Permission Marketing Gone Too Far?

English: A business ideally is continually see...

English: A business ideally is continually seeking feedback from customers: are the products helpful? are their needs being met? Constructive criticism helps marketers adjust offerings to meet customer needs. Source of diagram: here (see public domain declaration at top). Questions: write me at my Wikipedia talk page (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I remember when the Web first hit the business world in the mid to late-1990’s, marketers saw a goldmine of customer contacts and information. If you contacted a company and sent your email address, you soon received multiple solicitations, often not from that company.

Legally, companies had a right to do this. When you visit a Web site, you are tacitly, and often unknowingly, entering the company’s property. When you’re on someone else’s property, you lose some rights, like the right not to be tracked.

Customers pushed back hard and marketers responded with “permission marketing.” Now when we contact a Web site, we are either told that our information will be kept only for basic business purposes or we have checkboxes for additional contacts. We even have to request electronic statements for online bank accounts, which I, for one, assume would be a given.

The question that faces marketers today is when is permission required, and when might a customer desire contact without request for permission. It’s sort of like asking your mom if she wants a card for Mother’s Day. Some things you should take for granted.

Recently, a friend of mine was charged an insufficient funds fee on his small business checking account. Due to a problem with his accounting software, he’d lost track of some payments and his balance dipped below zero. The bank did notify him of the charge, three days later via hardcopy mail. He would have preferred a contact, even a request, at the time: “You have insufficient funds. Do you want us to process payment and charge your account $35?” He’s cancelling his overdraft protection and he’s not too pleased that his bank automatically enrolled him (via the small print that he didn’t read).

Sometimes, it’s best for marketers to assume the right to contact a customer. Everything can’t be explicit and overly obvious.

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Look better. Feel better.

Barber pole, ca. 1938. Before barbers limited ...

Barber pole, ca. 1938. Before barbers limited themselves to cutting hair and shaving beards, they performed surgery. Since the 1700s, the spiraling red and white stripes of the barber pole have symbolized the blood and bandages that were once part of the barber’s trade. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A barbershop that I went to as a kid had the words, “Look Better. Feel Better.” on the barber pole out front. Jesse the barber had cut hair for over fifty-years. There’s some truth to what Jesse posted on his sign, both for individuals and for businesses.

Jesse understood that a new hair style, a new outfit, a new look does affect not only how one is treated, but also how one feels. In business speak, we’re talking about branding.

Small to medium sized businesses struggle with branding the most. They often have hard-working owners who understand the business model, but don’t have the marketing savvy to create an effective image. Also, they lack the resources for professional marketing help.

Just as for people, first impressions count for companies, and if subsequent impressions reinforce that first impression, a brand is born and strengthened. In econ speak, with a strong brand, be it personal or company, the risk that “what you see is what you get” is lowered. When we see a McDonald’s sign, we know what we are going to get at the restaurant, even if we choose not to buy.

Notice, I’m not saying that a brand has to be a certain way, have a certain message, and so on. I’m only saying that a brand lets the world know who you or your company are. Better yet, it lets you and your employees know who you are.

Jesse understood that. The fashionistas understand that. Business owners need to understand that, too.

Learn to Love Disorientation

Travel Guides

Travel Guides (Photo credit: Vanessa (EY))

The current business world is a lot like traveling, especially world travelling.

Travel requires a certain ease with disorientation. The street names differ. Food is different. Ways of doing things are different. And if you go to another country, not only the language, but nearly every part of the culture can be different. It’s confusing. And even a bit unpleasant.

But traveling is also rewarding. There is the given phrase that travel broadens your horizons, and even though this phrase is trite, it’s true. It is hard to come back to the farm after you’ve seen the lights of Paris.

In today’s business world, an ability to travel is a metaphor for an ability to survive. We don’t need to go to a different part of the globe to experience great changes anymore. The changes come to us. Company names change. Offices disappear and appear seemingly overnight. Even the language of the top officials may be different.

Some of us can go with this flow better than others. All of us must. We know that there are no 30-year, gold-watch jobs out there, though many of us  are still shocked when that fact confronts us.

I need to change jobs? My company is closing? I haven’t had a raise in five years? My family-owned employer was  just sold to a corporation? Yes, it happens. Often.

To experience change, we no longer have to buy a ticket. The changing world comes directly to us via the global economy. Learn to enjoy, or at least tolerate, disorientation. It’s the only way to know where you’re at.

Is Settling Really Settling, or Just Plain Common Sense?

Personal Finance

Personal Finance (Photo credit: 401K)

I participate in LinkedIn’s Harvard Business Review discussions. Don’t think too highly of me for this. These discussions are not always high-brow or research driven. In fact, they often degenerate into personal anecdotes, and even into the “I don’t mean to be rude, but . . . “ type of exchanges.

One recent discussion was about choosing the right company culture for one’s own benefit. Of course, most participants advocated a very selective job acceptance process, even if it meant staying unemployed longer than one wished or giving up more lucrative compensation packages.

The general gist of the threads focused exclusively on choice, assuming that we all had it. Yet, we all don’t. Not everyone can avoid taking or keeping a job that she dislikes, or at least that doesn’t full fit her talents, personality, ambition, and so on. Many of us must imply accept what circumstances give us.

Has anyone been in a job that just didn’t fit, but personal finances precluded a move? Did personal finances push anyone to take a job that wasn’t the perfect fit? How does one really know the company culture before taking the job in the first place?

Granted, if given the ability to choose, we all want jobs that fit us. If we’re highly aggressive, then maybe pit trader. If we’re low key, like to work with kids, then maybe public school teaching. If we want power but little risk, then a management track in a large corp. If we want power and lots of risk, then entrepreneurship.

It’s nice work if you can get. . . . and the rest of the song goes, you can get it, if you try. Try as we might, we all can’t get it. Circumstances do trump effort sometimes, not always, but often.

When we look at career moves, business moves, what have you, we have to create plans that include the limitations of the situation, the context, the circumstances. We can search in the long run for a good fit, but in the beginning, we often have to take what we’re given.

Facebook and Inevitable Change

Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook

Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Facebook went public for over $1 billion. I can’t tell you if that is a proper valuation and I doubt that anyone else can. What I can tell you is that the change in corporate culture will affect how the company operates.

A private company that is often personality driven, like Facebook has been, can reflect that vision of the one person. A public company is committee drive by the board of directors and reflects the vision of . . . no one in particular.

A private company can make long-term financial plans that may include short-term profit loss. A public company must increase its profit every single quarter or the stock price drops, investors panic, and the board of directors become more conservative.

In other words, Facebook has become just another corporation interested in safety of stock price, not innovation of product.

You might say, look at Apple. Exactly. Look at Apple. It ousted founder Steve Jobs, floundered, and then called him back and let him run the company as if it were a sole proprietorship.

Look at Google, you might say. Again, exactly. Google’s motto of “Do no evil.” was sound when the owners could forego profit in lieu of personal morals. Given the pressure to constantly increase profit, Google seems to have crossed the line (thick or thin) between good and evil.

Maybe Facebook’s stock is properly valued and maybe in the future the stock will increase in price. I don’t know. What I am certain of is that the way that Facebook does business will change in predictable ways.

UX and Gen Y

I’m currently researching Gen Y in the workplace with an emphasis on the UK, Scandinavia, and Europe in general. My client is a Swedish-based change consultant company specializing in helping companies better manage their Gen Y.

This job got me thinking about Gen Y and UX. What does Gen Y want in their design?

  • Let me figure it out: Gen Y is not averse to sites that are not completely self-explanatory. They will go for trial and error, maybe even researching how to use the site. Older persons want things clear, step-by-step. Their frustration level is much lower than Gen Y.
  • Optional Help: Many complicated web sites or applications automatically come up with a tutorial when first accessing them. Gen Y wants this to be an option, not a given. It’s almost an insult for them, as if the designers assumed that this generation was too dumb to figure it out on their own.
  • Real-time on-line help: Older persons still like to talk to someone on a phone, be it land-line or mobile. Gen Y also wants quick customer service, but texting or even skypeing are preferred. The attitude is, if I’m already on one device, why use a different device?
  • Fun: Gen Y wants fun, hence gamification, even at work. Utility is important, but Gen Y grew up in an age of dynamic innovation. Lots of people make lots of very functional products. That’s not a winner. Make it functional and fun. That’s a winner.

Remember that even experienced UX experts will only know the Gen Y perspective indirectly through research. Only a Gen Y sees the world as a Gen Y sees the world. Test with them, but also bring them onto your teams as content-area-experts.

Oh, and make being a UX team member fun.

Who Tests the Testers

A design process.

A design process. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Testing is the backbone of UX. That’s a given. Also given: each user is unique and experience any design in a unique manner.

Yet, aren’t the very UX experts also experiencing the design of the UX design process in a unique manner?

Or in other words, if we’re all experiencing the world in our own individual ways, which is what “unique” means, then who actually knows what’s going on.

What would we see if we conducted user tests of user testers using a user testing design?

We’d better find something shared and not unique or we’d have no design at all.

Good UX design must rest on similarity and averageness. Anything else results a theoretical world trapped in subjectivity.

This may seem like a trivial point to make, but the UX world talks a rather heady game at times. Read many recent UX blogs and you’ll read about psychology, cognitive biology, ethnography, and so on. All very serious sounding. All very complicated, too.

This amorphous theoretical basis of UX may be why UX is so difficult to define, and why so many people can simply claim UX expertise.

When it all comes down to perspective, why not?

Why not what, you ask? Exactly.

UX cannot rest on any ideas of uniqueness without ending up a mish-mash of competing claims.

One may praise the marketing place of ideas exemplified by UX, but then one cannot complain when one’s own ideas are not crowned champion.

Post-PC v. Post-Web

Diagram showing overview of cloud computing in...

Diagram showing overview of cloud computing including Google, Salesforce, Amazon, Axios Systems, Microsoft, Yahoo & Zoho (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

With mobile devices, some have declared the death of the World Wide Web. Apps will rule the Internet from hence forward.

But this is business, not technology. The dominant technology will rule the world hence, and it’s not clear what this technology will be.

The greatest confusion lies in equating the Web with PCs. Granted, PCs will probably disappear and be replaced by mobile devices of some type.

The question remains, though, whether these mobile devices will be effective mini-PCs with more and more computing power that run apps instead of programs.

What’s the alternative, you ask?

The cloud.

Imagine a mobile device that has no computing power but can only access the cloud. No need for apps. In fact, a great need for mobile Web pages.

The Web rules in this scenario.

Now the question is business not technology.

Or, in other words, cloud computing service companies versus hardware companies.

Amazon wins in a cloud computing dominated market. Apple loses.

Apple wins in an app dominated market. Amazon loses.

These are big names and the stakes are very high.

An entire coffee shop culture will develop around this issue with an “I told you so” winning side and a “our technology is obviously better” losing side.

What side will it be?

Go study Beta versus VHS.

In other words, nobody knows.

Every User Is Not Unique

Individuality Task

Individuality Task (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Every user is not unique and does not have unique experiences.

I am not proposing this as a provocative statement, but as a fact. Though we are emotionally tempted to fancy ourselves different from everyone else, we are not. Possibly, our American culture predisposes us to think of ourselves as unique. Whatever the reason, UX experts must realize that it is not true, even if it sells well in front of client decision makers.

Why are we not unique? Because categories exclude it, and UX requires categories.

By definition, a category is a group that shares enough characteristics to be combined into one concept. For example, we have these creatures descended from wolves. In general, we can say that these creatures have four legs, a male and female gender, gestate and nurse their young, and so on. We have enough shared traits to create the category of “dog.”

We don’t say one dog sees a limited color spectrum while another dog has spider-like eyes. We don’t say one dog likes to eat meat while another dog picks berries from bushes. We don’t say one dog is emotionally driven to create relationships while another dog likes to live completely alone. As a category, dogs are not unique and do not experience the world in unique ways.

So too with users. The very existence of the category “user” presupposes shared characteristics and shared experiences. When we say “users,” we mean a group of human beings who are alike. If they were all unique, we couldn’t have a category. We also wouldn’t have UX.

UX relies on the non-uniqueness of users to predict responses. With this predictability, even each UX designer would experience each UX design in unique, hence unshareable, ways, which would make team interaction impossible.

Maybe we just want to believe we are unique, even though we are not.

Established v. Disruptive Media

Tim Berners-Lee: The World Wide Web - Opportun...

Tim Berners-Lee: The World Wide Web - Opportunity, Challenge, Responsibility (Photo credit: Fräulein Schiller)

Established v. Disruptive Media

 

Read through the current literature or just sit around and chat with marketers, and you’ll hear about traditional versus electronic media. Traditional media contain newspapers, radio, TV, and the like. Electronic? The Internet, the Web, mobile devices, and whatever new technologies loom on the horizon.

 

This bipolar categorization creates confusion. Marketers say things like, “We have to augment traditional media with new electronic media.” Or,  “Businesses are pulling back from traditional media and moving dollars to electronic media.”

 

Some even use the terms Old or Legacy Media for the pre-Web age (1989, I’m guessing) and New Media for anything that after.

 

The problem with this schism is that it creates a mental map separating the “traditional” from “electronic” media when in fact they are both simply media. A better categorization is established media versus disruptive media in the Schumpeterian sense.

 

In the 1990s, the Web became a disruptive media. I worked at a telecomm company at the time. One of the big wigs loved to talk about how many Trimline phones the company had sold. The fact that the company’s brand new Web site had collected hundreds of unanswered customer emails was lost on him. Or that the Web site was nothing more than an electronic brochure.

 

The Web simply confused him. Who can blame him? Even email was a novelty back then

 

Now, what company doesn’t have a well-functioning Web customer care center? The Web is now an established medium. Marketers go through their check list: newspaper, magazine, radio, TV, Web, etc.

 

One of the current disruptive medium is mobile. Some are even declaring the Web dead, or at least moribund. We should not ask ourselves what is new, novel, hot, cutting-edge, but what new medium confuses us, makes what we thought we knew something we’re no longer confident of. Media are categorized into established and disruptive.

 

Don’t ask what’s new. Ask what’s destroying what you thought was solid.