Monday, May 16, 2011

How to Really Sell Technology (Hint: It's Not About Being Technical)

I decided I wanted a Kindle when I saw people using it on the train. They weren't using the Nook or the iPad. It was definitely a Kindle, with the Amazon logo. As you may know my idea of reading a book is flipping through the pages to get the "main idea." I think most books are a total waste of time. (Which should be an interesting revelation coming from someone in the process of writing one.) But the sight of that Kindle, over and over again, being used avidly by people of every age and demographic on the train - that made me want to buy it.

They could have saved themselves money on the TV commercials. I didn't really get why someone would read a Kindle on a hike. And if I were sitting by the pool, the last thing I would be thinking about is fighting the glare on the screen to read a novel. That all made absolutely no sense to me. Except for the part about the battery lasting one month - I did remember that and it is pretty cool. Is that true?

Sociological theory tells us how to sell technologies like the Kindle, a new device with no precedent to speak on its behalf: We believe we are entitled to the same thing as the people around us. It's not peer pressure, but the theory of relative deprivation. If we don't have that Kindle, we're left out.

Same thing with the iPad. I know it's a cool device. I'm not arguing with you. But it doesn't really do anything for me. I don't see the business use. Maybe it's nice for movies? But then again you have to prop up the screen. And why would I take photos with a screen that large.

I need a keyboard. Not the plug-in kind. And I didn't get a good answer from the Apple rep on the word processing capabilities that come with the iPad. No, I like the MacBook Air (which I wanted when I saw an extremely influential person using it, and she had it covered with bumper stickers - I was in awe). Nevertheless, every executive in DC seems to have an iPad - with a little leather cover. When there was a fire in our office building and we had to wait in a hotel nearby, I saw gazillions of little iPads laying around on tables, along with fancy pens and the other accoutrements of success. If I were an executive, I would consider it a business necessity to shlep one around. If for no other reason than to be cool.

Amazon and Apple should spend all their money giving away their little devices to opinion-leaders. None of it on advertising. It's about socializing the consumer to want one.

Microsoft is consistently terrible at putting on a liberal arts hat to sell anything. No, for them it is all about geekdom and the wonderful wizardry of tech. Which is why I can't, for the freaking life of me, figure out anything that is explained in a Microsoft user manual online.

The only reason I use Microsoft is that everybody else does and I need to communicate with them. Otherwise, forget it. (There are tons of smart things you can do with Microsoft Outlook that they never bothered to sell...I will never understand why, except maybe shortsightedness and the laziness of knowing they've won anyway.)

A simple example. I spent half the weekend trying to convert my XML export of my blog posts back into Word. Yes, yes, yes I am writing a book, for the millionth time. And no, I don't have all of the original posts saved. I feel like an idiot. But I really thought it would be simple just to keep a backup of the XML and then convert it back when I wanted to.

So I kept on Googling, "Convert XML to Word" with no success other than to come up with this Microsoft add-in for Office. I click on the supposedly free add-in and download it no less than 3 times. Damn, it doesn't seem to work. I get no answers. I look on eHow. I look on user forums. I look everywhere. Damn, damn, damn it completely wastes hours.

When I go to the Microsoft page explaining the add-in I have no idea what it means. It is lengthy though.

I try to just open Microsoft Word and then open the XML file. No dice.

I try to cut and paste the XML into Word and then remove the code. From 1200 pages. The program crashes.

I try to use a PDF-to-Word service online to convert the file. Fail.

Finally I ask for help. Products are recommended.

Steadfastly I refuse. The Internet must be free! Or as free as possible.

I use BlogBooker to convert the XML to a PDF. Open the PDF in Mac's Preview. Select all. Copy and paste into the text editor. Then copy and paste it all into Word.

Finally.

Microsoft could take a peanut butter sandwich and make it impossible to put together without a 72-page user manual.

Don't get me wrong, I respect people who can figure technology out. I believe high-tech companies like Microsoft are doing the world a big favor. I just wonder why they can't get their heads out of the geek bubble long enough to hire marketers who have studied psychology, sociology, anthropology, biology, economics, history, and other subjects that would help them to think out of the box about appealing to the actual consumer - who isn't normally a techie.

I have an old friend who studied English literature. She is a VP at a social media company now. My mom sent me a video clip of her being interviewed about why some brands have better buzz than others. She talked about psychology, not Facebook techniques. It was a fascinating lesson in marketing for me. An excellent interview.

There is a lady who sits in a Starbucks I go to. She is hard to miss. She has a little Dell netbook equipped with strange-looking antennas. She is testing the netbook. I got into a conversation with her about it. I don't even care what the daggone thing does. I liked that it was red, and that she was using it, and it looked better than what I had at home. Evolutionary psychology. Darwinism. Sell me on technology as a means of survival.

Often technology companies use the principles of economics to sell their stuff. I can sort of see that. But they don't usually do a good job of it. Because it's hard to mentally make the leap from not understanding how to use it, to knowing.

Last example. I had to take an online class to learn how to teach online. I felt like a fool for much of it. I couldn't find where anything was. I was forever behind the curve on the assignments. Discussions took place and I didn't even know what electronic "room" they were in. If not for the fact that I had to take the class in order to be an adjunct, I would have given up for sure. And I really like learning new technology.

Change makes people feel stupid. It is hard to do things a new way. Once our brains are wired to a process, they're wired. That's what most tech companies don't understand. The devotion to "old-fashioned" records and record players is the best example I can think of. The music all sounds the same. It's just what we come to take for granted that's the issue.

If you want to sell technology, the best thing you can do is socialize it and make it real. Saturate the target audience with live examples of people using the things. I would be transparent about it and announce that a giveaway or product placement of some kind is taking place. But that is the real way to get the money rolling in. Abstract proclamations about being the best, weird conceptual campaigns, fast-talking spokespeople, and all the glitz and glamour is just a waste of money.

It's the people factor that wins, every time.

Good luck!


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