Marketing Fail: How to Lose in Extra Time

Right product; right time

The World Cup of 2014 was a truly remarkable event – it had the usual quota of drama and amazing results but it also what should have been two clear winners. One of them was the German Football team – who took the glory. The other apparently clear winner should have been the inventors or this stuff – the magical vanishing spray used for free kicks.

The magic spray
The magic spray

The spray was a brilliant product. It is a foam that disappears after a couple of minuted, but it solved the problem of defending teams encroaching on the free kick taker when the referee’s back was turned. A comical but frustrating occurrence that had echoes in that other area of sporting theatre – professional wrestling.

Hold the Line
Hold the Line

Fans loved it, commentators loved it, no doubt referees loved it, players loved it (the attacking ones at least). It was the sort of business idea you expect to make the inventor a fortune.

Shipping a late goal

But as I read today, this is not the case at all. In this story, that has all the hallmarks of a team who loses in extra time, the inventors have failed to capitalise on their absolutely phenomenal exposure. It was a text book marketing fail.

It’s a tragic tale, but like in a game of football, unfortunately I think the fault lies with team who let the goal through, the inventors. As a marketer I read this article silently screaming in my head – these guys had the best exposure the could ever have wanted – all for the price of a few cans of product. And all in front of the world’s assembled media and potential business partners like Nike and Adidas, yet some how they screwed up.

Don’t ask permission, market your business

So what would I or indeed anyone with the remotest amount of marketing nous, have done (let alone what Travis Kalanick would have done!):

  1. Don’t wait for FIFA to help you. Ever.
  2. Politely decline the tickets to the finals, and ask for a blanket pass to the corporate hospitality events.
  3. If that doesn’t work, get out there to all the events you can – beg, borrow or steal your way into corporate hospitality.
  4. Get in front of every exec from any global sports brand you can.
  5. Get in front of every exec from any global retailer you can.
  6. Hit up the press – there were hundred of stories from the world’s press about the spray. Make sure your name is featured in relation to your product.
  7. Guerilla marketing – this product is a guerilla market’s dream. FIFA can be tough on non-sponsor advertising, but guess what, your product disappears! I’d be drawing lines on the ground anywhere I saw crowds of people – magic spray is the new velvet rope!

I came up with this short list in the 5 minutes it took me to write it, imagine what could be achieved with more time and effort.

Startups – don’t be like these guys!

The moral of this story for startups is clear. If you business is at stake, don’t wait for anyone’s permission to market yourself.  Other people have no stake in the success of your business, but you do. If you get a chance at exposure, stop at nothing to make sure that awareness becomes permanently attached to your brand. You may only have one chance. And event the biggest exposure on the world’s stage won’t be enough if you don’t have hustle.

Growth Hacking: 0 to 150,000 Useless Chancers

No, no, no, no bloody no!

No Marketer You!

I’m sorry Growth Hackers, you really don’t get it, and I’m afraid you’ve just confirmed my worst suspicions about your monomaniacal fraternity. User growth, in and of itself, is not the point of marketing. Sure in the past I’ve been willing to concede that Growth Hacking has a place in the marketer’s toolkit, but I’m questioning myself now.

150,000 Useless Chancers

What set me off is this guest post on Growth Hacking guru Andrew Chen’s site.  If you haven’t heard of Chen, he’s famous for getting Growth Hackers sweaty-palmed when they talk about his work for AirBnb – aka Affiliate Marketing mixed with smart coding to everyone else. The guest author goes into great detail talking about how he achieved 150,000 subscribers through the use of giveaways. His findings were remarkable, apparently he gained faster user growth by giving stuff away, and that some incentives work better than others. Bravo Growth Hacker! Bow down to your marketing genius because 0-150,000 and because ROI! Bravo.

But there’s a problem here. Leaving aside the fact you’re now spamming people, just who are the people subscribing? And why are they subscribing? Are they subscribing because they love your product or because they want free stuff? I’m going to take a wild stab in the dark and say it’s the latter. As for ROI, yes that’s nice, but what’s the CLV (Customer Lifetime Value) of these subscribers vs the people who subscribed without being given free stuff? Dollars to donuts your free-stuff loving chancers bring just a fraction compared to your loyal subscribers. Worse than that, they’re just as likely to disappear to your competitor for a better (indeed any) offer. Congratulations, you’re now caught in an arms race of giveaways to buy the questionable love of flakey customers. Clearly that’s bad marketing and catastrophic for your business.

Staying Loyal

In marketing we use the term ‘Brand Loyalty’… I realise that to someone with a engineering background this sounds like more marketing waffle but it’s not. The hard-edged reality is that it’s the thing that allows you to retain customers and make profitable products. Those are real customers, they show up because great marketing tells them about your great product. These customers are not the ones that show up just for a free party.

As a final piece of advice to anyone employing a Growth Hacker and wondering how it interacts with your business objectives… When in doubt, just ask yourself, “What would Apple do?”

Building Brand Preference from Startup

This post was prompted by a question asked of my by Tomasz Tunguz of Redpoint Ventures. In one of his recent posts he made a number of excellent observations about how startups should manage their resources to the deploy the most effective marketing in the early stages of their development. However one thing caught my eye – the use of ‘Brand’ in place of ‘Awareness’ – this difference is crucial especially in tech. My response prompted a question from Tomasz:

To answer Tomasz’s question about preference, it’s probably worth getting a handle on the basics.

What is a Brand?

First thing’s first, terminology is very important – in the context of marketing, Brand and Branding are different. As any marketing textbook will tell you there are a number of origins for Branding – shop signs that could be understood despite low literacy rates is a common one – Branding is what you do as a company to help people identify you. Aspects of Branding will include name, logos, corporate colours, packaging – essentially the “artefacts” of your overall Brand. Your Brand however is wider than this. An analogy I like to think of the practice of applying a brand to livestock. The reason I like this is analogy is that it is instructive as to concept of what your Brand really is – cows don’t brand themselves, they are branded by their owners. So it is with companies – we don’t brand ourselves, for the most part our ‘owners’ (users, customers, shareholders, the general public etc) do it for us. Your Brand therefore is the collective knowledge and experiences that others have of your company, its people and its products.

As you can imagine this is different from Awareness, which simply tells you that people know you exist.

Why Does Brand Preference Matter?

In an ideal world (for you) your company would have a market monopoly. Customer preference would be irrelevant. Certainly markets where network effects are prevalent feature companies with a near monopoly – think Google Adwords. But a true monopoly is quite rare, and so brand preference comes into play – and it is a strange and powerful thing because sometimes it makes no sense at all.

Why do most people prefer Apple over Samsung? Samsung has for some years now had a superior feature list and whilst not quite on par, its design is improving too. Yet ask an Apple fan and they’ll laugh at the suggestion of switching… even if the devices were the same. Apple has invested considerable amounts of time, effort and money into building its brand to the point where people identify with it almost regardless of its products. People have developed a strong Brand preference that goes beyond rational explanation.

It works in other places too – much has been made of the meteoric rise of SnapChat. For all the talk of rational benefits to kids of its empheral disappearing photos, much of the reason SnapChat became cool was because it wasn’t Facebook. The SnapChat Brand became synonymous in the minds of customers and non-customers alike of something fun, secret, rebellious and just a bit devious – ie. catnip for kids. When Facebook offered on SnapChat they realised this – as much as they talked about user metrics, the subtext was about harnessing (or defanging) the growing power of SnapChat’s Brand.

Mark Zuckerberg contemplating SnapChat's brand preference... probably
Mark Zuckerberg contemplating SnapChat’s brand preference… probably

How Does This Impact Startups?

Having read the previous paragraphs it may feel like you have no control over your Brand; you may also feel that without any marketing budget there’s little you can do about it anyway. But being a startup is one of the few occasions when you start with a completely clean slate, and given that your Brand is the collective experience that others have with our company, every interaction matters. The upshot is that you have more ability to influence your Brand as a startup than at any other time, and it costs you almost nothing to build.

Where to Start?

So where to start? Firstly, think carefully as you develop your Branding as these are the first artefacts people can attach themselves to – logos, company name etc. There is a temptation to skimp here and find a generic logo online or pick a dull but functional name. Don’t. If your company becomes wildly successful, you’ll spend a lot more money further down the line correcting things. Call in favours, beg, wash dishes, anything to get something you can be proud of.

Brand Values

Large companies spend a significant amount of time contemplating their Brand values and culture – the values and assumptions of the company that are represented internally and externally. As a startup this should take much less time because you’re only a handful of people and the link between culture, values and brand is much more distinct. Start with you and your cofounders – for startups, Brand has to be an outgrowth of your company culture and values. This is vital as all your interactions with customers, users, the media and others need to be consistently ‘you’, if you’re trying to be something you’re not it will eventually show. Get it right however and it becomes a touchstone you can call upon for decades. Many people cite Apple’s “Think Different” ad campaign as one of the greatest brand ads of all time. It’s hard to argue with that. But the reason it was so powerful was that it drew upon a culture and identity of Apple that stretched back to its founding. As a startup, that is your opportunity.

Once you’ve been able to define your Brand values, customers and users can compare your values to theirs.

Linking Back to Preference

A lot of this may seem incredibly imprecise and “soft” in the predominantly left-brained world of tech, and indeed it is – you’re trying to influence your audience at a near-subconscious level. But get it right, and your audience will prefer your brand at a subconscious level, they’ll probably end up finding rational reasons for preferring your company too. Whilst every business desires a market monopoly, few ever succeed. But by building Brand preference in parallel to all the other practical aspects that Tomasz suggests, you not only gain an advantage in a straight out fight, you build a resilience that protects your market position longer term.

Fools in Glass Houses: The Golden Rule of Comparative Advertising

Sometimes I see an ad that makes me laugh out loud, this from American bank, First Bank certainly did, but probably not for the reasons they’d hoped. I laughed because the idea of any bank taking the piss out Google for their application of technology is downright hilarious. Doing so in the course of telling us that First Bank are releasing their banking app (this is 2014) shows a remarkable lack of self-awareness. But it did prompt me to reflect on the wisdom of a particular form of marketing – Comparative Advertising – AKA gaining attention by taking a swipe at others.

Rules of Engagement

The market for the hearts and minds of consumers could hardly be described as genteel, but in general, investing in advertising that directly compares you to others is reasonably rare. There are various reasons for this: it’s pretty risky to spend your own money in a way that raises awareness of your competitors; people can be put off by the seeming arrogance of the act itself; but mainly there are very few circumstances where a direct comparison is a good idea. There are some who identify opportunities where you can make direct pricing or feature comparisons, but even these are risky. To my mind there’s pretty much one single golden rule of comparative advertising – kick them when they’re down.

The Popularity Contest

Sadly, life is unfair. And business, like life, is a popularity contest. So if you’re engaging in comparative advertising pick a target less popular than you. Sure that’s not very nice, but as humans we have our prejudices and as long as you’re picking a target who is less popular than you, you’ll do ok. Please note that I’m not advocating anything that’s based on race, colour, sex, sexual preference,religion, creed or any other such factor. Quite rightly people get upset about such things. However businesses and professions are still a pretty soft target. So there’s opportunities aplenty if you follow the golden rule.

Example 1 – TransferWise

A great example of this is fintech company, TransferWise, their feisty ads play on the fact we hate banks, so a good kicking is ok:

TransferWise FYCK Advert

This ad works on many levels: we hate banks; we hate banks because we suspect they’re ripping us off; actually they are ripping us off; I get to be clever and thrifty AND stick it to the banks. Awesome.

Example 2 – Apple

Another great example, albeit a bit less feisty but still playing the popularity angle, is Apple’s long running, I’m a Mac/I’m a PC campaign:


This is a bit of an oddity given that essentially it’s a grown up version of teasing the nerd – it’s the sort of thing we should dislike if we consider ourselves good people. Except that even though more people use Microsoft than Apple, we do so not very willingly, so people don’t really like Microsoft. So instead it comes across as the cool little guy taking on the uncool big guy. Easy to like.

Sorry guys

So where does that leave banks and other perennially unpopular companies? You could to find a comparative examples of others still less popular than you – car salesmen; tax collectors; advertising people. The truth is that there are many companies who probably could take a swipe at Google and Glassholes, it’s just not right for a bank. Instead try something radical… Like providing a great product and service that makes people’s lives better.

Triage: Treatment for Start-ups

Triage is now open Monday to Friday, 9am to 1pm, based at TechHub@Campus. Register here before your first visit.

To find out more about Tech London Advocates, click here.

This article was first published on 5/3/14 in Tech City Insider.

Why do it?

Starting a business can an exhilarating experience, the thrill that comes from taking an idea and making it reality is a heady thing. The flip-side of the thrill for many entrepreneurs is the sense of trepidation, a young business is a fragile thing that can be snuffed out in a host of different ways, not least of which the entrepreneur’s own mistakes or miss-steps. Avoiding these pitfalls takes two things – good networks and good advice. Triage was the result of an idea to tackle both.

The Tech City thing

Up until 2010, “Silicon Roundabout” was plugging away nicely as a small but growing digital start-up hub. Things changed in November of that year when the Prime Minister proclaimed the area for Britain and renamed it Tech City. Three years on I believe this transformational act has been hugely beneficial, but at the time the bemused citizens of Shoreditch weren’t quite sure what to make of it all. Some were concerned they had become pawns in a political game, others saw huge potential for London to claim a place on the world stage.

It’s who you know

At the time I was studying an MBA at nearby Cass Business School and was rather desperately casting around for a dissertation topic and struck upon the idea of researching the business networks in the area. It’s common wisdom that for a technology cluster to succeed it is vital that business networks are open and collaborative. From the initial stages of my research in early 2011 I came to the belief that East London was a bit of a closed shop – there were quality networks, but it was difficult for newcomers to access them. Through the hard work of many people and organisations over the last few years, this has changed. Today newcomers can get a feel for the business networks quickly and it’s not too hard to figure out who is who. Networking with entrepreneurs like yourself has become easier than ever but this has created a problem. If they are just like you, chances are they’re stuck with the same problems as you – getting good advice when you don’t have the resources to pay for it.

It’s also what you know

My networks research also turned up problems with skills and knowledge gaps – as a marketer I noticed a lack of marketing knowledge, and I guessed was this problem ran into other areas. Certainly the conversations I was having with investors seemed to bear this out. Knowledge for entrepreneurs is tricky. No one comes to entrepreneurship with a full skill set and often the resources to pay for advisors don’t exist either, so we seek advice. In the start-up world there’s no shortage of advice, from sources as diverse as online forums and the person sitting next to you in the pub. The challenge for entrepreneurs is knowing good advice from bad, whether it applies to their specific situation, and whether it applies at their specific point of development. For example, you have an idea about a product, before you spend 6 months building it, a quick chat with an experienced investor would be invaluable.

Creating Triage

I saw this problem of networks and knowledge and wanted to do something about it and finding a way to put experienced advisors in front of entrepreneurs seems to make sense. There’s nothing particularly novel about the idea of an advice “brokerage”, but by putting things together I saw an opportunity to help the entrepreneurs who most needed advice:

  1. There are any number of mentoring services in Tech City, but for the most part they help businesses who are a bit more developed and need ongoing one to one help. Triage is about quick interventions.
  2. There are also a number of office hours services put on by everyone from VCs to law firms, but these are not always available exactly when the entrepreneur needs them. Triage delivers access to experts within a couple of days.
  3. There are dozens of meetups where you can go for advice, but can you really trust the advice you’re receiving? Triage is backed by highly experienced volunteers.

The first two points are resolved by the Triage booking service. The third point was left unanswered until mid-2013 when Russ Shaw launched Tech London Advocates. Russ’ vision of hundreds of industry experts all dedicated to the advancement of tech was inspiring… and the thought of a captive pool of highly experienced, credible and motivated people was exactly the thing Triage needed to make it work. Luckily Russ liked the idea as well.

So how does it work?


  • To access the service, you only need to register here once, then you can pop in whenever you like.

The Desk

  • We have set up a physical location –we have a desk in TechHub@Campus (thank you guys!) which is open 9am to 1pm weekdays and if the service proves successful we hope to open more desks in more locations.

Initial Meeting

  • Upon arrival at Triage, you’ll have an initial discussion with the Advocate on the Desk, and depending on what sort of advice you need, they’ll set up a meeting with the next available specialist Advocate, usually within a day or two.

Specialist Meeting

  • Typically these meetings are half an hour or so – sufficient time to cover the problem, but sufficiently short to keep the meeting focused.

Why all the face to face?

Like most tech people I believe in disintermediation. However sometimes face to face is better; when you are sick might go online to check up on your symptoms, but ultimately you’ll go see a doctor. Triage is designed knowing the value of face to face contact for networking purposes. So the Initial Meeting in TechHub gives you a chance to discuss your problems with an experienced Advocate, perhaps they’ll turn up something you hadn’t considered, likewise for the Specialist Meetings.

A final word

Triage would not have been possible with enormous amounts of help from a lot of people, but specifically all the Advocates who volunteered half a day per month to work the Desk or an hour a month of their time for Specialist Meetings. I can’t thank them enough. To the entrepreneurs, I’d hope you’ll use Triage whenever you need it and hope you find it valuable, if you have any suggestions please do Tweet us, but remember that it’s provided by volunteers, so please respect people’s time and read the Triage code of conduct on the registration page.


Tech Turkeys: You said what now?

As I’ve said in the past, there’s some truly diabolical tech advertising out there. That gave me an idea for a new section for Marketing for Tech – the Tech Turkeys – a chance to expose the worst crimes against communications and learn a few things.

Our first candidate is a company called Sprinklr, that’s pretty much all I know about them. I’m not quite sure what they do, as they haven’t really explained that very well.  As you can see:

Sprinklr Poster - Source: Ivor Tossell
Sprinklr Poster – Source: Ivor Tossell

That first example come from a tweet by columnist Ivor Tossell. Apparently I’m not the only on who was bamboozled by the incomprehensible jargon, Ivor got 3,142 retweets.  Sprinkr clearly has a few things to say because later that day I received this ad in my Twitter-feed:

Sprinklr Twitter ad
Sprinklr Twitter ad


The tragedy for this company is that they’re spending their ad budget talking corporate gibberish. They’re not the only ones doing it,  but that doesn’t make it better. Communications is really pretty simple, tell people what you do or what you’re selling.  Do this is by speaking their language not yours. Next time, spend a little money on a Copywriter. If you can’t afford that, just don’t let your Product Manager near your ads… Ever.

Facebook: Rise of the Social Conglomerate

I’m reasonably certain that by now most of the people likely to read this blog are aware that Facebook has bought WhatsApp for around $19bn. That amount of money is eye-watering and there will be plenty written about it, but none of it will be better than this from analyst Benedict Evans, and I’m certainly not going to attempt to improve on it! Instead this blog will look at an interesting phenomenon that Ben touches on – the rise of tech conglomerates.

M&A tech-style

Mergers and Acquisitions are nothing new in tech of course – some companies like Cisco have built themselves incrementally based on a constant stream of acquisitions. Others do in more infrequently but with a degree of fanfare – the doomed AOL/Time Warner merger at the height of the Dotcom Bubble in 2000 is a classic for a range of reasons, from its sheer scale $160bn (in 2000!!) to its demise in the Bonfire of the Dotcoms that followed. We are also quite familiar with companies like Microsoft (Skype) and Google (Motorola, Nest) buying up companies to give them exposure to new markets – a time honoured business strategy. But there’s something different about Facebook’s approach to M&A, and it says a lot about the challenges they face.

Battle for the Home Screen

The ever-more crowded home screen
The ever-more crowded home screen

Facebook as we all know is a social network; but to be a successful social network your objective must be to be *the* social network. As a business then, Facebook’s success relies on exploiting network effects to build and maintain its dominance. As Evans points out and as we’ve increasingly come to realise, mobile users are increasingly taking a portfolio approach to their use of apps – Facebook for this, SnapChat for that, WhatsApp for messaging, Instagram for photos and other things – we find communities for specific purposes through our social networking apps, and these apps battle for dominance on the home screen of our phones.

Poor at Innovation, Too Late with the Chequebook

instagramFacebook has realised this as much as anyone and they’ve made numerous attempts to tackle the problem in-house – Poke, Home, Camera, Messenger, Paper – all have failed or underperformed (though the jury is out on Paper… for now). Compare this, for example, with Google who have been generally successful with in-house developments from Gmail to Maps to Google Drive. The failure of Facebooks apps and products are a pretty sad indictment of its ability to innovate beyond its core product. The reasons for this failure are varied by generally speaking I believe there’s two things at play: firstly Facebook haven’t matched their ubiquity with an ability to be first to market at scale – think about Google Maps by comparison; and secondly Facebook’s products couldn’t cope with the simplicity and focus of the specific competitors, think about the impact of Gmail by comparison. So more often than they’d like to, Facebook has been forced to reach for the chequebook, they’ve been forced to do it from a weakened negotiating position, and often facing criticism from the users of existing apps.

A Social Portfolio is Born

The consequence of this has been actually pretty interesting for business geeks like me. Rather than a series of products sitting under the Facebook brand, Facebook has been forced to maintain the new brands at arms’ length. Instagram and now WhatsApp retain a large degree of independence, with separate brands and separate management. Seemingly by accident and poor management, Facebook have struck upon a classic big business play – they have become a portfolio business. They have become Facebook Inc. – The Social Conglomerate.


Kickstarters, you are not Jony-Bloody-Ive

Jony Ive has many guises. To Queen Elizabeth II, he’s ‘Sir Jonathan’. To an army of sweaty-palmed Apple fanboys and girls he’s ‘Jony the Grey-Shirted’, a designer/magician who wields the Staff of Simplicity – Lvl 18 magical item, +4 attack roll when facing iCal or Scott Forstall – smiting the evils of skeuomorphism and banishing them from his pastel-hued utopia. To me, though, Jony Ive is a brilliant designer, someone who changed the game for product designers of today, but also someone who riffs just a bit too much on the work of Dieter Rams to claim he’s merely taking “inspiration”.

Jony Ive creates blank sheets of paper

To some on Kickstarter, however, Jony Ive creates blank sheets of paper. Really. If you don’t believe me go to Kickstarter, search under “iPad” and scroll through the lists of projects. It quickly becomes clear that many ideas simply address the two greatest shortcomings of the iPad: a) it’s heavy; and b) the sound is lousy. Search a little further, though, and you’ll feel a general sense of unease followed by the helpless feeling of impending dread – like when the bloke in the deli starts talking to you and stops looking where his fingers sit in relation to the salami slicer. As we scan the walls of specimens, the iPad becomes the starting point for some weird and disturbing creations.

Introducing our Dissection subject

The Curve Cover
The Curve Cover

It was whilst browsing in these darker realms that I came across this wonder, The Curve Cover. Firstly I’m going to be nice, because the creation of the Curve Cover really is a triumph. It takes some seriously impressive delusions for someone to: a) disregard the fact that the iPad is a bit more than a digital photo frame; b) decide that Jony Ive doesn’t have clue about design; c) believe that a clunky wooden frame will sell; and then d) convince a manufacturer of all of the above. That’s the sort of delusion that David Koresh and Jim Jones can respect – or should I say “could”.

I’ll start with the frame because, really, how could I not? Despite my earlier reference to Dieter Rams, the iPad really is a beautiful piece of industrial design. Yet our perky Kickstarter believes that it can be vastly improved with a frame that looks like something you’d find in a shop situated in a sleepy coastal village. You know the ones, they sit there, gathering dust on a shelf amongst the patchouli oil vaporisers and pamphlets for the local “wellness therapist” – the one who believes the moon landings were faked and that Reiki can repair electronics. The lesson here is – take the accumulation of dust as a sign. If it won’t sell to recent-retiree stoner tourists, it won’t sell to anyone.

Moving beyond the design let’s have a think about the concept of a wooden frame. There are many people who have made wooden peripherals, generally they’re seeking something a bit organic yet in keeping with the iPad design aesthetic… oh who am I kidding, they’re pretentious hipsters who can’t repress the misguided urge to tinker. My suspicion with wooden peripherals is that you’d use them once or twice before you realise they make your iPad significantly heavier, and sound even worse. The really beautiful stuff may get funded initially, but like a puppy at Christmas, the novelty will wear off, it will be neglected, and before long, end up on eBay.

Curve Cover Production
Curve Cover Production

Last and not least is the full expression of delusion: the efforts by the creators of the Curve Cover to establish a manufacturing process. Part of me does admire their forethought in ensuring that the enormous demand for their product can be met; that’s something Apple could actually learn from. But sadly it’s all a wasted effort – what was really needed testing for demand in the first place (pro tip: Your family and friends don’t count).

Lesson 1: It’s not about you

The lesson from the Curve Cover is this – focus on what other people want, not what you want. You find this out by asking them. It’s really very easy. Kickstarter allows you to harness the opinions of people who generally want you to succeed. Given some of the stuff that does get funding, an unfunded project is a clear sign you should give up and go back into management consulting.

Lesson 2: Relentless customer focus

Finally there’s this: don’t be the idiot that quotes Henry Bloody Ford and his “faster horse” line, or talks about Steve Jobs’ disregard for market research (or Jobs quoting Ford on the faster horse thing). Ford was eventually overtaken by competitors who did listen to their customers, and though he didn’t directly ask customers what they wanted, Jobs was relentlessly focused on customer experience.

In the end, none of us are at the same level as Ford or Jobs. If you are, by all means ignore me, but chances are you are not, so shut up and listen to your customers.

Kickstarter – Failed Ideas in Formaldehyde

If you like this introduction, the first post in this series can be found here: “Kickstarters, you are not Jony-Bloody-Ive”

The first thing I should say is that I’m a fan of Kickstarter and crowdfunding in general, services like these connect ideas with money in a way which bypasses the middlemen, investors and “experts” and provides a marketplace for ideas… ones you’d think could not possibly work. For the self appointed “experts” a random trawl through the list of stuff that has received funding is a refreshing way to put your own prejudices in their place – the wisdom of the crowd works in funny, surprising and just occasionally, successful ways. But this would be a rather dull post if I focused on simply on success and the occasional worthy failure; sadly we’re all human and it’s simply far more enjoyable to indulge in a bit of schadenfreude and who knows, in the process we might a few lessons along the way.

Dissecting Specimens

x_lFortunately, here again, Kickstarter can come to the rescue. For if you wander far enough down the lists, beyond the hordes of perky inventors, quirky musical tropes, and budding entrepreneurs with all their interminable attempts to replicate Apple ads, you’ll discover a vaguely disturbing world of failure, hubris and some incredibly ill-considered product design. It’s a bit like one of those episodes of the X-Files when Mulder and Scully stumble into a warehouse only to find it filled with row upon row of aborted clone foetuses, all preserved in glass tanks and displayed with unexpectedly moody lighting (I mean it’s a science facility… aren’t labs supposed to be well-lit?) There they stand in mute condemnation of their creator, who made attempt after failed attempt to generate something of value, only to find the still-born “thing” has a tail, or an abnormally enlarged elbow, or a jaws where its buttocks should be. We the audience shudder in horror as Scully asks what kind of mad man could have done this so many times and yet still kept trying. Mulder, dead-panning, responds that the true sign of madness is trying the same thing over and over but expecting a different result. Well Fox and Dana, those mad men and women have a new warehouse to display their efforts. In the nether-reaches of Kickstarter you can find bizarre picture frames for iPads, carry cases for iPads, and entirely irrelevant cotton pyjamas… for iPads. And much like the aborted buttock-jaw cloned-human foetus, these abominations to the sight of St Steve of the Book of Jobs, should be brought to light so that budding product designers will learn that on Kickstarter your shit ideas will haunt you for eternity.

Inflamed Passions

So that’s idea behind this new series of blog posts on product. Starting next week, and every so often thereafter, I’ll will bring forth one of these abominations to put it under a harsh light of the examiner’s table for dissection. But rather than stoke the passions of a flaming-torch-wielding mob, I’d rather incite some self-reflection. Hopefully we’ll all be forced to concede that just because we think our product ideas are best things since the iPod, chances are that they’re not. And despite a perky project video with its interminable ukulele soundtrack, in all likelihood the whole project is simply an exercise in poor taste and hubris, preserved online, for eternity.

Next Week’s Post

Come back next week for the first post in this series: “Kickstarters, you are not Jony-Bloody-Ive”

Tech Marketing in 2014: No Time for the Guru

It’s always a good thing when a friend gets an exciting new job. Double that if the job is with an excellent company which is experiencing high growth in a newly emerging category. But it’s not often that your friend’s new job has the potential to help redefine a profession (in this case, technology marketing). My friend Peter Thomson’s new role as Chief Marketing Officer with the equity crowdfunding platform, Seedrs, has the potential to do just this. Let me explain why…

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