Tag Archives: marketing

What does Apple have against the English language? (or how to restore a minimized window in Mac OS X with the keyboard)

Recently, hell froze over and I bought a MacBook Air. As you might expect, between then and now, I’ve spent a lot of time learning about Mac OS X (not hard) and retraining my finger-muscle-memory for Mac keyboard shortcuts (very hard). Who decided that Ctrl-F3 is the keystroke to get to the Dock?

Or, who decided that Macs should ship with the F1-F12 keys subordinated to the consumer-oriented functions — like stopping and starting tracks on the non-existent disc drive? Oh well, soon I will have used the Mac enough so that even the obscurity of the shortcut key to restore a minimized window will stop making me homicidal. Yes, I know you can hide windows with Command-H and that they will re-appear in the Command-Tab sequence. But, unlike Windows, hiding a window on Mac OS X is not the same as minimizing it. There is, in fact, a keyboard shortcut to restore minimized windows. But it’s so clumsy that even after I tell you what it is, you won’t be able to do it the first 50 times you try it.

Ready? Here it is. The keyboard shortcut to restore a window minimized with Command-M (or with the mouse) is 1) use Command-Tab to switch to the minimized window, then 2) lift off the Tab key while continuing to hold the Command key, then 3) in a ballet of left-hand coordination hit the Option (Alt) key as you triumphantly release the Command key.

I kid you not. Try it 50 times. Repeat. A pox on on the fingers of the designer of that shortcut.

But what really has me stumped is a simple question: what does Apple have against certain parts of speech of the English language? All Apple fanpeople remember the famous Think Different campaign from the late 90’s. It started Apple’s assault on parts of speech with a full-frontal attack on adverbs.

These days, starting with the iTunes store and now, with the Mac app store, Apple wants us to know that we can get content “on” the store instead of “in” these stores. In short, they’ve decided that English prepositions are the next target.

Take a close look at the official logo above. One has to go “on” the store instead of “in” the store to browse, select and buy. I have an image in mind of being on top of the glass entrance to the Apple store across from the Park Plaza hotel in New York City.

Back to the logo: it confuses me. I think they are saying that you are “on” a place on your iPad or your Mac when you arrive at the store. OK, maybe.

But isn’t the thing I want when I’m “on” that store location on my device actually located in the iTunes or Mac store? Said another way, I am “on” the store on my Mac or iPad — but the thing I want is in the store that I’m on. I guess you just have to think different about it to see it Apple’s way. :-)

OK, OK, so I’m being fussy about this. And we all know that Chomsky wouldn’t care: maybe a non-native English speaker or modestly grammar-literate designer or marketer at Apple came up with the unique utterance “on the App Store” as the icons were being created — and it probably stuck because of an uncharacteristic lack of branding consistency from Apple.

But Apple is all about branding. And while Think Different was deliberate, I suspect “on the store” is a mistake.

It’ll be interesting to see if we start hearing people use it in everyday speech. At least we’ll know where it came from.

One more reason to fear the marketers at One Infinite Loop.

Software only its mother could love

I’m learning something, or actually re-learning, something fundamental about marketing: a new idea, a true breakthrough, won’t sell.

I’ve been thinking about this because I’ve been talking to people whose job it is to follow/report/blog about software. And more than one has told me that I once worked on a very original product that, despite my best efforts to explicate it, confused them. (Why they waited until now to tell me is fodder for another post. You’d think the more outspoken tastemakers would have been delighted to express their opinions at the time, not ex post facto.)

I love highly engineered products. I also love new ways of doing things. I believe software can and should make it possible for people to do new things, things they haven’t been able to do before. But it’s not that way in the real world.

There, people like incremental changes. They like the familiar (though that begs the question of how the conventional got that way). They want to “get it” right away. They want to be like everyone else (I can’t tell you the number of blonde housewives I see in white Land Rovers with Sudbury High School stickers on the car, typing away in traffic on their white iPhone 4Ss). They want to be conventional.

You’re thinking, “Uh…light dawns on Marblehead. That’s pretty obvious, ain’t it? And, Alex, who cares?”

It matters because many software types believe that to be successful, you need a completely new idea. You can’t fund a company to build a “slightly better” product. To get investor interest, you need to convince them that you can displace an incumbent in a very large category, preferably a category with sales in billions of dollars. But, in reality, I am coming to believe that that’s what the dumb money funds. It’s probably better to fund a replacement for something people already know and hate.

Consider these two (fictional) software products. Then tell me which one you’d spend money on. Be honest. Calculate how much one or the other would change your world, the way you work. Consider having to deal with all the people around you with whom you interact and what would be required to really change how they all work. Decide how much of your day you wish to devote to exploring something new, unknown, different.

Product A:

  • Stretches your understanding of how you work
  • Has the potential to revolutionize the way you collaborate with your colleagues
  • Is less focused on user interface than on managing interaction

Product B:

  • Is familiar
  • Is an evolution of software you’ve used for decades
  • Looks like your favorite website

Bottom line: successful software products today are like a Philip Glass symphony: modern, but repetitive.

Truly inventive software ends up being something only its creators can love — because users today don’t really want innovation. They want to think they’re daring, in the vanguard, forward-thinking…but, really, they don’t want to change a darn thing.

Hell hasn’t quite frozen over: I almost learn to love Microsoft

I started work on a post two days ago that was tentatively titled “Hell Freezes Over: I Learn to Love Microsoft.” I didn’t get far because, as anyone who knows me knows, I have this thing against Microsoft: I am still smarting from the way they competed with Lotus in the 90’s. They were ruthless, cutthroat, aggressive, totally without ethics and, by universal acclaim, the least inventive technology company on the planet. Everything that was the basis of their success from the UI in Windows to their messaging technology they acquired or copied. Microsoft fanboys will argue differently, of course, but a careful listener will recognize a revisionist history in the making. I never got beyond the title of that post.

I was moved to consider such a blasphemy because, of late, MSFT is on a roll. Windows 7 is great. Office 2010 is great (though it’s been 10 years and Outlook’s bad copy of Lotus Notes 4.0’s views remains as impenetrable as ever…proof positive that when you slavishly copy design you don’t understand, you make a mess of it). Windows Live Essentials 2011 is great. IE 9 (buggy as it is — and as derivative of Chrome as it is) is going to be great.

These products are the best consumer software products you can get today because they have virtues found nowhere else today in consumer software technology: rigor in design, development and testing. MSFT has the resources to spend big on UI design. They have fleets of regression engineers to test every build. They have technical writers who make sure the products don’t ship until someone has written down what they do. A MSFT product today, no matter what you think of the origins of its technology, has superior “fit and finish.” Plus, Microsoft products today are arguably more secure than anything else simply because the company got tired of being the bad guy — and applied unimaginable levels of resources to improve.

And, I’ve been a fan of the Windows Weekly podcast with Paul Thurrott for a few years. Paul isn’t objective, but his advocacy of MSFT products is well-argued. And I respect someone who is an advocate but not a ho. If you listen, as I hope I do, with an open, but skeptical mind, Paul will rehabilitate your opinion of Microsoft. I don’t exactly forgive them for they way they got to where they are. But that was then…this is now. Today, the simple truth is non-techie people need reliable, well-designed and well-documented software that has been thoroughly tested. Google isn’t doing this. Have you ever tried the help system in Google Apps Premier? Apple products for Windows stink — and pointing out a flaw in them invites jihad.

So, I found myself trying to compose a paean to today’s MSFT, until I ran across this post from Thurrott’s blog about Windows Phone 7 ads. Microsoft is about to renter the smartphone business. Paul and Leo — and the rest of the MSFT-focused press community — have been banging the drum, hard. Thurrott has written a book about WP7. People are hot and heavy for any tidbit about Phone 7. So, when one of WP7’s biggest advocates wants to carry the new product’s marketing water by linking to leaked commercials for that product, what does MSFT do?

They get YouTube to take them down. Click on the image above to see how it looked on Thurott’s Phone 7 blog.

Let’s think it through: after spending big bucks producing what I presume are killer ads, some idiot in marketing — who doesn’t want to “spoil” their launch ad buys — decides that it just can’t happen that people could watch a commercial for their product before it officially launches.

This is woefully stupid — and classic Microsoft tone-deafness. If some shmoe like me wants to see a Windows Phone 7 commercial, why in God’s name wouldn’t they let me? Because they want to keep Windows Phone 7 a secret? This is going to help them build interest in the early adopter community? The free ad impressions will decrease the ultimate effectiveness of the ads? They will sell fewer phones because more people saw the ads?

This is the kind of marketing idiocy — slavishly adhering to some artificial schedule just because they have one — that reprises their fundamental lack of creativity.  Only MSFT could fail to see what a mistake it is to limit access to its own marketing messages. Only they could sap momentum for a new product before it launches. They’re probably sitting around the table talking about how to create Windows Phone 7 “mojo” without knowing they’ve killed it a little. Who wants to bet that marketing team will get a raise and some more restricted shares? (Full disclosure: like others stockholders in pain, it kills me to see MSFT stock stagnant. And yes, I’ve owned MSFT for years.)

So, after all these years, I get my cake and get to eat it, too. I get good products — and I can hold on to my grudge.

Thanks, Microsoft.

Email marketing results measured in basis points, and it’s all our fault


This is post is for all my colleagues in the marketing biz. I want to tell you that we collectively destroyed email.

What did we do that was truly stupid?

Simple: we have so overdone email that now it’s useless for all of us. Have you noticed that no matter what you do — text or HTML, links at the top or bottom, a great discount offer or the promise of everlasting life — your response rates have gone down? Have you noticed that no matter what “marketing automation” system you track email with that since 2005 your response rates have declined from whole percentage points to basis points today? (A basis point is 1/100th of a percentage point. They’re used to track minute changes in bond rates.)

Marketing programs that decline this precipitously this quickly do so only because we have completely overwhelmed consumers and they can’t take it any more. They’re the ultimate marketing failure: one hand clapping in an empty auditorium.

We don’t seem to remember how resistant we all were at first. We didn’t believe you could sell lumps of coal via email blasts. “Our audience doesn’t have email…and won’t ever get email.” Remember that? But, of course, that 55-year-old CFO and that aircraft mechanic and that Mom at home with stinky diapers all got email. So, what did we do?

First, those of us in big companies spent too much on email (because you can’t help yourself and you were afraid of missing the boat), driving CPMs out of reach. Next, we “institutionalized” email…added people whose only job is to generate email blasts. We linked it to our CRM systems…we became “email experts.”

Because we’d spent real money on people and systems, we needed to measure what we were doing. So, of course, we needed “infrastructure” like Eloqua, Vertical Response and Constant Contact to manage it all. And the (physical) direct mail industry needed a place to go because we had previously crapped up direct mail, so guess where they went…with all their “direct marketing science” and purportedly effective techniques.

Having built a hugely expensive house of cards around email, we forgot one thing: anyone can send email because the Internet made it essentially free. While we were adding cost to email and being profligate to boot, the spammers discovered that basis points of response can impact US dollar flows into Nigeria. We encouraged the spammers, actually gave them the idea, while they laughed at us for “systematizing” it and making it a “core marketing practice.” Any fool can write a good email and find 10K people to send it to. Between us and the spammers, there’s not an iota of tolerance left in anyone for more email pitches.

Worse, the customer service people decided email — along with out-sourcing call centers to India — would be the ideal way to reduce costs (and, incidentally, ensure that artificial measurements of responsiveness replace actually talking to customers).

Now, we have all the people, tools and expense…and it’s all worthless. Pay-per-click and search-engine-optimization are now nearly ruined as marketing programs as well. (Is anyone paying less per conversion?) And that same weak, lemming-herding instinct is all over social media (which already has enough corporate Twitter feeds to tempt a new generation of spammers).

Creativity still counts. Someone will think of something clever soon…and then have to stand back and watch the masses of marketing experts foul it up as well.

With Alli, my lunch is in my pants

Alli might help you lose weight, as long as you don’t mind oily stools

(Photo courtesy of J. Star, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike)

OK, so I know that what you blog about is a more-or-less semi-permanent record of you. Plus, I have clients who read this blog. And I might be just a little more over the top than usual with this post, but there’s a real marketing problem with a new product and I think the marketer’s response to that problem is…uh…interesting.

Have you heard of Alli, the new over-the-counter medication for weight loss? It’s a low-dose version of orlistat, a drug that prevents the absorption of fat. That can lead to weight loss for those taking the drug.

The problem with orlistat is that fat that doesn’t get absorbed…it…uh…passes, if you know what I mean. This can potentially create an oily mess.

Imagine being the marketing people for Alli: you want to sell this thing in big, big numbers, but it has this indelicate side effect. And you have to disclose it.

What’s the solution? To them it must have seemed easy: make a helpful recommendation about how to deal with the heartbreak of panty-rear oily streaks.

On www.myalli.com, there’s a “treatment effects” page with this chirpy sounding suggestion for working people on Alli:

Until you have a sense of any treatment effects, it’s probably a smart idea to wear dark pants, and bring a change of clothes with you to work

Now, I have to tell you that any product that pretty much insures users will need to cover up the product’s nasty effects with dark clothes or even keep a supply of adult diapers nearby has a serious marketing problem. And this kind of copy makes it even worse.

Anybody who reads about Alli in the newspaper or looks at the packaging is sure to hear about this side-effect. Why make it worse with a “helpful” suggestion? Isn’t Alli targeted at adults, who presumably know what the implications of this side effect are?

To my ears, this over-the-top effort to be helpful backfires, and does so badly. Far from being useful, it just simply makes the product sound so revolting that I suspect millions will be put off.

This is a simple case of the marketing people just saying too much and overreaching to be “helpful”.