Let's face it, it's hard to love 'Big Pharma.' We know all about their record profits, their massive margins on pharmaceutical drugs. With all of the money they have, you would think Big Pharma commercials would be some of the very best on television, but they can often be summed up in three words: a hot mess.

So, what is wrong with Big Pharma’s television advertisements? They are wholly incongruent and contain mixed messages due to regulation – the Food and Drug Administration controls nearly fifty-percent of the content and messaging in that super-pricey TV advertisement.

We all know these commercials, the ones that promise to improve your quality of life while simultaneously reminding you of the high probability of death, excessive bleeding, incurable dry mouth, or a host of other ills that accompany the drug being advertised in the commercial. Not a great experience

Surely, we marketers and purveyors of web content would never deliver such an experience unto our customers; it’s unthinkable. Sadly, this happens more often than we probably realize. Let’s look at few ways we unintentionally ruin the customer experience:

  1. We tell half-truths. As my grandfather used to say, “A lie is just a half-truth.” Marketers lie about price-points all the time. When, in your own experience, has ‘free’ really meant “free?” When we present an offer, the terms should be easy and clear. Gimmicky or misleading offers are the easiest way to introduce mistrust into a newly forged customer relationship.  
  2. We bury users in compliance-speak. This is the essence of the Big Pharma marketing failure. There has to be balance between the amount of human-readable and legal-ease content on a website. No, you shouldn’t make an enemy of the corporate attorney – but you should always try to advocate for the clients – especially if your user experience suffers because of compliance language and excessive legal-ease; your company or enterprise may be destined for failure if you can’t find that balance.
  3. We make things too complex. If only three of the fifteen fields on a contact form are necessary, be sure your form validation mirrors this; we tend to go overboard with required fields. Also, keep in mind, a conversion doesn’t have to happen in a single visit; converting a customer can also be a process – and trying to speed that process up can have detrimental effects. Keep new page windows (_blank) to a minimum – and always advocate for holistic web systems. This blog author recently sat (suffered?) through a software demo with a very large national company that required five different sets of login credentials for five different customer portals. If your IT department cannot deliver a seamless user experience without bouncing your customers across disparate web properties lacking continuity, you may have the wrong people. With the abundance of web services and APIs (application programming interfaces) built into most modern systems it is inexcusable to suffer a poor web experience because of shoddy technology or lazy systems integration. 
  4. We make web browsing impersonal. According to Demandbase, “Targeted marketing is meaningless without intelligence and personalization.” Websites that lack personalization are forced to resort to ‘spray and pray’ marketing whereby messages for differing audiences are posted on the same page and the user is left to figure out (on their own) which message applies to them. Imagine being asked to drive a friend’s car and instructed that you could not adjust the driver’s seat or the position of the car mirrors. We make our customer feels the same way on the web when we restrict, or withhold altogether, choice and customizations over content and look and feel. We waste their time when we ask them to consume content or messaging that does not apply to them – and this is why we cannot convert them.
  5. TMI; information overload. We view our websites as limitless containers into which we can stuff every shard of content we have on a subject. Less is more; be strategic and judicious with your content.
  6. We “finger-wag” at potential customers. We use overly strong language about accepting terms and conditions, or we present too many obstacles, checklists or steps to convert. Example: Potential customers aren’t allowed to add items to a shopping cart until they register or create a profile.   
  7. We don’t care about their experience. Example: “Our website doesn’t work with Safari, it only works on Internet Explorer. Tell the customer to use IE.” You get the point; and if the customer is on a Mac or some device you were too lazy to code for – you have a problem.

The bottom line is there are too many companies and organizations doing web, social and content strategy right today. You cannot afford to be in the minority that does not try to put its best foot forward. Experience is everything and you do not get any points for being ‘good enough.’ You cannot have a “good website” if you have terrible content but great functionality. Your content may be exceptional, but if your browsing experience is marred by bad design and lazy technology, you have still lost. User experience is an all or nothing proposition for companies and organizations: Those that do not give it all they have have nothing.

Posted: 1/24/2014 5:29:57 PM by Tim Staney | with 0 comments

iOS7-(2).pngSure, iOS 7 has received its fair share of criticism; no widgets, no "live tiles", no jailbreak like customizations. But iOS finally has the one thing for which I have begged; and it only took six years to bring it to life. So, Sir Jony Ives, I salute you...

I’m talking about the “Mark All” feature in Mail – abysmally overlooked since the dawn of the iPhone. I think overall, iOS 7 is silky smooth – and I could care less that some people will jump ship to Android over the new Safari icon; it grows on you, trust me. I’m just elated that I can now easily clean up the 300 pieces of email I receive each day quickly and easily, without tapping on each item to select it.

Under the hood, iOS 7 feels all brand-new; it is fast, clean and really smooth even in its pre-release state. I like the new look so much that I am actually turned off by the look of classic apps that have not yet updated; they feel primitive and unrefined by comparison. 

The camera app is finally where it should be; with a “bloody fast” rapid shutter as one blogger put it. Multi-tasking is easier; it’s much quicker to close apps; and I can't say enough good things about the Control Center. Siri is no longer crappy Beta software. Thanks to Sir Jony Ives and the team behind iOS7, the whole operating system is in a much better place as a result. Now if Apple is smart, they’ll push the envelope with future iOS releases and not wait so long between major updates to give Apple users what they really need in a mobile operating system.

So, to all of iOS 7's critics: No, I still can't pick my default mail app or browser; but I can finally use the apps that I've had for more than five years; and that makes me happy enough to stay put for awhile and see if Apple can continue the progress.

Posted: 9/16/2013 7:12:55 PM by Tim Staney | with 0 comments

RTBIG.jpgOK, so Windows RT was a really bad move; no software, no apps; an unhealthy reliance on using ARM processors. Problem is: Most Windows enterprise software was written for X86 chips, not ARM chips. Microsoft should have just put their energies into pure Windows 8 tablets and skipped RT altogether. But if a Microsoft tablet fails, we are stuck with only iOS and Android options, neither of which I'm convinced are the desktop replacement we've all been hoping for.

While many speculate that RT sounded the death knell for Microsoft on a tablet, I doubt that is the case; but it's going to take some time to rebuild consumer confidence in Microsoft as a provider for future tablets. Sure, Surface Pro appealed by default, to IT jet-setters that shunned tablets and immediately opted for Netbooks. Remember Netbooks -- and all their silliness?

I like Apple; I can tolerate Android – I own products in both camps, but neither is poised (presently) to dominate the enterprise. Some would claim the iPad has that coveted position right now, but “apps” aren’t full blown desktop applications and Apple has a long way to go in hybridizing the mobile and desktop experience; more Cocoa, less Objective C.

Android continues to be a mess. With HTC’s slew of bad decisions, The Android platform has quickly becoming the “Samsung Show” -- all Samsung on the ‘high end’ and a host of junky low-end phone and tablet manufacturers. But Samsung has its own baggage and while profits are soaring, the company is known for its lavish (and slightly wonky) advertising spectacles and layers of bloatware that run on top of the operating system we used to call Android. There’s a darn good reason you need a quad-core processor and two gigs of RAM to run Android and all of the many layers of Samsung on top of it, Samsung’s skins and bloatware.

Both iOS and Android have shortcomings and need further grooming to get us to the next level of mobile computing; and let’s not even talk about Blackberry.

So while Apple is holding on to the hope that we’ll leave Microsoft Office in droves for iWork in the cloud (as glorious as it is), it is unlikely that the enterprise market will move that way anytime soon, as long as Office 365 continues to live and [barely] breath. And who knows what Samsung (errr, Google?) will do next to bridge the gap for enterprise users? I’m sure they have a rootkit and ROM that ‘fell off the truck’ in China that can fix that.

Me – I’d just like a rugged web browser that isn’t Safari, or an operating system that isn’t Android and the assurance that I don’t have to lug around multiple devices with me everywhere I go.

So here’s what I’d like everyone to do:

  • Microsoft: You know Windows 8 was only “half-baked” – and if you’re constantly going to cater to the last remaining sect of desktop holdouts who cried over the missing Start button or the lack of “XP Mode,” you’re never going to make any progress. Whatever you do, please just call it “Windows” – not Surface, or Windows Phone 9. Actually, if you, Microsoft – yes, I’m talking to you – has just called the OS “Surface,” in the first place, instead of that Windows RT/Surface Pro silliness, and made sure it ‘just worked’ with desktop apps, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.
  • Apple: Get over yourselves, merge iOS and MacOS, then get the developer community to start building some serious enterprise apps that are worthy of being called applications – and you might have to suck it up and allow browser plugins on iOS so the SharePoint people can do their SharePoint Silverlight stuff.
  • Android: We’re not really sure what it is you do, but we know it’s going to require an eight-core processor and four gigs of RAM sooner than later.
  • And Google … What are you doing? Samsung owns your soul now, HTC is dead any day now – and Nokia loves Windows again.

Maybe Google will sell Android to Samsung and go buy Blackberry – and start all over again.

I hope that Microsoft can re-group and get back in the tablet game ... soon. The only thing saving iOS and Android from spinning off the edge of reality and taking the whole tablet market with them is a little grounding competition in the tablet space; one that reinforces the need for a true desktop experience on a mobile device. There's your desktop-killer.

Posted: 8/7/2013 7:14:31 PM by Tim Staney | with 0 comments

MeanRepLarge.jpgA failed New Year’s resolution – I generally try to refrain from blogging about personal experiences – but I’m pretty sure this one is worth sharing; certainly senior executives and sales managers interested in their bottom line will care.

I was the recent victim of SCS: Stupid Customer Syndrome; and it’s been bothering me. I won’t share the gory details – the offending company – but the experience made me think about respect, critical listening and the lost art of customer service.

In 2009 the New York Times published an interesting article, ‘Why Customer Service Is So Bad,’ which helped me frame up this recent offense and connect the problem to the IT culture which I have been a part of most of my professional life. In the article, Jay Goltz, cites an over-educated sales force, “too smart to relate to those common customers,” as one possible problem. And yes, the offending company was an IT company.

So, before I get into the details, allow me to digress; I understand what it’s like to be a technical person; but I also know what it’s like to be a salesperson, a marketer and a customer. Information technology has always had, in my humble opinion, a customer service problem. Back in the day I recall the “P.I.C.N.I.C.” jokes that used to make their way around server rooms; they all started with a customer needing some kind of assistance.

At the risk of getting my geek membership revoked and becoming a pariah at conferences and tech events far and wide, let’s examine a typical conversation between technologists when it comes to dealing with customers:

Tech 1: “Who was that?”
Tech 2: “Jan from accounting again. She keeps calling because she can’t print. I’ve told her like three times to reboot, but she keeps calling. She keeps crying about some reports she needs to print.”
Tech 1: “P.I.C.N.I.C. Problem in chair; not in computer.”

Let me say, there are many wonderful IT people out there; helpful, patient – that genuinely care about their customers, and seek to provide resolution and excellent customer service. I don’t mean to rip on IT – bad customer service can happen in department stores, restaurants; just about anywhere. Sadly, bad customer service has become as American as apple pie and outsourcing company call centers to India.

I do believe though, that IT has a customer service problem. I was researching high technology companies with very complicated product branding, no pricing information on their website, let’s just say they sell enterprise widget systems. I was trying to get information on products, but couldn’t easily tell from many of their websites what I needed due to their overly complex branding model, or the cost.

As the adage goes, “If you have to ask how much something costs, you probably can’t afford it.” I should have known that I was in for a rough ride when the call-to-action on every page landed at a “call for pricing” page. There was no way of knowing if these were $500 solutions, $5,000 solutions or a $50,000 solution thanks to these companies' unhelpful websites. After I still couldn't find any ballpark pricing through deep searches on Google and Bing, I picked up the phone and started calling.

Every company I called lacked anyone answering the phone, despite their "call for pricing" decrees; I ended up in voicemail for each one I called. Of the two companies, of four, that actually called me back; one was rather helpful, and the other, of which I am writing, was absolutely not.

The sales representative refused to talk pricing, even ballpark pricing, and proceed to try to steer the conversation into "hard sell mode" – who controlled the budgets, and who had purchasing power. I just needed a price, even a rough one, to evaluate these solutions. I was basically told they couldn't help me without a budget number. Sad. The rep was frustrated with me, and I with him.

There is a reason that many high-technology companies failed in the late 1990’s, their culture – cappuccino machines, nap-tents and foosball tables – gave them a false sense of confidence (and a good dash of arrogance). Many dotcoms had nothing more than a flimsy demo, white papers on vaporware and big egos. A company that can’t publish product prices is bound to join the ranks of countless other IT companies that thought they were ‘too good’ to fail, but ultimately did.

With CTO’s and CIO’s being quickly replaced by CMO’s – this is a new day – and shoddy service and vague pricing models just don’t cut it. And certainly, any company that still thinks they can play the shell game with pricing might need to look at selling the cappuccino machine and foosball table just to make payroll next month.

Posted: 8/5/2013 7:37:22 PM by Tim Staney | with 0 comments

Of the automobile, Henry Ford once famously said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses."

Translating user requirements into project plans and deliverables is never easy. Many stakeholders are quick to tell you what they want; an extra field in the database, or a new “screen.” But stakeholders often think of what they need from the context of what they presently have and are generally more inclined to ask for the bandage over the cure. Humans are generally happy with the “uncomfortable comfortable.”

Steven Sinofsky, former product development rock star at Microsoft noted that customers become conditioned to expect improvements along the path a company or organization has set for them. If the company stagnates, its customers are likely to grow complacent; they don’t want a new or different product, they want their favorite product, but with changes. “These customers have built up not just expectations, but workflows, extensions, and whole jobs around your product,” he wrote.

As Sinofsky also points out, customer demand can point a company in the entirely wrong direction; consider the effort put forth by the Linux community to bring a desktop version of the operating system to market, while the rest of the world is focusing on mobile. Apparently they didn’t get the memo that the desktop is dead.   

The answer to innovation lies in communication and story-telling. Often to get to the underlying business problem an analyst or project manager needs to ask lots of questions to identify the root cause and identify possible cures. In his article Why corporate giants fail to change, Julian Birkinshaw stated, “The failure of big companies to adapt to changing circumstances is one of the fundamental puzzles in the world of business. Occasionally, a genuinely ‘disruptive’ technology, such as digital imaging, comes along and wipes out an entire industry. But usually the sources of failure are more prosaic and avoidable -- a failure to implement technologies that have already been developed, an arrogant disregard for changing customer demands, a complacent attitude towards new competitors.” He cites fossilized management processes, narrow metrics, a disenfranchised staff, lack of diversity and an intolerance of failure as the root causes to change avoidance.

How do you move from applying endless bandages and quick fixes to business problems? How do you move an enterprise to innovate rather than iterate?

Peter Drucker defined innovation as the often and organized search for opportunities that address a specific need and is simple in nature. The Arm & Hammer Company, for example, may have never envisioned its flagship product as an ingredient in toothpaste rather than cakes and cookies, or that it would become the go-to product to remove that mysterious smell from your refrigerator.

So how did A&H discover these innovations? Perhaps the secret to deodorizing refrigerators started as an old wives’ tale; perhaps someone’s grandmother discovered it accidentally. Regardless, innovation starts with story-telling and critical listening. This explains why the agile software development methodology has become so successful and so popular. It starts with a simple use case, a story: Someone somewhere needs to be able to do something in a way that they can’t presently do, so that something else good and measurable can happen.

Agile software development is more akin to new product development than the rigid, manufacturing-like process it followed for decades. It focuses on individuals and interactions over processes and tools, working software over documentation, customer collaboration over contracts and responding quickly to change instead of following a set and rigid plan.

So, the next time a stakeholder comes asking for a faster horse, ask them to tell you their story, their needs; what they’d like to do, where they’d like to go, how they’d like to get there; then build them an automobile, spaceship or a really cool transporter. Be creative.

Posted: 7/31/2013 6:30:50 PM by Tim Staney | with 0 comments


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