Tom Petrocelli's take on technology. Tom is the author of the book "Data Protection and Information Lifecycle Management" and a natural technology curmudgeon. This blog represents only my own views and not those of my employer, Enterprise Strategy Group. Frankly, mine are more amusing.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

I’ve Seen An Elephant Fly

Just when I thought it couldn’t get worse, Apple proves that they are more clueless than even I imagined. In fact, I thought that since they had handled the crisis regarding their new product - the iPhone 4 - so poorly that they had already reached the depths of crisis management.

I admit it. I was wrong.

They have shown that they can go further, faster than anyone could have imagined. Only in the wrong direction. I’m impressed but not in a good way. Apple made three mistakes, real obvious ones at that. First, they used the term “Antennagate” during their press conference  and then said they wouldn’t say it anymore. Too late! Not only is it out there now but it will be linked with Apple forever. It sounds petulant to say “Antennagate” then declare it off limits. Does Steve Jobs really think he has the ability to order the world not to use the term anymore? Instead, he validated a concise label, something easy to remember. If Apple wanted the word to go away, they should not have acknowledged it. It would have died out on it’s own. Now it will forever be linked to Apple.

Second, they offered their customers a sop. Instead of vowing to fix every iPhone with the problem, they are giving away a free case. Wow! How generous. The case will actually help reception but it’s clearly a cheap gesture not a grand one. That has not been lost on Apple fans. The company clearly isn’t showing them the love.

Finally, they went on to say this is a problem that all of their competitors have too. The reaction from the other smartphone manufacturers is what you’d expect. They laughed at Apple for trying to make this their issue. Besides, customers don’t buy  the “they suck too” defense from a company that talks about the superiority of its products. When your kids come home from school with a bad grade and say “lots of other kids did bad too”, do you take that? No! Instead they get the well known parental refrain of “I don’t care what other kids did. I only care what you did.” Pointing out flaws in others, even if it’s true, does not relieve you of your responsibility. Apple customers know this. It’s time to drop the excuses and fix their relationship with their customers.

So, it only gets better. Apple keeps setting new lows for crisis management. Someone needs to get over there and pull them out of this infinite loop.

Friday, July 16, 2010

A Swift Kick In The Apple

I’m not a great believer in schadenfreude. Finding joy in other people’s misery does not say something positive about me so I try not to engage in it. However, with some companies, it’s too tempting to ignore.  Apple is one of those companies. In my opinion, they sell a lot of style over substance. Pretty much anyone who has developed for Apple environments such as the iPhone or Mac will attest to them being control freaks. They are the epitome of a closed system. Apple, and Apple alone, decides if your App gets to be in the App Store. They are not exactly forthcoming with the criteria for rejection either. At times it has appeared that they were rejecting apps from competitors for all the wrong reasons. They make Microsoft seem like Open Source.

So, it was with a bit of guilty glee that I have followed the latest iPhone 4 debacle. Why, because Apple approached it with their usual arrogance. Even though it was obvious to a first year Electrical Engineering major that there was a problem with the antenna, they denied it. It wasn’t the signal that was wrong, they said, it was how the software measured it. The first thought that came to mind was “So, it’s always had a lousy signal. Silly us. Thanks for pointing that out.”

Now, they are suggesting but not really admitting that they may have an antenna problem. Still, the reaction is slow. Everyone has to wait for a press conference starring Steve God… I mean Jobs. This is classic Apple. They think they can fix this with a marketing event. The arrogance is astounding.

Here's a quick lesson in Crisis Management 101. First, you admit that you may well have a problem, that your customers are not stupid rubes who don’t know how to hold a phone. You don’t blame partners and faceless engineers. Second, you investigate quickly and offer to replace the product if there is indeed a hardware problem. You let anyone return the product whether you can prove there is a problem or not. Most people won’t but it’s the kind of gesture customers appreciate. Finally, you fix or replace all the problem devices for free. Even if you take it on the chin financially in the short term, you will have built long term value and enhanced your brand. For a company dependant on brand, like Apple, this was an opportunity to build long term loyalty.

What you don’t do is deny that there is a problem before you’ve even investigated it. You don’t act like your customers are morons. Most importantly, you don’t tell everyone to shut and up and take what you give them. This type of attitude takes an opportunity to connect with customers and turns it into a lot fewer customers.

More than anything else, you check your ego at the door. You act humble, sorry for the pain that you caused your loyal and beloved customers. This seems to be something that Apple is genetically incapable of doing. You think they would have learned from the recent Toyota debacle. Silence is deadly here. Arrogance is even worse.

At one point in my career, I was on both sides of this type situation at once. Network boards that we had been shipping were failing. Most were caught by our manufacturing QA engineers. Those that weren’t we offered to take back from customers even if they hadn’t seen problems yet. The contract manufacturer tried to deny that there were problems at all. Then they tried to deny that they had anything to do with it even when we showed them the defects. Finally, we had to threaten to pull all of our business from them. Suddenly, they were willing to admit and rework all the boards. Needless to say, we weren’t looking to send them any new business. We no longer trusted them.

This is classic Apple. Too bad. They had an interesting opportunity to make their customers trust them, to grow loyalty, and turn a bad situation into a positive one. They’ve done the opposite. In the long term, this will haunt them.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Make ‘Em Laugh! But Be Careful…

One of the best ways to gain attention is through humor. Comedy sticks in your brain. It releases endorphins which put you in a good mood triggered by what you are watching. Personally, I think Geico is the Master here. Besides the Gecko and Cave Men, they also have what I call “serious guy”. He tells you that Geico will save you 15% or more on your car insurance. To prove he’s not lying he asks “Was Abe Lincoln Honest?” This is followed by a hilarious fake film clip designed to look like it was from the Civil War. The one with the little piggy crying “wee wee wee” all the way home is equally memorable. Geico has a whole channel of these on YouTube. They are really entertaining and might save you 15% or more on your car insurance.
These ads work because the message is simple (save money on your insurance), are linked to iconic characters, and are genuinely funny. We are talking classic comedy here. The kind your kids and mom can appreciate. It helps you to link Geico to positive emotions. Ask anyone about Geico and they start to chuckle. The simple message sticks in you head. Even if you don’t know how much they claim to save you,  you will recall that they save you money because it is linked to a positive emotional response.

You knew there was a gotcha here though. There are a lot of ways to take that positive feeling, turn it around 180 degrees, and trash your product message. Here’s my hit list of ways to turn funny into lost opportunity:
  1. Use mean stereotypes. A recent Storwize video portrays a a storage administrator -  an IT professional and presumably a customer - as an overweight, sweaty guy dressed in a white short sleeve shirt and tiny black tie. In other words, he’s Dilbert. He even gets abused by his data storage. A true loser. This has just got to insult IT people. And overweight people too. Lovely, a twofer. I did check with some sysadmins/IT pros I know about this. They were not amused.
  2. Being ironic. As in hipster ironic not real irony. Advertising that is full of snarky, insider jokes never works. Inevitably, someone doesn’t get the joke. Tech advertising can be like this. You try to be funny but it comes across as geeky. It’s all the internal references and acronyms folks. It doesn’t play well with the people who have to write the checks or the end users. Now, reduce it to a twitter Tweet and you get a lot of “Huh?” reactions. If your ad is making a play on the word iSCSI, it will have a small audience.
  3. Complex messages. Geico’s ads work (just like the Budweiser frogs) because the message is straightforward. Technology advertising tends to be a tad more complex. As in incomprehensible. How can you be funny when you jam  several technical and business messages into 3 minutes? You can’t. Even if you start out funny, you are soon mired in Dullsville. Keep It Simple! When Dell ran a serious of ads full of colorful laptops being created to the song lollipop, it was cute, delightful, and humorous. It also got the message across that a laptop was a treat, something you enjoy and not just a tool. You ruin funny when you add complexity.
  4. No message at all or no connection to the product. Lots of these abound, especially in print. No pictures or mention of a product. Something cute and funny that grabs our attention and then… nothing. You have to connect the good feelings that the humor gives you to something. Otherwise the arousal is lost in space.
  5. Overdo it. One of the few places Geico blew it was when they overexposed the Cave Men. A whole TV show devoted to them was quite over the top. When you see or hear something repeatedly, you start to like it more. After a certain point, however, it gets overexposed and you begin to like it less. Psychologists have known about this behavior (called the Familiarity Principle) since the early 1960’s.
I like funny advertising. I love funny blogs, Tweets, songs and jingles, websites, Facebook posts, and videos. It gives me a good feeling which I then transfer to whatever it is someone is trying to sell. It might not close a sale but it puts the company on the list of “products to look at”.

A local company called Mighty Taco (awesome fast food by the way) has humorous placemats that often feature something local like the Queen City Roller Girls roller derby league. They also have a bunch of weird, quirky commercials that you only see late at night when it’s cheap. Even their website is funny. The message is simple - “Eat our food!” If you live anywhere near Buffalo, NY, the very mention of the name Mighty Taco makes you smile. That’s perfect advertising.

Only, now I’m hungry. Perhaps it worked too well.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Let’s Get Something Clear About Transparency

I have noticed a lot of bloggers coming clean about how their blogs are influenced by who they work for. One of my favorite bloggers, Marc Farley (aka 3PARFarley) recently published his statement. To say I was not in the least surprised to find that 3PARFarley worked for 3PAR is a bit of an understatement. His tongue and cheek blog can be found at

Never to let an opportunity go by to get some traction from the work of others, I wish to add my own transparency statement. Here it goes:

Unlike so many other bloggers, I can honestly say that my blog is not influenced by any company. That’s because I am not part of any company. It’s not what I would choose but it gives me the opportunity to say “No one tells me what to do (other than my wife)!” For the right money I’m willing to change all that. Not the part about the wife. I would never change that. Love ya honey.

I write what I write because I think it’s right. Or maybe because I’m a blowhard who likes to hear himself talk. Perhaps it’s so that I don’t have to find meaningful employment and can call myself a blogger instead. It could be a mental illness such as Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Who knows. Or it could be that the aliens tell me to write. Good thing they don’t tell me what to write because then this would be one big horrible lie. I couldn’t live with that.

I don’t like to admit this but this has not always been the case. Not the part about aliens silly. They’ve always been there. No, the company part. I have blogged for companies that I worked for and it surely influenced my personal blog. Not in the form of shilling for the company (that’s what corporate blogs are for) but in staying away from certain topics or companies so as not to offend someone who contributed to my livelihood. The unfortunate accident of my current situation frees me from that worry. I am now truly free to annoy anyone I choose… unless I’m interviewing with them. Then I have to wait until they stop calling back to use them as a piñata. Just kidding about the piñata part. No really. No worries. But next time get a non-disclosure…

My problem with transparency statements (mine and Marc’s excluded of course) is that they assume that we are all too stupid to figure out that most blogs are sponsored, paid for, or otherwise influenced by a corporation. Come on folks! What ISN’T manipulated by a company these days? Please don’t act like anyone is hiding something. Gosh, what was the giveaway? The corporate logo on the top of the page? How about the bio that starts with “I work for (insert company name here)”? I’m not cynical, just realistic. Even most of the so-called private blogs say things like “These views do not reflect the views of my company.” The heck they don’t. Let’s have someone lambast the CEO and see if the disclaimer saves his job. Of course it won’t so you stay away from certain topics. That’s influence. See the advertising on the blog? Do you think that comes without strings? Sorry but no. The first time you lose an advertiser because of what you write you learn quickly not to write that again. It might not even be conscience but it’s there all the same.

To the folks who cry about transparency and journalistic integrity I have this to say: This is not journalism. It’s commerce. Most blogs that don’t come out of a new agency are a form of advertising. I would make a Fox News joke now but I hear they have mean lawyers. Just kidding. I love you legal guys.

Most people get that. It doesn’t mean there isn’t value in what the blogger writes but it is, at least partly, marketing. If you can’t tell if someone is selling you something then assume they are. Even me. I’m not but it’s better that you assume I am if you aren’t sure. Trust me on that.

Finally, I’ll leave you with this pledge:

I’m not selling you anything but truth. I’ll NEVER sell you anything but truth. Remember that when I go to work for a big company. I’ll never change. Not even then. I’m just like that. You can take that to the bank.

At least for now.

Author’s Note: Ask about our convenient sponsorships. You too can reach a targeted audience of high worth individuals through blog ads. Inquire with the author. Reasonable rates.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Quick Comments on Comments

For quite some time, a great number of people have told me that I should turn commenting back on for this blog. Some made it sound like I needed to turn commenting on. That the world would be destroyed in 2012 and it would be my fault for not turning on commenting. And the Mayans. Don't forget the Mayans and their stupid calendar.

But seriously, I listened and I responded. I turned the comments back on and guess what happened?


That’s right. Almost no comments. Talk about feeling unloved. Worse yet, many people didn’t even realize they were back on. What’s horrible about that is that I wrote a blog entry on it. That probably means that no one is reading my blog. Sigh…

It’s like having to come to terms with your mortality. It leaves you with a sense of your insignificance in the universe. This is the problem I see with commenting. You either are inundated with flaming chaff or deadening silence. The great democratic community of rational thought that Internet commenting was supposed to create has never really materialized. It didn’t happen when the action was on forums and news lists. It didn’t happen in AOL chat rooms. Other action happened in AOL chat rooms but we don’t need to go there.

I have a theory as to why this is. It has three parts.

  1. People only want to have in depth conversations with people in person. Over the phone or even through IM, but not in an anonymous forum or comment page. It’s too impersonal.
  2. Humans are social creatures who need real interactions with people they know. You want to know the people you interact with. We want to talk with Joe Smith not weirdtechguy25. A Twitter feed or a blog is a form of publishing. The one talking to the many. When it’s one to one or a small group like commenting is supposed to emulate, you want to know the people you are dealing with. Otherwise how can you judge what they are saying. The context is wrong.
  3. The jerks, flamers, spammers, and other social misfits do not follow the rules of polite society. They are the Internet equivalent of the guy standing in the middle of Times Square shouting gibberish at his hand. We instinctively move away. When this happens in comment pages and forums, the rest of the population moves away from them and they are all that’s left. Yelling gibberish at their virtual hand. Not pretty. The meek may inherit the Earth but the weird will inherit the comment page.

This, by the way, shows the genius of Facebook. Whether Zuckerman and crew realized it at the time they had hit upon the real way we want to interact with people in cyberspace – just like we do in real life. We only want to converse and share pictures with people that we know and like. Not anonymous strangers but folks we know on some level. In that environment, not unlike in person, social pressures keep people from acting like asses. We don’t mind inviting a friend of a friend either. But someone has to vouch for them and their behavior.

So there you have the problem with comments and forums. Once you remove the need to adhere to social norms, once you eliminate the need to act like a civilized person, some number of people will revert back to animals. It’s like pulling the control rods out of the reactor. Soon or later, things get out of control and BOOM!

Here’s my solution (listening Blogger?) – let bloggers have to “friend” people before they can comment. Let us toss them if they act out of line. Don’t moderate the comments, moderate the people. Only let people into the party if they have an invitation.

With that in place, comments will be something worth having. Of course, that assumes that anyone is reading the blog in the first place. I can dream.

One quick note to my international readers. If you want to post comments, please do it in English. I know that is terribly provincial of me but if I can’t read something it is summarily dismissed. Sorry, but that’s the way it has to be. Thanks for understanding.