Steve Jobs & Keeping Silos from Abusing Their Power

I was pondering Steve Jobs’ legacy again recently. And I continue to be fascinated that he delivered an integrative power – showing how/when being jack of all trades (and master of none) is the only way to deliver something exceptional. And he showed that integrating less advanced, but more solid, technologies can deliver far more consumer power than exotic technological advancement.

But Succeeding with Integration isn’t Easy. In the Isaacson biography of Jobs, I was fascinated by how hard he had to work to keep the drive for perfection within silo’s (where, often the product must be perfect according to each silo’s criteria) from destroying good product. And I’d guess some of his well-documented rudeness comes from the frustration of this challenge.

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Kickstarter Mythology Needs Some Retail Reality

Kickstarter mythology has outgrown reality.

(But let me be very clear. I’m NOT talking about Kickstarter art, music, and movie projects. It was designed for these and they seem to be running pretty well overall.)

I’m talking about Kickstarter campaigns that raise money by Directly Selling new Products that have never been built – and taking orders for lots of them. In the computer business we used to call this selling vaporware and investing in businesses dedicated to vaporware led to the dotcom crash. Segway and Google Glass were both massive vaporware disasters.

Now, by selling vaporware with Kickstarter, we’re seeing amazing train wrecks among the most highly successful money raising campaigns. These train wrecks are all made possible by the mythologies that drive Kickstarter and other crowd funding sites. (Incidentally, a comment below points out this is a far more dramatic version of the direct mail practice of “dry testing”. There is already FTC guidance on dry testing.)

The Mythology of Kickstarter for Inventors. Inventor mythology starts with a belief that it’s enough to come up with a good idea and some money to build it. And Kickstarter appears to “unshackle” inventors so this can happen.
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Where There’s New Media Smoke, There’s Usually a Smoke Machine

I modified a JFK attributed quote for this title. But also thought another modification explains a lot about one of the biggest hassles in modern marketing:

Where there’s smoke, there’s usually deep pockets writing a check.

Marketers today are pummeled with smoke — especially about new media, brand love, and about big data. And there’s a reason the smoke is so thick… There’s a set of big companies, venture startups, and VCs that think they can make big money by selling these ideas. And that opens their checkbooks wide.

But just because the checkbook is open doesn’t mean they’re selling anything important. All it means is that a pile of VENDORS stand to make big money if they can only convince you that what they have is important. (Most often they’re the ONLY ones making money through the idea.)
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The Search for Meaning in Big Data

Big Data has been around long enough now that it’s clear that analyzing big data can deliver some sweet benefits. What’s less discussed are the challenges companies face in finding those benefits.

A Key Challenge:  Irrelevant Data. My friend Shahin Khan recently tweeted about one of the key challenges with big data.

@ShahinKhan The ratio of relevant data to irrelevant data will asymptotically approach zero. #BigData

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The Absurdity of Brand Disconnected from Product

Last week I ran into research that presents a strange example of disconnected brand thinking. I found it in a study claiming to tell us what brand attributes are most important to the fabled Millennials. (Link here.)

Problem is the research draws broad brand preference conclusions that are entirely disconnected from product – there’s no product anywhere to be found. And that means the reported findings are entirely meaningless since consumers can’t tell us about brand in the abstract.
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Consumers Buy Products, Not Brands: How This Should Change Your Advertising

“Whenever you can, make the product itself the hero of your advertising.”
– David Ogilvy, Ogilvy on Advertising

We live in a grand age of “brand advertising” – where most ad agencies believe that their role is to directly build brand with advertising. Except they’re wrong.

There are far more advertising options for building a brand than so-called “brand advertising”. Quite often, these options end up building stronger brand, faster and at less cost. Sadly, most agencies never tell their clients about these other options – perhaps because they’ve never thought that deeply about them. (It’s a bit ironic, since one fundamental of creative is that a linear approach to subtle things is often the least effective. So creative teams shouldn’t be surprised that the fastest way to build brand isn’t to directly try to build that brand.) Read more of this post

Is Disruption the Most Important Model for Innovation?

The theory of “Disruptive Innovation” is an idea that has come to dominate business. Why? Business pundits and consultants would tell us it points the way to the strongest business success. iStock_000017829020Medium

Except I think there’s a different truth. The thing the disruption theory does most reliably is give you a great way to sell your business to funding sources, to the press (who LOVE a great disruption story), or to that narrow niche of customers who passionately hate the “old ways” and don’t care if the new way is really any better. The theory of disruption is even being used to sell changes designed for wholesale destruction of our public school system in the US (with an odd leap of faith hoping that whatever replaces it will be better). (More on schools here.)

Using theory to promote an idea isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But truth is important for businesses to succeed. Is there really a strong connection between disruption and long term success? That’s far more tenuous. At least that had been my growing sense of the theory.

And now I see that battle has been joined on exactly this issue. Writer and Harvard American History professor Jill Lepore fired the first shot with an excellent article in The New Yorker (“What the Theory of ‘Distruptive Innovation’ Gets Wrong”).
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