A tribute to fiction

It’s a wonderful thing to be able to see someone else’s imagination.

 

“Hard work” on 3, “together” on 6.

 

Nike kills it with this new spot featuring legendary NBA star, LeBron James. I’ve watched this ad at least a 100 times and it gets me every single time. This is something that Nike are just brilliant at, they know their audience so well and play to our need to feel connected to an active lifestyle. It’s almost as though by simply being a part of the community (and buying their shoes of course) we’re buying our own healthy lifestyle through a type of osmosis. It’s an incredibly powerful driver of marketing and speaks to the idea of customers buying what you do (and how it makes them feel), and not what you sell.

On Rule Breaking

I’m trying to decide how I feel about Nelson Mandela’s death. I’m sad, but I’m not sure why. I never met him, and I was too young to really comprehend what was going on in 1994. I’m clearly disconnected from the realities of what he did for South Africa. I’ve been given the abridged, high school lesson on why he’s such an important guy but I’m only now, 20 years later, starting to understand what it all meant, or means. What is becoming apparent though is that there is a lesson here.

Rolihlahla showed that you can’t change anything if you live by the rules. You can pretend and play inside the bounds of the rules but nothing life changing, let alone world challenging, happens there. Sometimes the rules are simple and of very little consequence, sometimes they’re a little more complex and dire. Sometimes you go to prison for 27 years for breaking the rules. When you’re a child, the NO comes from your parents. As you get older, it’s the teacher followed by the Principal. Somewhere along the road and surprisingly so, it’s your friends who begin dishing out the NO along with the rest of society and your particular brand of culture or religion. Then it’s your boss and your boss’ boss. The State. Then finally (and scarily) it’s you dishing out the NO, to yourself.

How do you swim upstream from all of this? How do you tell what is right from wrong, and not necessarily in the ethical sense but just in the terms of your choices. There’s no affirmation and at some point you must doubt yourself. How do you hold onto that ideal or conviction when everyone is saying NO. Everyone. How do you do it when even your god says NO.

Finding the courage to do it anyway is what I want to take out of the trouble maker’s life.

On sales and on marketing

I recently read a great post by Mike Stopforth on the fallacy of digital marketing. His basic premise was that as we create new channels for advertising we tend to try and reinvent the fundamental principles of communication. As he points out, this is really pretty silly. Mike argues, correctly, that the principles remain the same regardless of the channel employed.

This got me thinking about something fairly similar. It’s always bugged me how so few marketers in general have never physically sold a product to someone; they’ve never been sales people. I know marketing and sales are supposed to be so fundamentally different that it doesn’t matter, but I don’t buy that. Marketers seldom experience that one-on-one discussion with customers which is so vital to a successful sale. I believe this may have something to do with why both new and traditional marketer’s inherently misunderstand community principles. They’ve never been on the front-line in the trenches. Essentially, it’s been a one way conversation until now and their adverts have never spoken back to them. Social principles have changed this.

I spent a few years in sales and I learned some incredibly valuable lessons along the way. Some were taught to me, and others I learned the hard way. There’s really nothing quite like commission based remuneration as an incentive to fail fast and learn from your sales mistakes. That being said, while there are many techniques employed in sales the one that becomes fairly obvious very quickly is trust. You cannot sell to someone who doesn’t trust you.

There’s only one way to gain someone’s trust and that’s to talk to him or her. Have them talk back to you. Listen carefully to their questions, understand what they’re asking and answer as best you can. Don’t be shy to say you don’t know, but find out and follow up. Give them daily feedback on an order, even if you have nothing to report to them. Never lie. Most customers are excited to be buying your product; it’s your job to be more excited and knowledgeable about the product than they are.

It’s principles like this that few marketers really understand and I think they’re the poorer for it. I also think it’s why “community” is such a misunderstood or misused concept. As with any relationship, communities revolve around trust. As a marketer how do you get your customers to trust you? Do you really understand your client, if you’ve never actually spoken to any of them, or worse you don’t listen when they do speak to you? Ultimately your client isn’t just some archetype on a mood board, they’re real people with real problems you are there to solve. To build trust, your customers want to know that get them and you can’t do that through a billboard.

What does the future look like? Well, the future has actually already caught up to us – we just haven’t realized it since the integration is just so effortless. Brains are extremely malleable, after all. Imagine I told someone in 1950 that:

  • I carry a device that has an instant connection to billions of people on the planet
  • I can say something that can be seen and heard by as many people as are willing to listen, in real-time, anywhere in the world
  • I have the answer to practically any (easily) answereable question within seconds, and instant access to practically every book ever published
  • I have access to the sum total of humanity’s knowledge, (almost) for free, at any time and virtually anywhere I go

 

I think Mike hits the nail on the head with this. Innovation while relatively fast, creeps up on us and it’s hard to see it happening. It’s much like watching an hour hand move on a clock.

What does the future look like? – Mike Wronski

The Sandwich Is Just Crap

I went out for lunch yesterday. We’d spent most of the morning travelling around Joburg and I was hot, tired and pretty miserable. We needed something to eat, so we ducked into a small coffee shop to grab a sandwich. I had been there a few times, and always enjoyed the food. I felt like something with chicken and a little basil pesto. Shredded, with a little mayo and lettuce.. perhaps a smattering of feta cheese to give it a little salty spike. Yep, that would definitely hit the spot.

I can’t tell you the disappointment I felt upon seeing the shelves, which are usually packed with an array of delicious goods, verging on empty. Basically, all they had was a cold ham and cheese filled croissant. We didn’t have time to try another deli, so I grabbed the croissant and a fruit juice, paid for the items and sat to down to eat.
Once again, I was disappointed. You see, I hate the smell of bread. More specifically, the sour smell bread or dough gets from sitting in plastic bag for a couple of hours. This croissant had clearly been here for days.

“This sandwich is crap,” I told my mate, also chewing vigorously. He nodded.

He continued eating. I continued to not enjoy the sandwich. The cheese was also starting to taste sour. It was that cheap mozzarella you find at a grocery store, often used on homemade pizza. I also couldn’t really taste any of the ham – in fact I wasn’t even sure there was any.

Suddenly, I took bite that tasted great. It was a bit of a shock as I struggled to identify why.. was there perhaps a sauce I had missed? Maybe they didn’t spread it out enough and it all lumped in one area? No that wasn’t it.  It was something far simpler. It was actually just seasoning.. basic salt and pepper. I took another bite. It was actually starting to taste really good. The ground black pepper beautifully complimented the ham. The sour cheese was properly balanced by the salt. I wondered if it was sea salt? Was it freshly crushed or did it come from a shaker? I wasn’t sure.

My friend cut me off mid-rant and laughed, saying, “Sometimes the sandwich is just crap, and that’s all you need to say about it. “Why” doesn’t matter. You do that a lot, you over analyse things.”

He was absolutely right and it worried me for the rest of the day. It was just a damn sandwich – did it really matter why it was crap? It was just a crap sandwich, that’s it. Why did I need to understand why? Why am I writing about trying to understand why I need to know why a sandwich was crap. It’s ridiculous.

Or is it?

We don’t do this enough. Instead, we accept what we know and learn because we are told it is so. Why not ask yourself why – not to be pedantic or to waste time, but because we learn best when we ask why. Our parents were brought up to accept what they were taught, that things happen the way they do for a reason. They lived in a different world, yet somehow we’ve adopted this same mindset.

From a business perspective, this can also be applied to the relationships between customers and suppliers. Between employers and employees and between management and staff. When we ask why, we either better understand the process or we find that the processes no longer apply. It’s starting to happen a lot, we’re finding the cracks and starting to exploit then. This is starting to become so common in our world that we’ve even given it a name. Disruption. And it all starts with Why.

Every market, every business and every company is open to disruption when you start asking why. Just look around you and start getting in the habit of questioning the status quo. Question the process. Question the methodology. Understand where it comes from and why it was put in place, by whom and most importantly when. We are creatures of habit and so often you’ll find that these habits no longer make sense, yet we still continue to perpetuate them. That’s where the cracks form and where the opportunity lies.

Exploit it.

Google Glass in your Face

Google Glass has one very important flaw: by its very nature, it’s attached to your face. Actually it invades your face and as we know, our faces are very important to us. There are entire industries dedicated to faces. Making them up, changing them, making them bigger, smaller and prettier. We look at our own faces every day either with smug enthusiasm or derision. We look at other peoples’ faces all the time and there’s an enormous amount of information we get from doing this. The slightest twitch of facial muscle, or even the absence of one, gives us clues about the person we’re speaking to. Essentially, our voices and mouths account for only a small part of what we’re actually trying to communicate to others.

Google Glass, in its current form, gets in the way of this. If there’s one part of your body that you want to remain unique, it’s your face. We’ll each have this horrible tech-based monobrow, a ubiquitous face mounted wearable technology which will give us all one enormous and identical appendage in common.
It’s not going to work.

The Fallacy of Floating Content

A few weeks ago, I was browsing through flipboard as I do most evenings before I go to bed. I came across a really interesting article that I felt compelled to share with my social networks.. it was an incredibly well written and researched piece which offered amazing insights into a topic we’re all familiar with, yet strangely uninformed about. Needless to say, I was pretty disappointed when it was given almost zero notice, save for a retweet or two. There’s nothing more disheartening than calling out to the void and hearing nothing back but your echo. I was doubly disappointed as we’ve all preached the idea of “great content will always float to the top”, but I just didn’t see it here. I’m starting to doubt the accuracy of this mantra.

If we have a look at the success and failure stories of online communities, we would be remise not to mention Digg.com. Arguably the first social news sharing site, it had its hey days during the 2005-2010 era, when it was the go-to place for breaking news. At its peak, Digg boasted 29,000,000 unique readers a month. It eventually tanked, and it tanked badly. You see, Digg had a problem with “Super Users” – users with so many friends who were so influential that they could single handedly make or break a story. In fact, you had almost zero chance of having your submitted story make the front page without the help of a super user. They tried to fix this problem with numerous redesigned layouts, but they never got it right. Digg eventually folded under revolt from its readers after v4 of the redesign. Once worth $165m, it sold recently for just over $500,000.

I mention Digg here because I don’t think it had a UX problem. I think it had a democracy problem.

The idea of great content always floating to the top rests on the principles of democracy. You vote with with your likes and retweets, and the content that receives the most of either floats to the top. It works really well in theory except for one small problem. In a democracy, each individual is granted a single, secret, ballot to cast as he or she sees fit. There’s a double system at play here. The principle of one vote and the principle of a secret ballot, both of which protect us from undue influence or reprisal, and contribute to the success of a democracy. While social media grants us a single vote, its very nature goes against the idea of a secret ballot.. and herein lies the flaw of floating content. Influence warps and distorts democracy. Imagine walking into a voting both and seeing exactly how everyone around you is voting, how your friends are voting and knowing your vote will also be broadcast to those same people. It’s not so much that you’ll be embarrassed to vote, but more that you’re going to be influenced by, and subsequently influence, others. In essence, the more friends you have and the more popular you are, the more influence you’re likely to exert on others.

The same applies to social media, except we embrace it, which only means its effects are even more aggressively felt. Unless you are a Justin Bieber of the world you’re never going to get your preference of syrup trending world wide for three days.. scarily, the opposite applies, and because of this we are forced to hear Justin’s syrup preferences because his tweets are artificially “voted” up.

It worries me. If our clients’ work needs not be just remarkable, but exceptional, is the realm of Social Media going to fall not to the super users, but to the out-of-reach super budget?

Minecraft, Startups and Margaret Thatcher.

Minecraft

I recently started playing Minecraft. For those who don’t know Minecraft, it’s a game where the objective is to use the available resources to build things, while avoiding various enemies trying to kill you. You mine resources and combine or craft them into materials, which you use in your construction. What you build and how you choose to do it is entirely up to you. There are essentially two formats to the game: creative and survival.

In creative mode, there are no resource constraints and no enemies. You’re free to simply build the most fantastical structures your mind, and patience, can conjure up. In survival mode however, resources need to be acquired almost on a 1:1 basis and basic survival techniques, shelter and food, need to be adhered to. The obvious choice when starting the game is to play in creative mode and just build away. Some people have come up with truly amazing creations. The problem though is that this very quickly gets boring and most people opt instead to play in survival mode, a fact that confuses me. If, as human beings, we’re at our best when we’re free of our constraints, resources abound and we’re able to focus on the task at hand, why then would we choose the harder survival mode. Is it that we crave challenge and hardship? I don’t think so. My theory is that as humans our greatest skill is problem solving. This is arguably where we are at our most creative. We prefer to work through maximizing available resources to achieve a required objective.

Solutions without problems

To some extent this applies also to general economics, and I think we’re starting to see this more so in the “startup” industry than in any other. Andy Hadfield recently gave a talk at SXSW, which I admittedly dismissed at first. However, I think he may be onto something. In the US, where resources are arguably unlimited (being capital, bandwidth, engineers, programmers, facilities etc) we’re seeing an interesting pattern. I call it the pattern of non-problem solving; Solutions without problems. Scarily, obscene amounts of resources are being ploughed into these “startups” purported to be “the next big thing”. In essence, they’re minecrafting in creative mode. Fun at first, but also a little pointless.

Survival Mode

Contrast this with Africa, where resources for startups are severely constrained. Bandwidth, investment, and human capital: all of these are hugely in demand and massively under supplied. We also have one further “advantage”. In Africa, we have big problems, problems looking for solutions. I don’t think it’s coincidental that FNB recently won most innovative bank, or that companies like Snapt are finding alternative was of cost effectively providing the same solutions enterprises typically pay millions for. (Snapt famously sold a $3Billion solution to a massive US agency for $300). MPESA and Ushahidi et al are all solving real world problems, under contained resource environments while still turning a profit and keeping themselves afloat (something US startups are notoriously bad at).

Margaret Thatcher once said of socialism, “it’s great, but eventually you run out of other peoples money”. I think the same can be said for VC.

My prediction: the next big thing is coming out of Africa, the real innovators.

Apple EarPods: First Thoughts

I haven’t had a new iDevice in about a year, and so last night at the iPhoneography event, I splashed out and picked a pair of Apple’s new headphones, the EarPods. Now I’ve read some pretty scathing reviews about the earphones, but after having watched Apple’s infovideo on the Earpods and hearing the work (over 124 prototypes and 600 different ears) that went into creating them, I felt the need to try them out for myself.

Before we go further, please note that I’m no audiophile.

So far, I’m super impressed. I think where the reviews of the Earpods have gone wrong is in the assumption that Apple was trying to make the best quality headphones on the market. On that mark, they’ve failed. What they’ve managed to do though is make the most comfortable in-ear headphones, which still produce great sound, that I’ve ever used. A few people mentioned that they feel as though they’re about to fall out at any second, and that’s exactly it; they’re just barely touching the ear, but still directing the sound into all the right places. I literally don’t feel as though I’m wearing them, yet I still get the same quality sound as from my regular headphones. These I feel I could wear the entire day, where as my Skullcandy in-ears (with their silicon cups) become uncomfortable after more than an hours use.

GM