Monday, July 19, 2010 Crowdsourcing Done Smart

Yes, I am currently Director of Research at Focus, proud owners and nurturers of, so I'm biased. But any industry analyst, observer or pundit who says they aren't biased is lying. And any who will let their biases alone direct their analyses, observations or punditry aren't very good at what they do and should consider other endeavors. And no, Focus management did not see or know about what I've written here before I wrote or posted it. End of disclaimer. Now, for what would have been my inaugural marketing blog entry, had "Antennagate" not intervened and proven irresistible to me.)

I'm a big fan of, the pioneering provider of software as a service (SaaS) and cloud computing solutions for business, and of the company's innovative corporate philanthropy. I'm also a big fan of fellow M.I.T. alumnus Peter Coffee, Director of Platform Research at and one of the software industry's most intellectually interesting and erudite spokespeople.

As evidence, I offer the recent blog entry from Peter, "The Gold in the Crowd in the Cloud." It's a cogent, interesting discussion of crowdsourcing -- using the Web and social media to throw many otherwise disconnected brains and hearts at the same challqenge or opportunity -- by and more broadly. It resonated with me not only because of the intersection of good marketing, social good and modern technologies represented by's specific efforts discussed in Peter's blog (which of course you should check on and support). I was also engaged by Peter's thoughts on crowdsourcing because I believe to be a prime example of crowdsourcing done really well.

At, anyone can ask or answer a question about almost any aspect of running a business, from human resource (HR) management to information technology (IT). Anyone can contribute content about a business-related subject in which the contributor has expertise, experience and/or strong opinions. And anyone can post comments on anything they see at the site. Content therefore tracks closely with the key concerns of the core audience, business decision makers.

Focus oversees and pays for creation of some core content deliverables, which like community-contributed content are available at no cost to whomever can use them. The Focus team also reviews all contributions and Q&A threads, to categorize them and to weed out profanity, irrelevancy and attempts at spam or hacking. Otherwise, though, it's crowdsourcing designed to provide, as the Focus tagline says, "business expertise for everyone," not just companies that can afford expensive market analyses or consulting.

And Focus monitors contributions closely, inviting frequent and well received contributors to become Focus Experts and Advisers. These people are selectively offered opportunities to contribute richer content and to participate in Focus events such as our recent complimentary and wildly successful Focus Interactive Summit, "Mastering Lead Management" (available on demand here; registration required. An open, crowdsourced, largely self-governing meritocracy.

(In case you were wondering, Focus also interviews many of the people who download content from about what they've done or are planing to do with the information, when they did it or are planning to do it, and what experiences they've had or are expecting with specific solutions and vendors. Those interviews result in high-quality marketing leads Focus sells to solution providers, to fund the free content and community at A business model so cool, it made me want to join the company a bit more than a year ago now.)

The old ways of obtaining expertise to aid critical business decisions relied largely upon expensive and unwieldy market or industry analyses and reports or expensive and complex consulting engagements, both of which I've done a lot during the past 30-plus years. That business model is unsustainable. It's too expensive and too detached from real life and real time. Crowdsourcing, when directed, managed and supported well, democratizes expertise and makes it affordable and almost immediately available. It also makes the exchange of information and value more conversational and centered around the needs and goals of users and buyers, a win for everyone in the value chain.

Don't just take my admittedly biased word for any of this, though. If you find independent endorsements compelling, "Media Business" Magazine just named a Top 10 business Web site and the sole winner in its "launch" category. (Read all about it here.) But what you should really do is visit and spend some time poking around. You don't even have to register to do that, and I think even a cursory perusal will give you a tantalizing and credible glimpse into some of what crowdsourcing is doing to transform "the wisdom of crowds" into tangible, measurable, meaningful benefits, in business and in the world at large.

Friday, July 16, 2010

iPhone 4: Apple Gets "Antennagate" Right

What is good marketing, anyway?

Well, I've said for years that good marketing must do four things -- it must engage, inform, persuade and invite. (Of course, after all of that, the entity doing the marketing must then deliver on whatever has been promised, then delight customers, partners and other stakeholders. However, those challenges are only partly under marketing's control, and therefore beyond the purview of this blog post. But I digress.)

By my lights, then, the Apple iPhone 4 antenna kerfuffle is now officially over, after Steve Jobs got up in front of the media and punditocracy and covered all four of what I consider the critical success factors of basic marketing.

Engage: Steve engaged stakeholders and observers worldwide by immediately copping to the existence of the antenna problem.

Inform: Steve told everyone watching and listening that this problem affected smartphones other than Apple's, something easy to forget or discount given all the noise about the problem centered around the iPhone 4.

Persuade: Steve showed evidence intended to prove his point. The videos showing other smartphones dropping signals may or may not have been universally convincing. However, Steve reported that only 1 iPhone 4 buyer out of every 200 had complained to Apple, and that AT&T said iPhone 4 return rates were so far only one-third those experienced with the iPhone 3GS. Pretty persuasive little factoids.

Invite: Here's where Steve got it most right. Since the argument is that so-called "bumper" cases that wrap around the rim of the iPhone help to solve the problem, everyone who wants one gets a free bumper case from Apple through September 30. Everyone who's already bought one gets a refund. And everyone who's still cranky can just return their phone for a full refund. Problem solved. Mission accomplished. Let's move on.

Now, Apple is not known for rapid-response news conferences. The company's media events are almost always supremely well orchestrated, in part because they're planned fairly far in advance. Today's news conference was arranged rapidly and not nearly as flashy as, say, most Apple new product announcements. However, I think Apple covered its bases well and struck the right balance between culpability and resolution. In many ways, "Antennagate" and Apple's response represent a textbook example of how marketing people should respond to sudden, unexpected threats to a company's brand or reputation.

Bonus recommendation #1: You may have noticed that I referred to it as a "news conference," and not a "press conference." Similarly, I strongly prefer "news release" to "press release." Minor semantic points, to be sure. However, they keep the focus on the news -- as in, if there ain't no real news, there should be no release or event. I'm just sayin'...

Bonus recommendation #2: has some really good recent research and analysis related to Apple, the iPad and the iPhone. I particularly recommend:
+ "The Apple Roadmap: What Steve Jobs Doesn't Want Microsoft to Figure Out," a great Focus Brief by Focus Expert Colin Bhowmik; and
+ "No Flash? No Problem -- 3 Work-Arounds for iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch," by yours truly.