Proponents of artificial intelligence solutions need to come forward with a serious public relations effort

2-Color-Design-Hi-Res-100px-widthMachine learning solutions, and those of the “deep learning” variety are playing an ever increasing role in daily computing activities for most people. This condition does not look to change anytime soon.

But regardless, ISVs with products targeted to the predictive analytics market, or the robotics market, or any one of many emerging new market segments, need to tune in on public perception about these technologies in the mature global markets (US, Western Europe, Japan). Public perception has the potential to prod government regulators towards counter-productive pronouncements. Therefore, it makes sense for ISVs to mount a public relations effort to ensure public perception about these technologies stays “on track”.

On Tuesday, February 24, 2015 the Wall Street Journal published an article germaine to this topic. The piece was written by Timothy Aeppel and is titled What Clever Robots Mean for Jobs. The employment theme is a very familiar one for anyone involved with efforts to use computer processes to automate repetitive tasks. So Aeppel’s skepticism about just whether or not an exploding market of robotics solutions will lead to more jobs, or not (which appears to be his position) is really nothing new.

But the timing of the article, in close proximity to several other articles from “prominent” individuals (Bill Gates, Stephen Hawking and more) about the dangers presented by algorithms should they be applied to computing lends power to Aeppel’s thoughts. Readers should also not lose sight of the 2016 Presidential election here in the States, where ostensible candidates like Hillary Clinton are starting to stake out turf about “hi tech” and its performance as a job creator.

I encourage readers to go back to my first points in this post. Methods of automating processes, including requirements for prediction, are increasing and becoming more accessible to “average” consumers of computing services. This is not a bad thing. On the contrary, in my opinion the accessibility of comparatively powerful methods of enhancing the accuracy of prediction is a net positive contribution to overall business and certainly a likely simulant for new business activity.

Do new businesses create jobs? I am not sure as to the answer to this question, but I can posit they certainly empower more entrepreneurs. Machine learning ISVs and their deep learning siblings need to step forward and do a better job of educating the public about the real benefit of these technologies.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2015 All Rights Reserved


Lenovo, Public Relations and Superfish

2-Color-Design-Hi-Res-100px-widthIt has been a mere 5 – 6 weeks since public announcements appeared about the security threat represented by preloaded adware from Superfish on Lenovo personal computers first magnetized public attention. But in this short interval the Lenovo brand has taken a big hit, especially around the question of whether or not public announcements from them can be be trusted — not the kind of stuff a public relations team will likely want to handle. CMSWire, for example, published an article on this topic, which is titled Can Lenovo Regain Consumer Trust After Secretly Installing Adware?.

I see little point in raking through the stacks of opinions on this topic. But I would like to present three points I hope early stage ISVs will carefully consider should they find themselves in the kind of quagmire besetting Lenovo at the moment:

  1. Please do not choose the denial route
  2. As well, please take responsibility for any failures to carefully evaluate products before deciding to add them to a core offering
  3. Finally, please defend the important positions you have taken to make a best effort to establish a profitable manner of doing business

The public perception appears to be Lenovo failed to follow these three points, starting with a denial of responsibility. One may argue the denial statement was subtly presented to the public. After all, the earliest headlines were all about the security risk represented by the Superfish adware product. The public appeared to believe Lenovo’s hardware had been hacked. Perhaps this perception was nurtured by the surrounding publicity climate, which was rather full of news about reports from Kaspersky Lab about spyware baked into the hard disks and even CPUs powering desktop and laptop computers manufactured in the US.

In my opinion Lenovo’s PR team should not have allowed the public discussion about the presence of Superfish adware on Lenovo computers to take this “sidetrack”. The inclusion of Superfish was really not a surprise at all, but a method Lenovo chose to exploit in an attempt to squeeze more revenue from the sale of its computers. There is nothing wrong, on paper, about making this kind of effort. Most any business in the type of commodity market Lenovo finds itself as it competes as a PC manufacturer would look for some opportunity to lower its costs to produce product by selling marketing opportunities to third parties.

If readers are hard pressed to accept this point, I would point them to an example from another commodity market — airplane travel and one of the main contenders in the market — Delta Airlines. The Delta branded American Express card is out there for a big reason perhaps lost on the consumer, but certainly one rarely lost on product marketers — to lower production costs. Whenever a customer buys a ticket on a Delta flight with a Delta AMEX the cost of the sale has been lowered by upwards to 4% simply by removing a third party clearing fee.

In my opinion there was nothing, on paper, wrong with Lenovo stuffing its PCs with an adware product. They just did not do a successful job of selecting the right partner (because Superfish product comes with big security concerns), which may result in a very big problem for Lenovo, should someone experience a hack attributable to Superfish. They also appear not to have done a very good job of plainly educating the consumer about the presence of adware on their computers. Finally, they were unable to provide their customers with an easy to follow method of completely removing adware from their purchases, should they wish to go this route.

The whole method of handling this problem has been a failure of public relations, sorry to say.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2015 All Rights Reserved


Who’s losing sleep over NoSQL?

One of the biggest challenges facing product marketing within any business is successfully identifying a market segment. I would argue more businesses fail because they either:

  1. don’t understand their market niche
  2. or can’t articulate a message intelligible to their market niche
  3. The next step is to put together a portrait of an ideal prospect within this segment. Over time, if a business is lucky enough to succeed, this portrait will likely change (perhaps scale is a better word). After all, early adopters will spread the word to more established prospects. The latter are more conservative, and proceed at a different pace, based upon different triggers.

The 3 steps I’ve just identified are no less a mandatory path forward for early stage ISVs than they are for restaurants, convenience stores, or any other early stage business.

But a lot of the marketing collateral produced by early stage ISVs offering NoSQL products and solutions, in my opinion, doesn’t signal a successful traverse of this path. In an interview published on December 12, 2014, Bob Wiederhold, CEO of CouchBase presents the first and second phases of what he refers to as “NoSQL database adoption” by businesses. Widerhold’s comments are recorded in an article titled Why 2015 will be big for NoSQL databases: Couchbase CEO.

My issue is with Wiederhold’s depiction of the first adopters of NoSQL Databases: “Phase one started in 2008-ish, when you first started to see commercial NoSQL products being available. Phase one is all about grassroots developer adoption. Developers would go home one weekend, and they’ll have heard about NoSQL, they download the free software, install it, start to use it, like it, and bring it into their companies”.

But it’s not likely these developers would have brought the software to their companies unless somebody was losing sleep over some problem. Nobody wants to waste time trying something new simply because it’s new. No insomnia, no burning need to get a good night’s rest. What I needed to hear about was just what was causing these early adopters to lose sleep.

I’m familiar with the group of developers Wiederhold portrays in the above quote. I’ve referred to them differently for other software products I’ve marketed. These people are the evangelists who spread the word about a new way of doing something. They are the champions. Any adoption campaign has to target this type of person.

But what’s missing is a portrait of the tough, mission-critical problem driving these people to make their effort with a new, and largely unknown piece of software.

It’s incumbent on CouchBase and its peers to do a better job depicting the type of organization with a desperate need for a NoSQL solution in its marketing communications and public relations efforts.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2014 All Rights Reserved


General Electric Steps Into Big Data and Analytics

October 8, and 9, 2014 were a very busy two days for the Public Relations team at General Electric. No less than 4 press releases were published about the first steps this very mature — not to mention very large — business has stepped into big data and analytics.

Consider, for example, how the big data and analytics business at General Electric ramped up to over $1Bil in sales: October 9, 2014, Bloomberg publishes an article written by Richard Clough, titled GE Sees Fourfold Rise in Sales From Industrial Internet. Clough reports “[r]evenue [attributed to analytics and data collection] is headed to about $1.1 billion this year from the analytics operations as the backlog has swelled to $1.3 billion”.

Early stage ISVs looking with envy at this lightning-fast entry should consider how scale, along with a decision to acquire IP via partnerships and acquisitions (rather than opting to build it in-house), and picking the right market made this emerging success story a reality. Let’s start by considering these three points in reverse order:

  1. Picking the right market: GE opted to apply its new tech to a set of markets loosely collected into something they call the “Industrial Internet”. These markets include Energy (exploration, production, distribution), Transportation, Healthcare, Manufacturing and Machinery. Choosing these markets makes complete sense. GE is a leader in each of these already. Why not apply new tech to old familiar stomping grounds?
  2. Leverage partnerships and acquisitions to come to market in lieu of rolling your own: Leading players in each of the markets GE opted to enter expressed burning needs for better security and better insight. Other players in each of the markets (Cisco, Symantec, Stanford University and UC Berkeley) all stand to benefit from the core tech GE brings to the table, so persuading them to partner was likely to have been a comparatively easy task. The most prominent segment of the tech (very promising security tech for industrial, high speed data communications over TCP/IP, Ethernet networks) understandably, came into the package from wurldtech, a business GE opted to acquire
  3. Scale: With GE’s production run rate of turbines, locomotive engines, jet engines, and other complex, massive industrial machinery, the task of finding a home for the millions of industrial sensors required to feed the analytics piece of the tech with the big data it desperately needs, does not look to have been a difficult task. Product management, appropriately, looked into its own backyard to find the consumers required to ramp up to scale in very fast time.

In sum, GE’s entry into this market, if the “rubber hits the road” and metrics bear out claims, looks to be a case study early ISVs should memorize as they plan their tech marketing strategy.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2014 All Rights Reserved


Has Apple Mishandled the Question of the Security of Private Information Stored on iCloud?

Note: this post was written on September 3, 2014

In, perhaps, one of the strongest examples, in recent memory, of the wisdom of Murphy’s Law, Apple finds itself 6 calendar days away from a major announcement, but the promising opportunity it presents (for Apple to advance the positive features of its brand) is moving further away from its grasp, seemingly by the moment. In fact, the September 9, 2014 scheduled even may even be transformed into an unpleasant question and answer session on a difficult topic if public sentiment continues to trend further in its present direction.

Unfortunately for Apple, on Labor Day, September 1, 2014, a story broke detailing the theft of personal information — photographs — of at least one celebrity, Jennifer Lawrence. But the theft of Lawrence’s personal data, apparently a hack of her iCloud account, is not, in this writer’s opinion, the complete problem facing Apple just a few days from its otherwise promising fall public relations event.

The real problem is how Apple’s own Public Relations team has responded to questions about the security of iCloud as a cloud SaaS offer for secure online storage of personal data.

Without thrashing over the details of the response, it should suffice to sum it up as an editorial denial of legitimacy. In other words, Apple’s public voice states, forcibly, the claims iCloud is insecure are all wrong.

The problem with this type of rhetorical convention is the way it moves the focus of debate away from the points likely to matter to an ISV (in this case Apple), and over to points of vulnerability for the general public, where the odds of Apple’s PR team successfully convincing an audience of the truth of this editorial position aren’t nearly as promising.

So, for the more technical segment of Apple’s public audience, the focus has now shifted to a document in Apple’s knowledge base, Apple ID: Security and Your Apple ID. Sure, most of the text of the article spells out steps Apple has taken to seamlessly protect its users (these are summed up in the mandatory requirement of complex passwords). But, tellingly, the section on the optional step of enabling two step verification over one’s Apple ID doesn’t work to Apple’s favor. Given the gravity of delivering a secure cloud, SaaS computing experience for the general public, the technical segment appears to argue a safeguard like two-step authentication, ought not to have been presented as an option. Rather, it should have been plainly presented as a mandatory control each and every user must take.

After all, from a risk management perspective, a control like two step verification should be a mandatory feature of a truly secure repository located anywhere. But presenting this control as a mandatory step is, today, is a tacit assumption of a “best of all possible worlds” view with regard to how the general public goes about completing their computing activities. In contrast, the computing realities of 2014 have been designed more to “dumb down” potentially complex computing procedures like two step verification, than to foster them. So Apple lines up with its peers, and adopts a more lenient stance as regards the applications of these controls.

Unfortunately, the reason for scrutiny of Apple’s policy doesn’t work to this ISV’s favor. Once again, Apple is certainly not alone in this, but the choice of the public relations team to deny the obvious, in this writer’s opinion, should have been subjected to more scrutiny before it was publicized.

The lesson here for early stage ISVs is to plan on reacting to a problem like Apple’s by admitting culpability, rather than denying it. After all, the point of weakness, in this case, is precisely the same for any number of Apple’s peers. Apple could have chosen to stand up as a leader and notify the public of a decision to make two step verification a mandatory control over all Apple IDs. Let’s all hope they needn’t come to regret the position they took.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2014 All Rights Reserved


Oracle Lifts the Covers on Updates to its HCM SaaS Cloud Offers

On September 23, 2013 Oracle® announced updates to its Oracle HCM Cloud and Oracle Talent Management Cloud SaaS offers. This Oracle PR effort follows closely on a similar effort, published the prior week, by one of Oracle’s direct competitors in this market — Workday.

This PR is, in my opinion, only marginally effective. Conspicuously absent from the press release were any mentions of the unique scalability of the Oracle solutions. Certainly these SaaS cloud offers should integrate very well with Oracle’s on premises HR solution suite. So there is an inherent advantage for enterprise customers with a substantial commitment to Oracle’s on premises HR software to opt for the Oracle cloud offers. The same scale of operations, whether via public cloud, or via private cloud behind corporate firewalls, cannot be achieved with the Workday solution.

Instead, the press release mentions hooks to social media software, principally LinkedIn. In fact the Workday solution can directly compete with this feature. Just last week Workday announced a partnership with Salesforce.com. Salesforce.com already includes hooks to LinkedIn, facebook, Google + and Twitter. Further, Workday can leverage the Chatter feature of Salesforce.com (which has established a credible beachhead across likely sales prospects in this market) to capture even more data from social interaction.

I think the less-than-optimal design of the Oracle PR effort is entirely consistent with similar efforts made by other mature enterprise ISVs. The trend is to react to the efforts of cloud challengers. Businesses in reactive mode function very much like people in the same mode. Strategies are formulated to contain ambitious strategies from competitors, and to exploit any weaknesses in them.

In contrast, I think these efforts should be the result of assertive, expansive strategies. The strongest suite Oracle®, or any of its peers can play, is to emphasize the scalability of their solutions. After all, what enterprise CIO wants to throw out an investment already amortized in on premises ERP applications like HR and Finance?

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2013 All Rights Reserved


Apple’s Public Relations Team Does a Top Notch Job Enhancing the Innovation Factor of the iPhone 5S and 5C

Last week, the first week in September, 2013, Apple debuted two new iPhones — the 5S with a 64 bit processor, and the 5C (marginally, all of $100.00, less expensive than the other iPhones in the 5 series). Despite a halted market reaction to these smart phones, Apple’s Public Relations team has, once again, done an exceptional job stimulating influential writers to render opinions on these products, which inflate the value of the features for public consumption.

The new phones have been cited as likely to succeed for as spurious a set of reasons as simply “it’s a new iPhone. I can afford one, you can’t, so turn green with envy”, all the way to the blinding speed of 64 bit processing for a smart phone. It’s actually of little consequence whether the claims of pundits make sense, or not. What’s really important is the impact of these claims on consumers, who will likely think more about these phones than would otherwise be the case if the original round of reviews had struck home.

ISVs will do well to study the effectiveness of this promotional campaign. A successful PR campaign like this one will contribute substantially to the popularity of these phones with the consumer market, not only for Apple, but for the carriers who opt to jump on the new products and pushing them out to their subscribers. What’s particularly impressive about this effort is the likely positive effect on consumer sentiment after a comparatively much less successful presentation of the features, themselves, to the technical community, investment analysts, and other commentators on Apple, the company.

Certainly a PR campaign should be a foundation plank of any launch of a new technical product. It is, nevertheless, curious for me to note the difficulty many ISVs experience when they grapple with how best to implement a PR campaign. The cost of the campaign should not be the key determiner of whether or not it makes sense to implement it, or not. The best basis to determine return on investment in this type of effort is to quantify how well the campaign performed against goals. Unfortunately, in my opinion, establishing useful goals is the really hard part.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2013 All Rights Reserved


On the Power of the New Advertorials for Consumer Gadgets

It pays to include someone with successful experience building effective advertisements in the form of news articles in a product marketing team. Early stage technology businesses tend to think about marketing communications in terms of online promotional content and paid click advertising. But modern marketing communications also includes a new vehicle, “advertorials”, which look a lot like news articles, but are actually advertisements. There are few higher value promotional opportunities than a well respected reporter publishing an article, with some depth, on your product. So if you can find someone who knows how to place these articles as ads, at reasonable cost, then you should seriously consider hiring the person for a role in your product marketing promotional effort.

An example of this type of creative promotional content popped up on August 18, 2013 in the online edition of the Sunday New York Times. Frank O’Connell put together what looks to be an article on Green Mountain Coffee’s Kuerig Vue V700, Single-Serve Coffee Maker. But this editorial content is actually a very effective example of an advertorial. Points worth noting about this advertorial include:

  1. The advertorial presents an opportunity for the New York Times (and possibly Green Mountain Coffee) to market click ads to businesses with complementary product offers for the Kuerig single cup coffee system. These ads are dynamically served at the top center of the page on which the content is published
  2. The New York Times does not label the content as an advertisement, but the source of the content is listed as Kuerig, Inc.
  3. The content is entirely comprised of high quality photos of the device, and its working parts, which will likely attract a lot of attention from its target audience
  4. The features depicted in the photo provide an opportunity for the editorial content to be used to present a detailed set of benefits to the consumer. For example, “Each pack contains ground coffee and a filter. It is also filled with nitrogen to maintain freshness”

Omitted altogether are any mention whatsoever of the comparative enormous price difference between this type of coffee brewing and more mundane alternatives.

We wonder if the spread of this type of “content for hire” detracts from the usefulness of a public relations campaign. In the past, public relations teams would focus efforts on convincing writers to create similar content, albeit without the overtly paid promotional color of this piece. Does the popularity of this type of content signal the end of those days?

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2013 All Rights Reserved


Motorola’s Moto X Smoke Screen

Google’s Motorola Mobility unit debuted the Moto X in mid July, 2013. A lot has been written about this smartphone. The phone is the first telephony product pro9duced by this Google subsidiary since its acquisition. But we think the marketing communications and public relations efforts for the product fall far short of where they should be to produce serious public interest in this product.

The collateral we’ve reviewed is too targeted to an audience of highly technical people. We’ve read articles on Wired about the phone, watched snips from a couple of videos on the phone on Youtube, but have to confess we still don’t get any idea of the killer reason why we (or most anyone else) really needs this phone.

Maybe the gap we find ourselves in is the result of a miss on the part of the campaign’s creative team. We conclude the target are highly technical people (colloquially referred to as “geeks”), but this conclusion has arisen more from subtle features (for example, the mythic “Joel” in the photo on the Motorola Mobility web page for the product has tattoos running up his arm) than the kind of overt ambience created by any of the memorable creative campaigns we’ve sampled in the recent past (for example, Samsung’s Galaxy ads, or some of the original Apple iPhone ads).

When we put this creative miss together with our increasingly skeptical position on the extent of further upside to the high end smartphone market, we come up with a notion this product will likely fail.

On another note, we think the quality of the collateral is quite consistent with the types of efforts Motorola Mobility used to make. Since the market for consumer mobile phones began in earnest, back in the mid 1980s, the division has produced a lot of great technology, but not a lot of effective promotion. Looks to us like Google’s allowing the status quo to continue.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2013 All Rights Reserved


Avoid Designing New Technology Products Dependent on Parallel Changes Outside of Your Control

On July 10, 2013, Mr. Michael Endler, Associate Editor of Information Week, published an article to the Information Week website: Microsoft Preaches XP Conversion. The problem Mr. Endler describes in his article, amounts to a public relations snafu for Microsoft®.

According to Mr. Endler, approximately 160 million Microsoft Customers for the Windows XP product are stuck on this now obsoleted platform. They can’t migrate up to Windows 8. The hardware they own won’t support the new operating system. PCs and laptops are now out of favor, so consumers have little, if any incentive to spend the money on the new hardware required to run Windows 8. At the same time, the old operating system still works (We, ourselves own a laptop running Windows XP and still use it daily with zero problems).

So what’s the lesson for early stage technology businesses? Don’t design products your customer can only use should he/she buy something from somebody else. This point may seem obvious, but for several product cycles Microsoft implemented the same product strategy. Intel® would introduce a new chip and Microsoft, in turn, would build an operating system designed to exploit the capabilities of the new chip’s kernel. But here’s the catch: Microsoft had no responsibility for the new hardware. From an accounting perspective the new operating system software was very profitable. As well, smartphones, tablets and thin client computers (like Google Chromebook) had not yet hit the market. So the serious vulnerability this product development strategy exposed was, apparently, not a major point of concern for Windows product management.

Now, of course, consumer tastes for computing hardware have changed dramatically. Microsoft is stuck with millions of customers who can only become more dissatisfied, as time goes by, as support for Windows XP falls away. With this conundrum in the spotlight, it shouldn’t be difficult to understand why the Surface initiative was an important step forward for Microsoft as it attempted to correct the product design methodology of the past.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2013 All Rights Reserved