Machines, media & miscellanea by Kevin Carmody
The theme of dConstruct 2010 was Design & Creativity.
Marty Neumeier - The Designful Company
As I’m sure you can imagine, I only made some quick notes as I was listening to the talk, so what you will find here is an amalgamation of the talk and my own thoughts. Please do not consider this as their words or even mine.
I don't know much about any of the dConstruct speakers - Marty from first appearance was a middle aged gentleman, smart with suit jacket, jeans and shoes. This seemed to be a common style amongst the new media gang. Fashion aside, Marty's talk was a discussion on branding and getting a good product within a brand. To this end he reference many tech business luminaries, though like most people there he was an Apple-afficianado. For example, he was fond of a particular Steve Jobs anecdote. ‘After a marked increase in sales, Jobs was asked “how do you intend to keep this up?” To which he replied: “we intend to keep innovating”’. Marty had a theme which he both uses as his opener and closer, very neatly done too, and it is simply this: "If you wanna innovate, you gotta design".
Marty’s assertion was that Harvard business school teaches by case study, solving problems by looking how they have been solved previously. This is counter to successful tech businesses and brands, as is testament with Jobs’ statement of the importance of innovation.
So he talked about what really gets a product there is where you need to be designing, on that edge between radical and useful, those differences between what's good and different. He talks about that traditional style brand-development where to go for something different is a risk, and many a CEO wouldn't take that risk. The problem is if you don't take that risk, there is a good chance of the brand dropping into obscurity. Consider the ubiquity of swoosh logos and then globe logos and how their commonness means the brand becomes unmemorable.
So, what are some of the most successful brands and how does one get there? Marty presents a path to follow in brand development where you have the vision at one end of the scale, and the product at the other end of the scale. He suggests that to be successful you've got to get from one end of that scale to the other. The path to follow has three stages: knowing, making and doing. It is to this end that you need a clear visionary that can manage these stages. One needs a leader who can picture the goal, has the resources available to build the product and impetus to actually put this together without diluting the vision or compromising on the product development.
Marty also talked about how business is speeding up... I'll be honest, I'm doubtful, I feel this is a cliche statement that many people make based on regurgitation. Still, he made a fair point and one that is difficult to dispute, but it could do with some kind of citation. "There are now more financial transactions in one day than the whole of 1965".
So, what do consumers want? Well, we've always said these things: Pick two; good, cheap or fast. What he pointed out though, is that consumers have a new demand, they want free, perfect, now. So if you want your product to be successful you've got to give it everything. Let’s be honest, this is something we expect when one considers products like Google docs. He then pointed out that just to be free, perfect and now isn’t necessarily enough! In an ever-cluttered market place you have to be really different, not just a little bit different, but really different. He talked about how we organise information in our mind using categories and compartmentalisation. So what you’re ideally looking for in a product is to get it in one of those compartments by itself. So take the example of a smart phone - you want to have your product there by itself, like the iPhone, which for some time everyone thought of as the only smart phone. A successful brand is a walled category.
Historically, to make your product a successful one you would have started with factories. By having factories you can product more than anyone else, you can supply for the demand, you’d be at an advantage. When others realised this and everyone built factories, the next step was to get the most capital, allowing you to buy out the competition. After capital was patents. Patents were a means of securing your market. Of course they can only work for so long. So the final stage is where we are at now, brands. This saves a certain amount of process because in people’s own minds they will compartmentalise and protect your brand for you as a consumer. So, to summarise, we are talking about how in the past it was very much physical - factories and a physical present which keeps your product dominant in the market, whereas now it’s a mental thing within the mind of the consumer.
If a brand is good and different, it’s a gut feeling. Your brand is what the consumer says it is and for you to stand out, that’s where you have to be really different. Example - if we have Nike, do we need Reebok? Do we need Wimpy if we have McDonald’s? A brand has to be truly radical and good, which is indeed a big risk.
I think in all the Apple-loving I heard on this day there is a tech brand that is more ubiquitous than iProducts will ever be: Linux. How different is that? Totally radical, and it’s everywhere. Just my 2p.
Marty presented a scale with which to measure brand success using the variables of good versus different on the z and y axes. He believed a brand generally fell into one of four sectors:
1) good, not different - common, does well in tests, and at first sales, but never really dominates its market. 2) good and different - this is the sweet spot. Often does poorly in tests, which means if often won’t get to market, slow in market, but customers will in time equate the weirdness to good : and eventually it will take a dominant position in the market. Example: Aeron chairs. (btw, I love Aeron chairs :) 3) not good and different - won’t do well in tests, and won’t be successful, people will equate weird to bad. 4) not good and not different - you just don’t want to be here, do you? But, this one often does well in tests because it’s not different, so it’s familiar to people. But it doesn’t challenge. A surprising amount of products sit here, like Gillette fusion razors. Five blades. Five. Whoop-de-doop. Not exactly going to dominate the market.
As your brand visionary leader man, there are four key things you need: 1) empathy 2) intuition 3) experience 4) judgement
Let’s finish how Marty did. If you wanna innovate, you gotta design.