ways to outmaneuver Amazon, Wal-Mart decided to stop selling the Kindle in its stores. I argued that Wal-Mart would have been better served by using the profit from selling Kindles to fund changes in its business model to better compete. Recently, Reuters broke a story describing Wal-Mart’s interesting approach to try and one-up the online behemoth.
Wal-Mart has millions of customers visiting its stores each week. Some of these shoppers could tell the retailer where they live and sign up to drop off packages for online customers who live on their route back home, [Joel Anderson, chief executive of Walmart.com in the United States] explained.
Crowdsourcing delivery services? I think Wal-Mart has found its anti-Amazon strategy. Let’s break it down.
- Even if there is just a small incentive, there will be people lining up to participate. With just 1% participation, Wal-Mart would be able to support an average of 33 to 67 deliveries per day at each store (assuming each participant is willing to deliver between one and two orders per trip).
- Each additional percent in sales translates to an another $4 billion in revenue each year for Wal-Mart.
- Wal-Mart can run online delivery specials as additional inventory management strategies for phased-out items or perishables to improve profit margins by mitigating losses.
- People are basically honest, especially when personal identity is revealed and thrown into the vetting procedure. This means incidents of theft should be relatively low.
- Amazon reported a $39 million loss last year. A surge in R&D spending is a contributing factor, but it shows Amazon’s position as being quite fragile. Even small changes in areas like delivery costs and tax regulations have the potential to cause it trouble. On the other hand, Wal-Mart has shown financial resiliency during Amazon’s rapid growth period. This means that Wal-Mart isn’t being rushed into making this service work; Wal-Mart has time to incubate the program while perfecting it over time.
If Wal-Mart can build a better user interface to improve the online shopping experience for its stores and entice shoppers to participate in its home delivery service, then the store is poised to reclaim shoppers who may have favored online options. And with the potential of same-day deliveries at little to no additional cost, Wal-Mart could even see gains. Of course, this delivery system is still in the development stage so there’s a chance everything works much differently than described in the Reuters article.
At any rate, the concept makes for an excellent brainstorming project to show off the power of crowdsourcing in solving problems. Next, I’d like to look for other ways that Amazon can leverage crowdsourcing to its own advantage (since they’ve already started with the book lending program).
Yesterday one of my favorite websites on the Internet announced they were shutting down. To me, losing GameSpy is tantamount to hearing that the Tombs or a favorite theme park would be closing. These are places—virtual and physical—where I spent a significant amount of time feeling a part of something. Restructuring is painful and though I think it is a business necessity that should be embraced more often, I cannot help but feel bitterness when it happens to people or companies that I know. But there’s a lesson to be learned here and that’s one of effective communication, even to the end.
For most businesses the end comes unceremoniously—and as T. S. Eliot once said about the world in some distant future— with a whimper. You’d be on your way to a favorite hangout place when you spot the boarded up windows and a hastily written sign on the door, before finally noticing the cold stillness in the air. A trip to a dead website is not dissimilar. Your arrival is met with a barren skeleton of a page, a list of links pointing you everywhere but where you wanted to be—the telltale sign of a domain snuffed of life.
GameSpy.com will eventually share that fate, but for now its staff continue to do what they’ve done so well for the last few years: creating a robust community through effective communication. Their farewell letter reads like one that would be sent out by freedom fighters who recognize their defeat, but who want their supporters to know the cause was just.
…we’re not being shut down because PC gaming isn’t a big, important, and growing thing — because it is… We’ll still be out there talking and writing about the great things happening in the world of PC gaming, both at IGN and other places around the internet, because it’s what we love to do. It’s why we wanted to work at GameSpy in the first place. We hope you’ll keep reading and watching and talking about PC games with us.
Effective communication is about preserving a thought. Not too long ago, GameSpy refocused its mission to cover the PC gaming scene. At the time, PC gaming was mocked and repeatedly labeled as a dying platform. Fast-forward to today and we see a whole new side of PC gaming: from indie developers finding clout on Kickstarter to passionate modders who can completely transform an average game experience into something truly special. GameSpy did not bring PC gaming to life; they simply showed us that there was never any doubt of it going away to begin with.
GameSpy may no longer exist, but they convinced at least one person that PC gaming is here to stay. And judging by the community response to their letter, I think its safe to say I won’t be the only one.
When it comes to happy thoughts, perspective is everything.
Rain, Rain, Go Away…
For many people, rain is a sad, dreary experience. But not for me. I love the rain, it reminds me of Florida where I grew up looking forward to hurricane season and the chance of school being canceled. And where mid-summer night thunderstorms rocked me to sleep and lit the night sky so every now and then I could see the lake in the backyard rippling with new, invigorated life borrowed from each falling drop of rain. So nothing but happy thoughts.
Back then it was easy to hold onto that perspective. I was an only child, so my dog was the only other person I had to convince to believe thunder and lightening were not so bad. I never convinced him, but he also never tried convincing me otherwise (except by huddling in extra close when it thundered). People are not as considerate.
When I got to college my living situation changed dramatically. Where before I lived practically alone, I was now surrounded by people with vocal convictions and opinions. My happy thoughts immediately bestowed me the label of an optimist and it seemed like every person I met saw rain as a dreadful fact of life — a horrid side effect right up there with flu, trips to the dentist, and having your ears pop when you reach altitude.
For one year I resisted their influence. I continued living as I had always lived, a secluded monk-like guy who listened to strange music, liked to talk about the prospects of immortality, and couldn’t be bothered to check or wear what was still fashionable during the last decade. Eventually, however, I cracked.
A lot of the changes were for the better. I became less secluded and started going out more often. I refined my outlook and became open to new music, a bit of style, and even took a deeper look into spirituality and alternatives to religion. In this aspect, I found my enjoyment in life go up and I looked forward to even greater change. But not all change is good.
Because I was changing into something I was not, and because the transformation is rarely ever instantaneous, during my second and third year in college I was in an awkward limbo where I was stuck in between identities. I saw myself in the mirror and was not happy with the person who looked back.
There was emptiness in my eyes, as if the joy of life had been sucked out. The smile that I once wore proudly seemed an illusion. Ironically, it was late at night (and often when under the influence) when I noticed my transformation the most. It was as if I was yanked out of my body and held up on display for my own amusement. Stretch out, I saw myself for what I had become: someone who had given up who he was in pursuit of something he never wanted.
I never wanted to be the cool guy, the Mr. Popular, the brainiac, or anything else that could be thrown into one of the stereotypes, but those are all still infinitely better than what I had become: a fake.
By senior year I was angry with myself. I refused to go out as much, I cut back on drinking, and began funneling myself away from those I felt were negative influences. It wasn’t an easy journey and I’ve made many mistakes along the way. Although I am still far from being the person I was back when I eagerly awaited for hurricanes, I’m finally starting to notice a difference. My happy thoughts are back.
And don’t for a second dismiss the value of happy thoughts, they make all the difference in the world. On the bus ride back from New York last weekend, I sat next to a new mother and her baby. The mother was a huge Disney fan and we had lots of stories to share (I practically grew up in Disney World). When I mentioned I had worked at Disney once, she immediately asked me how was it that all of the employees at Disney are always so friendly. I thought about it, then realized the entire theme park was one massive happy thought.
Then came her next question.
“So, what about Mickey Mouse. Who is under there?”
I simply smiled and shook my head.
She laughed, “Still don’t talk about that, even after all these years?”
Here I was, miles and years away from Walt Disney World and somehow still felt their influence. That’s the power of happy thoughts.
Overlooking business restructuring when a company is doing well is a huge mistake.
Let’s think about that. We all know about business restructuring, especially now at the start of a new year when managers and directors take a hard look at their budget to decide who stays and who has to go. There is a problem with this behavior, because it suggests restructuring is about the money (it *is* about the money, but it shouldn’t be the catalyst that companies wait for to act). So if the business were doing well, no one would have to be “restructured” into unemployment. Waiting to reorganize a company until it is performing poorly is the sort of reactionary decision-making that puts companies in awkward situations (think: Netflix’s attempt to split its DVD service).
What Should Business Restructuring Mean?
I believe in restructuring not as a euphemism for layoffs, but as a core tenant in every business model. We obviously recognize that as technologies change daily operations will develop redundancies, so positions that were vital five years ago may not be so important today. However, we should consider the benefits the individuals behind those positions could bring if drawn into other segments of the business. These are individuals who have stayed for five years, who have developed insights to how things are run, and likely desire to do more but haven’t the opportunity to try. Blanket layoffs do not solve problems. It may temporarily bandage the balance sheets from a gushing wound, but it does not address why a company is less competitive.
Instead of waiting for technology to create redundancies, I posit that every business should aim to reallocate its resources every year, perhaps even every six months. Why? Well, let’s ask ourselves a few questions about the role of regular maintenance in our lives.
Not Waiting Until a Problem Becomes a Crisis
Does one ignore the dentist when told to go back in six months for another cleaning? How about the mechanic who recommends a tuneup and oil change every few months? And an airplane? They are checked prior to takeoff. In these examples, it is understood that regular maintenance is the best method to prevent more serious problems. Should businesses be any different?
Let’s look at the symptoms: List of companies laying off employees, apparently because Barak Obama was reelected.
Laying off due to a poor economy, or because someone was reelected, or because the company has had a bad quarter are equally poor reasons to let people go. The economy doesn’t go from good to bad from one day to the next, a president isn’t elected without prior knowledge of his candidacy, and a bad quarter can be spotted months in advance. The point is, these are all examples of companies that have chosen to react instead of plan ahead.
We are not living in a world where static, unchanging companies pave the way to the future. Dynamic environments where resources can be shifted and adapted at a moment’s notice should be the norm and the way businesses of all kinds operate. People are smart, ambitious, and informed. They have an earnest desire to contribute to a company’s bottom line, but they also desire engagement. Fortunately, the two do not have to be mutually exclusive.
Regular dosage of the good kind of restructuring can keep employees engaged, prevent managers from growing complacent, and keep the company moving in a forward direction. Business restructuring would become something everyone looks forward to.
If you asked a carpenter 100 years ago which of his tools he valued most, he’d probably have a hard time choosing. Today, you are likely to hear a carpenter say “computer” or one of many other new tools that have been developed thanks to technology.
Remember those checklists at the start of every school year? Calculator, planner, a few books, pens, pencils, erasers, markers, glue (oh how I hated projects that used glue!), scissors. When you add the backpack, all the paper, and the Five Star notebooks (“my kid will use the best!”) the price tag easily tops $100 — per year. It’s no wonder then that many schools and organizations have started pilot programs that trade in traditional materials for a tablet computer. Whether or not such a trade is beneficial for students is still a matter of debate, however the premise behind the trade is sound: modern tools have the capacity to improve results at school and in the workplace.
New Tools, Better Results
Being an entrepreneur has never been easier. Today’s technology has allowed us to pack an entire office into one backpack and work from almost anywhere in the world. While innovation in hardware has promoted giant leaps in performance, we owe just as much gratitude to software.
In my own work, new tools have made my life a lot easier. Below are software or services that I use each day in my business.
- Annotative bibliography; research; note tracking – Evernote
- Fast, focused writing – Writer by Information Architects
- Synchronicity – Dropbox
- Task manager – Reminders; iCal
- Communication – Mail; Skype; cellphone
- Advertising – Craigslist
- Style guide – Online version of the Chicago Manual of Style
- Free, easy-to-post images – Pinterest
I plan to one day become mobile enough to live in a new city every year.