Once upon a time simple forms of industry knowledge were a significant competitive advantage. The little things we knew about our industry from working in it mattered. We had to earn expertise over long periods, and the release of that expertise to prospective customers. We traded in trade secrets. But now those days are coming to a close.
In a market where anyone can know anything about an industry (from the worlds experts) with just a few key strokes, then we need change our view on what creates an advantage. Knowledge of products, prices, places, who does what and who owns what are all knowable. We are quickly approaching a market of perfect information. And when everyone can know everything, and prices quickly level out, the only thing left is trust. And a great way to build trust is by sharing trade secrets. By being generous with our knowledge well before we want to do business with anyone. We need to share what we know so others can navigate the market and reduce their risk.
When it finally comes down to doing business, customers have a much higher probability of trusting those who gave them the most trust first.
I recently met someone at a conference I was speaking at. Afterwards we exchanged some emails on a new project he was working on. He needed a developer, but was nervous about sharing his idea with anyone. After I assured him that there is rarely currency in ideas, and having them stolen was a low risk, I offered to connect him with my development team. Which from my talk, he would’ve known they were overseas. He sent back an email which said:
Where are they based?
This was my response:
Based overseas…. Moldova to be precise. I’m sensing that might by why you asked….
Here’s a some better questions:
This post by Seth Godin got me thinking about how to generate trust when we are a new brand or startup on the block. Here is what I think:
Building trust is simple. Create stories by doing things which exceed expectations. One customer at a time. When we do it, they share their good fortune to have done business with us. Trust never comes from the brand owner, but the interactions with the brand recipients. They then deliver that trust to others who buy the brand off them metaphorically. Thought they’d get X and they got X+1. They tell people about their win. We win by being generous.
Startup blog says: Generosity is the fulcrum of trust.
In the super terrific web series Comedians in cars getting coffee, Jerry Seinfeld (the host) was asked what he thinks has more value in comedy:
A funny story which is suitable for talk show
A small bit more suited to a stand up session
Jerry had an unequivocal answer. He said; ‘A bit is gold’. He went on to say it was superior in every way to a longer piece that requires more explanation, and that’s why you leave long stories for the talk show. The gold bits need to be left for the stage – where it really matters. It’s in this episode we can hear Jerry tell the tale.
It’s the same when it comes to marketing copy or web copy or pitching for a startup. There’s a temptation to not want to leave anything important out. To give all the details so the person can work out the important bit about the project. In some ways it is a form of justification of what we’re doing. A basic fear of the simple. Almost as if we are short changing the audience if we give them less. The ironic thing is that we almost always want less. When it comes to branding and marketing, just like comedy – sound bites are gold. They are customer winning, they are pitch winning and they are life winning. The longer story is inferior.
The added beauty of the soundbite is that the receiver creates the longer version. So soundbites work harder with more people. They tell themselves whatever story they want to from there. They add the layers they want according to their perception. The sound bite is the seed, and the recipient is the soil.
Organise the worlds information
Change the world 140 characters at a time
A computer on every desk in every home
Yes we can
If people can remember our soundbites, that’s all they need to know.
This is a favourite saying of companies pretty much everyone whose ever given advice about anything. But as we know, advice is a form of nostalgia, and while nostalgia can conjure important and worthy emotions, it’s not something to live a life by. Personally I believe that encouraging anyone to not make the same mistake twice is bad advice. Any skill I’ve mastered, which was worth mastering involved me making the same mistake over and over again. Repeating the error until I had got it entirely out of my system.
A better version of this advice is as follows: Making the same mistake is fine, so long as you are making it on purpose.
All forms of study and industry have their own theories and jargon. They mostly exist to provide knowledge shortcuts and play books, but part of their function is to exclude. If someone knows the industry jargon, we can be sure they value what we value. We can be sure they read what we read, and mostly there is a chance they believe what we believe.
As time goes by theories and jargon fall out of favour. They become old hat and not cool to reference. That’s also part of the game of being in touch with a community. It show’s whose invested in what we do and who is a fly by nighter. It’s important though that we don’t think this makes the old descriptor less true. Especially when it comes to business. Sure, new theories and knowledge emerge in science which render the old ideas incorrect. But many business philosophies are thousands of years old and aren’t about to change any time soon. I like to say that the Ancient Egyptians invented ‘lean’ methodology…. I can’t possibly imagine the pyramids being built any other way, surely they would have ran out of capital!
Last night the super Ben Rowe delivered a talk at PauseFest (A nerd web festival in Melbourne) using Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. An older theory that doesn’t get much coverage these days. It doesn’t make it any less compelling and real though. It was one of the most insightful presentations I’ve seen in recent times and I loved that he mashed up the new world with an old theory.
The thing it pointed out to me was that it doesn’t matter so much which tool we use to do things, but how we apply it to create new meaning with our audience.
I’ve been a Vans off the wall fan since I did my first cross up on my BMX way back in 1982. My fav’s are the original checker board slip ons, as sported by main man from Ridgemont High – Spicoli.
Well today in a classic web enabled distraction I decided to see if I could make a custom pair over the web. I found that Vans do have a design your own shoe service – like most shoe brands these days. I was prepared to pay a premium – maybe double the usual price. For these wouldn’t be the Spicoli, they would be the Sammatron. I even decided to go fluoro to give it a bit of 80′s retro kick. Check ‘em out below:
But when I got to the check out. I pumped in all of my information only to be told they don’t ship to Australia. It was curious, because their on line form let me add Australia as my country. I could also see that the shipping agent was UPS. I chatted with a staff member on line who also told me they couldn’t ship to Australia. Even after I offered to pay twice the price. Sad that one of my favourite brands is still in 1985 with more than their retro cool products.
Here’s what I don’t understand:
- The site doesn’t care what country the person is from.
- The staff shoe maker doesn’t care what country the custom shoe is sent to.
- The site has the e-commerce built in.
- The site accepts credit cards and other forms of payment.
- The shipping agent ships to Australia
- The customer (me) wants to give them money.
So why wouldn’t they sell me my custom shoes? A strange decision indeed. In the end I decided to buy some custom old school superstar Adidas shoes – who gladly ship to my fair country. The world doesn’t care what country a company is based in. If you don’t let them give you their money, there is always somewhere else to spend it.
I’ve been using a certain weather app on my phone for some time. It is called Pocket Weather AU – Lite. It is the free version. A few times when I have clicked in to check the weather, it has given me this pop up screen below:
This time in good faith, I thought I’d click through and see what the offer was. To my disappointment, it was a simple ‘buy our paid version‘ of the app. No benefit, no exclusivity, nothing had been unlocked, no reason, no thanks for using. Just their way of asking me to upgrade. Now if you ask me there cannot be a more insulting way to incentivise a customer to upgrade. Tell them they are a cheapskate, pretend to offer something better, and then give them nothing for using the service for a few years.
Here’s what I did. I deleted their app – got another equally good free weather app, and wrote this blog entry about what I think might not be the best way to engage an audience your doing business with. Some things these guys might want to consider:
- If you don’t want your app to be free, then make it a paid version.
- Insulting people is not a very effective way to get them to upgrade financially to a software or web service.
- Making promises of exclusivity and non existent benefits is generally not a good idea.
- Understand the economics of excess supply. There are a zillion other free weather apps and my cost of moving to another service is close to zero.
- But mostly respect people, and maybe make them some kind of offer or reward for loyalty if employing a fermium business model.
I prefer to be positive in life, and have not even enjoyed writing this entry. Maybe that’s the over riding lesson. Don’t lie, treat people with respect and positivity and they just might give you more money.
While success is a relative term, there is a simple way to know if we’ve built something we can regard as a huge macro success. And that is when others are claiming derivative success within the platform we have created.
Examples could include:
- A top downloaded iPhone app
- X million views for a Youtube video
- A featured post about your project on Boing Boing
- Being person X on platform Y
Once someone can be regarded a success because they have used what we’ve built well, that’s when we know we’ve really changed the world.
Kim Dotcom sent out a tweet a couple of days ago on how to stop digital piracy. It was the most succinct realistic view of the digital market place I’ve read. While the stop part might be an overstatement, it would certainly minimise it. I’ve taken his points and listed them below:
How to stop piracy:
- Create great stuff
- Make it easy to buy
- Works on any device
- Same day global release
- Fair price
The last four on this list really speak volumes. But the thing which is really standing out to me on this list, is that most media companies seem to have forgotten the reasons why they did things a certain way prior to the digital era. Most of their decisions were based on what was possible. The limitations on selling their goods were physical realities. Although these physical realities no longer exist, they seem to have forgotten why they did things a certain way. That way was the only way. The stability of the media system pre-web seems to have distorted their minds to the point that they forget the ‘why’. I’m going to reference the recorded music business to show how their rigidity has failed them. In fact the digital world is actually what they always wanted, and that piracy is not the problem, but the industry’s poor memory.
Make it easy to buy: In a digital age, the best advice anyone can give, is to sell it in as many places as possible. This is always the case for any mass market product. Rewind back to the pre digital music industry and you’ll remember that record companies would sell their records in any store that would stock it. Kmart, Target, Walmart, the local independent record shop. So long as it was out there they were happy. Sales representatives were judged on the number of distribution points they got their stock into. But for some reason they seem to have forgotten this fact. They now decide to hold back on potential distribution points for no apparent reason. The early iTunes revolt being the easiest example we can all remember. Totally counter to what they did before the format changed. So why the music industry don’t embrace this and make it ‘easy to buy’ is beyond me.
Works on any device: It used to be really hard for the music industry to do this before digital. They had to invest in manufacturing for vinyl records, then cassette tapes, then beta, then VHS, then CD…. but they did it and moved quickly to have their content available in all formats. So why the change of heart now? Why don’t they move as quickly as they used to? This is especially strange given that they no longer have to make physical stuff to make their content available on any device. Or even worse, when it’s already loaded up onto a content platform and they restrict usage depending on the device you a re retrieving it from. Vevo on youtube is the classic example. If a song won’t play on my mobile via Vevo, I’ll just listen to a another song. No revenue for you! It’s much easier to do now than it was then.
Same day global release: If you can, then you should. Simple. Here’s the thing the recording industry has forgotten about their pre digital staggered global release programs. Every new market (country) they entered had extra associated costs with it. They used to have to make more stock (records, CDs) to sell. Pay to get their content promoted on TV and radio. (Now we’e all immediately aware of of any big music launch once it happens) They had to change the formats to suit particular markets. They had to ship records on boats for 4+ weeks across oceans. They wanted to be sure the record would be a hit before they invested all the money into wider market expansion. They had reasons to delay global release plans. Reasons largely around stock, promotions, production and mitigating financial risk. None of these reasons exist today.
Fair price: When people get a raw deal, they find an alternative. They even cheat. People know the costs of content distribution are minuscule compared to the pre-digital era. This ought be recognised more than it has been in many digital channels. I truly believe most people will pay a fair price. And in the words ‘fair price’ I would like to add the idea of purchase without friction. Simple ways for us to give you our money so we can get on with enjoying the content. Not a million hoops to jump through. I’d go as far as saying that most people want to pay those who bring them joy with their output. In a world of zero cost digital duplication, then fair pricing would mean taking out 100% of the now removed physical production costs.
Once we get over the fact that anything which is both digital and good will be pirated by some people, then we can get on with business and just know it’s a fact of life. A cost of doing business. We shouldn’t let it paralyse us into avoiding new methods.
The laws of nature tell us much about piracy or lost revenue. If we don’t distribute the output it goes bad. Stored water which isn’t sent out via distribution channels evaporates, natures form of piracy. The longer we wait, the more we lose. We can add to this the frustration distributors have with non global release plans. So much so that distributors are becoming makers (Netflix) because they can’t get what they need. The end result is a great demarcation with all things digital. If we can’t get it, we’ll make it ourselves or source it elsewhere. The best approach would be to embrace the reality omnipresence and immediacy.