Wednesday, August 11

Finding Forrester — Analysis on how blogging defines using a new architecture for information

When I find a site for a research and consulting business like Forrester Research I find the task of determining who they are and what they do to be a daunting task. Sure I can read marketing speak all day summarizing up what they say they do and where their areas of expertise are, but I increasingly find the heart of the matter is revealed in the "water cooler talk". "Water cooler talk" is what blogging and articles of interest are. They are an insight into the granular level of detail that is happening in the corporation that shape it's culture and reveal honestly a look into what motivates and drives them at a person to person level. This is what I'm interested in because unless it's McDonald's (which a consulting company most clearly is not) you are going to be doing business with real live people not some prepackaged and uniformed individual who's primary purpose is to be a walking, talking embodiment of corporate ideology. Blogs reveal the humanity in corporations which fundamentally connects to the humanity in their clients. Person to Person (or Peer to peer / P2P) is the level creative business is done on. I don't do business with market speak, advertising or corporate ideologies. I do business with people.

This "water cooler" level of interaction with potential clients was historically unheard of because in a world where you only have 15 seconds to grab an individual's attention you sure as hell weren't going to waste time putting forth marketing material talking about how the Real vs. Apple DRM conflict is changing the digital music industry.

My how times have changed. Marketing and advertising "conversations" have only just evolved within the last five years and they are still in their infancy. We still put out the marketing speak, the attention getters, and the brand names as identifiers which can if remembered be followed up upon. However increasingly we can cut these first contacts shorter and shorter.

Why? First, less explanation is necessary because our market circles are smaller, tighter and more specific so we don't need to be as broad or focus attention as quickly. Second, there is higher capitalization on potential customers because now the cost of the potential client to follow through from the initial contact, ad, or marketing blip to an in depth article of interest is lower. In summary it is inherent to the new media marketplace that the clients have much more specific ideas of what they need and it is much easier for them to follow through on their interests.

In short the architecture of our information systems have changed. The medium is the message or at least helps tremendously to formulate it and change it. The architecture implied by new media makes the difference. We have switched from a model based on casting a wide net to a model based on a high and specific level of interest. You can see this pervade every level of society from our choices in the music we listen too (the top 10% of musicians accounted for 90% of the music industry income just 2 years ago, now they only account for 40% of the income), to what we watch on TV, to our hobbies and our social circles. Some call this "geek culture", perhaps a progression on Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs to self actualization. I just explain it as "geek culture goes mainstream", "Engage at will". People have the ability to for the first time in history to follow through on highly specialized interests on a mass scale. This should be even more revolutionary than the advent of broadcast media ever was. This is the bottom up paradigm the exact opposite of the era of captive audiences, the few to the many, the broadcast nation. It's an awesome responsibility and power. Engage at will.

This new conversational and more natural methodology of self promotion and marketing is embodied in blogging. I could use some bombastic approach to talk about who I am and what my interests are, or I can give you the Cliffs Notes on who I am, a list of fields of interest and expertise and then send you off to the dog and pony show of current events and happenings that is my blog so you can really get a sense of what I find interesting, how I look at it, how I talk about it and my general personality. Ultimately the blog is a much better representation of me than any resume, marketing bio or "about" page.

Can we take the conversationalism of blogging into the traditional media such as TV and radio? In a word, no. Sure there is perhaps something to be learned or passed on from this new conversational realm of marketing and advertising, but the basic problem is the capitalization costs are way to high and the audience is way to broad in traditional media to make that solid connection. Instead we depend on an imperfect system that spreads distraction with unnecessary information (aka. mental pollution) balanced with spectacle in the form of humor, irony, parody, and the big kid on the block, satire. Only a small percentage of an audience in a traditional media marketplace that is exposed to the message will ever be interested in it and only a fraction of that remaining audience will be able to remember and follow up on the meme to gain further knowledge.

That wide scope being stated I followed along with Forrester Research as they gave me all the standard marketing and self describing rhetoric on the standard "about" and "product and research" pages of their website. I must say I didn't generally find them useful beyond the first paragraph.

Details, Details, Details

Turn back all you who or faint of interest we go now to where the tire meets the road.

Here's a simplified user experience study explained from my limited perspective. On Forrester's products and services page I found it interesting that they say they are into Research, Data, Consulting and Community. As for the specifics? Well the brand and marketing speak clearly get is the way of understanding:

» WholeView 2 Research
» Fast, flexible analyst access
» Consumer & Business Technographics®
» Omnibus
» Forrester's Ultimate Consumer Panel
» Forrester Oval ProgramTM
» ForrTelsTM

As we can see above the services are either completely proprietary brand names and therefore unable to be disseminated or in the case of "fast, flexible analyst access" they are wordy to the point of distraction. Never mind that it's "fast and flexible", is "analyst access" an actual service, product or specific interface, or is "analyst access" a hi-light of some aspect of their service such as being easy to get a hold of on the phone or responsive?

At this point I'm bailing. My eyes have glazed over and there's way more generic marketing speak and brands than I'm willing or should have to shake a stick at. This is a complete misuse of brand and marketing speak.

Forrester, you have me, I am here, just tell me what you do. Please do not feed me the marketing and brand BS when you already have my attention. Repeat customers and internal business professionals need the specific brand names as a handle to discuss and progress the ease of interaction and understanding, but used in this context they are an obstacle to new and potential customers. Shame. For a research and consulting company that seems to be completely experience oriented they should know better. Below are much better examples I've either made up or paired down. Notice how they are all lowercase to avoid confusion over wether they are proper brand name or simply descriptors and common terminologies.
» the venture capital program
» boot camps
» forums
» consumer panels
» consumer research

These terms are commonly understood terms by professionals and laymen alike. From a hierarchical standpoint a product and service overview should ALWAYS go for understanding FIRST and marketing and brand speak secondarily.

If Forrester really wanted to make some sense to new visitors and potential customers AND still use their brands it can certainly be done. A simple example: a grid giving the common name for the service in the first column and then the brand names or better yet the logos in the second column. This could also be done simply in paragraph form, or even with an added marketing speak description. For example, the common name is the paragraph title, the description contains the marketing speak, a pull quote could contain a testimonial, and a picture element the brand name or logo. These are but a couple of the basic options traditional design gives us to resolve such problems and build knowledge into the design of the page. The primary focus is (to reiterate) to automatically clarify and impart knowledge as to the proper product brand names and what they are properly and commonly understood to be.

Finally, the actual proper description and brand name should be immediately reiterated on the the individual product or service page. Forrester seems to do quite well with this but without the connection on the overview page they are at a loss. For example:
"Forrester's WholeView 2TM research is the foundation of all of our offerings. Unlimited Inquiry to analysts, regular teleconferences about research ideas, and a seat at a Forum are included for Member-level clients."
So, I'm going to at this point skip an analysis of the about page. I think you get the drift, and we're going to go straight into Forrester's Articles of interest which they call "Browse Research". It is essentially an extensive blog format. It consists of reverse chronological posts, but the sheer number of people involved and the categories makes this a highly developed blog. It is quite unique and appears to be a very good way of creating customer dialogue, marketing, and building consensus and direction. Very bottom up and very democratic for such a company. In fact they take a big and positive step in a new direction away from the traditional marketing spiel and if it's any indicator at all of what type of company they are then I want to work for them.

First I find it very interesting that they charge for most of their entries and articles. In fact barring the details it's a NY Times model. Give away the intro for free and charge for the full article. The biggest difference in this case is the articles seem to start at $75 and appear to go up to several hundreds of dollars. Also of interesting note, which is sad, is that they lack and very much need RSS feeds.

Who is Forrester according to their articles?



So what are they interested in? Well, let's start with things that they are interested in and that I'm interested in. Keep in mind that I culled this from their website in about 20 minutes, but each one of these I've read and is worthy of some post and discussion on this blog. I must say I'm quite enamored by their direction and level of interest.

Apple iTunes Jump-Starts Windows Digital Music
Why? Two reasons, peerless ease of use and broad awareness.
1) organize and find digital music files; 2) rip songs from CDs with great sound quality; 3) make playlists; 4) burn CDs and DVDs; 5) copy files to Apple's iPod portable players; and 6) buy music from Apple's iTunes store. The strength here is in the integration...
US Anti-piracy Bill Won't Stop File Sharing
PIRACY CAN BE SLOWED, BUT IT CAN'T BE LEGISLATED AWAY
...
File-sharing will survive the IICA. With 44 million Americans sharing files, stamping out file-sharing services is like killing bacteria with antibiotics ? it causes resistant strains to emerge.
...
Paid download services are the answer. Services like Kazaa already operate in the shadows; the IICA would further that trend. By contrast, industry-backed, profit-seeking services like iTunes and Napster keep improving with better connections to portables and more flexible packaging, including subscriptions. The best weapon in the antipiracy war is to stimulate competition among legitimate services, which we estimate will reap $300 million in US revenues this year alone."
TV Ads Hit The Web -- And Stop
Traditional advertisers love it.
Six advertisers and 15 media properties have signed up for the six-week beta test starting today, including AT&T, ESPN, iVillage, Honda, MSN, Pepsi, and Tribune Interactive.
However the model is dead
But TV ads online don't make sense for consumers. Television ads are designed for that medium's entertainment-focused environment and consumers' passive mindset. Online, consumers are more actively engaged in the content"
The new model is "quality of attention", better translated to quality of the experience
Media companies will want to charge based on the size of the audience, but advertisers will want to pay only for consumers who viewed the ad.
My predicted outcome. Go look up "honda cog" on google. This is what the future of advertising is about. It's word of mouth, it rewards quality, creativity and ingenuity. In short you pay the people who create it and the people who promote it. You can't buy the eyeballs online. BTW, and if you like that one I've got a million more.

From Discs To Downloads
Hard media is in jeopardy: By 2008, revenues from CDs will be off 19%, while DVDs and tapes will drop 8%. Piracy and its cure -- streaming and paid downloads -- will drive people to connect to entertainment, not own it.

Analysis
» File sharing has lopped $700 million off of music sales.
» Proliferating on-demand media services will overtake piracy.
» In five years, 33% of music sales will come from downloads.
» CD sales will be down 30% from their 1999 peak.
» Various forms of video on-demand will gross $4.2 billion

What it means
Portals and cable win the on-demand media sweepstakes.

Action
TV networks: Get those DVDs of popular series out quickly.
I don't necessarily agree with all their stats or summaries but one thing is important here and is clear. We need new marketplaces for getting video and other media on demand.

Blogging: Not Even Close To Mainstream
My thoughts? First, i wish I could get the rest of the article, but $75? Blogging is fundamentally NOT about mainstream. Blogging is a conversational medium. Saying it's not mainstream is like saying dinner table discussions aren't mainstream. Whether or not it's mainstream is irrelevant and that is precisely the point because a blog is relevant to the people who participate it just like you're family dinner table discussions are only relevant to your family. Now... Metablogs like Slashdot on the other hand, that is another story altogether.

One Cheer For XP Media Center 2004
Kudos to Microsoft for: 1) integrating the platform with download services like Movielink and Napster, and 2) bringing pause and rewind, TiVo-style, to live streamed radio. But we remain skeptical that Media Center Edition will sell.
...
The PC experience doesn't belong in the living room. We've said it before and we'll say it again: The complex interface, unparalleled user control, and open standards make the PC the ideal device for checking email, getting news, and editing and managing content. But when it comes time to passively listen to music or watch video, consumers don't want to wait for a PC to boot, worry about it crashing, or have to navigate through numerous menus.
You heard it, the Windows XP interface was created for sitting at a desk not a couch. As such it is on the whole a little to tedious. Then again so is the experience with most digital cable TV. ;)

Oh, and it's too expensive.

DNC Bloggers Missed An Opportunity
The Democratic National Convention recently admitted 30 bloggers as credentialed press. While they provided amusing and insightful anecdotes to traditional media, these new-age reporters missed the chance to be the public's eyes and ears where the real action took place: in the more than 200 sideshow events. Blogging serves its best role when it produces stories that the mainstream press cannot cover.

Damn, this I'd like to read, but it's not worth $99. In this one case Forester got it half wrong. Bloggers did miss an opportunity at the DNC, but it's not that they failed as press. It's the fact that they failed to scream "Hey! We're Not Press". Blogging is conversation, and even if they were press a few bloggers can't cover the DNC. On the other hand the traditional press can't create round table discussion and debate on a topic. There is a disconnect.
The whole issue was completely misleading from the start. The two COMPLIMENT each other quite well, so why is their so much anxiety, misunderstanding and posturing? Traditional press people for the most part don't seem to get it, and maybe the bloggers who excepted the invitation didn't fully understand the expectations they were putting themselves in either. This may have set progress back a little.

The Consumer Advertising Backlash(paid)
Consumers feel overwhelmed by intrusive, irrelevant ads. The result: a backlash against advertising ? manifesting itself in the growing popularity of do-not-call lists, spam filters, online ad blockers, and ad skipping on digital video recorders (DVRs). Marketing campaigns of the future must facilitate consumers' cross-channel search for information, going beyond the brand promises made in traditional advertising.
Travelers' Mobile Device Ownership Will Spur Wi-Fi
Mobile technology device ownership is pervasive among both business and leisure travelers. Nearly all own a mobile phone, three in 10 leisure travelers own a laptop computer, and PDA ownership among business and leisure travelers is substantially higher than the US average. The real news is the bear-hug embrace travelers have given Wi-Fi connectivity, primarily via their laptops, and for which most bear the cost personally. Hotels, airports, and establishments that serve travelers must focus on installing Wi-Fi to satisfy wired travelers' need, or passion, to remain connected. Wi-Fi will become the next value-added marketing amenity, starting with hotels, which will use it to as an incentive to attract Bookers to their sites from Web travel agencies."
Portable Media Players (paid)
Apple's iPod has garnered huge amounts of press coverage and propelled hard-disk-based portable audio players into the limelight. But what's next? Microsoft is pinning its hopes on the growth of a fledgling category of new devices: portable media players. Why just have sound when you can have video as well! But this is not just an added feature ? video presents a whole new set of barriers, including the different nature of consumer consumption, lower-cost alternative devices, and, currently, a lack of content services for these new devices. Nonetheless, aggressive pricing by device manufacturers will get these devices into consumers' hands and pockets ? but don't expect meteoric sales in the next two years.
All Roads Lead To Customer Experience

Introducing Forrester's Customer Experience First Look


The Digital Home Reshapes The Value Chain
Saving the best for last. This is a must read. To much good stuff to summarize.
1. Everyone is (rightly) nervous.
...
2. Dollars are moving away from content creators.
...
3. The hardware business ain't so rosy, either.
...
4. Dollars are flowing to the application layer.
...
5. Experiences will mean more than any piece of the chain. Is there one place in the value chain that is best? No. For companies pondering where they should be, the question to ask is: What is the best place in the chain for a particular experience? For video search or a local directory, distribution players will exert the most leverage. For long-form entertainment, content owners will win out. For business information or communication experiences, apps will harvest the most value. Devices will control experiences that are intimately tied to the device, like photos or games.
Point five is what primarily interests me. This goes all the way back to Marshal McLuhan. "Experiences > business models > meduiums > messages". That and every conceivable combination and order.

In summary. There is no summary. You've seen it, you've read it. I think it makes my point. The posts are more fun to read (even with my comments) and at the same time do a far better job of explaining the company, and as used in this context they also explain a lot about me.

Once again, it's to bad Forester doesn't have an RSS feed or possibly even comments. (Hint. Hint.)

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