Less is more with some on-demand software

There are many situations where, from a marketing perspective, less is more. In these instances a smaller number of features improves a product. One is when you want to add a coolness factor. Examples:

A more common situation is streamlining to reduce complexity, and thus improve adoption. Sometimes a handful of added frills — frills that R&D engineers and a minority of users may find irresistible — actually works against a product. Swiss Army knives have their fans, but most pocket knife owners prefer something less bloated. If they want a screwdriver or corkscrew, they’ll buy one.

The rule of KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) applies equally well to software, because learning and installation time are two important constraints to adoption. This is especially true of software that you need to use with other users, simultaneously and remotely.

That’s why I was fascinated on Friday to learn more about a pared-down, lower-cost competitor of WebEx. This category of on-demand software product enables a designated host to share content with others during live web sessions. It’s one of the fastest-growing types of software provided by application service providers (ASPs).

And WebEx is this category’s leader. Their revenue growth has been 23% for each of the past two years and their reported clients now number more 20,000. Needless to say, WebEx has developed an impressive product. But it takes some time to learn, is a little overwhelming in its many features, and requires hosts and participants alike to download special software. That’s a vulnerability.

I was thinking of all of this Friday morning at 8 AM when I was riding the elevator to my appointment with Brevient. I was to meet with Lisa Noone to learn about their MixMeeting — an online collaboration tool for the needs of small and medium businesses.

Of particular interest was the prospect of meeting Brevient’s founder and CEO, Matt Lautz. He was still a teenager when he started the company (who can explain how the lad squandered the first 18 years of his life?), and in a very short time since, he’s created an impressive company with at least one product worth checking out. It truly promises to grab a good share of its market.

I didn’t have to wait long to wait to meet Matt, by the way. It turned out the unassuming fellow in the tee shirt riding across from me in the elevator was noneother.

I’ll know more about the product as I give it a test spin, but the demo was impressive in its brevity (thus the name?) as well as its implied promise of making presentations easier for both my clients and my account services team. The money savings with MixMeeting, and the fact that I’d be supporting the business of a literal neighbor, would be icing on the cake.

Thank you, Macromedia, for giving us the next killer app

In a client meeting the other day, we were discussing with several individuals in the company their soon-to-launch international sites. The sites, which will have domain names in various European and Latin American countries, showcase the same streaming videos (with appropriate translations). So my team was asked a reasonable question: Will anyone have trouble playing the videos?

Even three years ago, this would have been a tough question to answer with confidence. Those were the days when you had to have separate formats for Quicktime, RealMedia and Windows Media. The answer would have been complicated and unsettling. Now, the problem is solved by presenting the videos in one format only: Macromedia’s Flash.

My reply: “Yes. Because they are presented in Flash, and because Flash is a universally accepted browser plug-in, you can be confident that everyone in every country will see them. After all, YouTube wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for Flash!”

This was the first time I realized just how ubiquitous Flash really is. It’s true. I blurted out my YouTube declaration, but upon reflection, I seriously can’t imagine that the site could be so addictive if it weren’t for the ease with which you can view its contents. How addictive is it? YouTube is, as of today, the twelfth most popular site on the web, according to Alexa. That’s a lot of addicts!

When Flash emerged as a way to show rich content that was independent of browser type, I recognized its value for photography, typography and animation. But I never would have anticipated that it would be video’s “killer app.” Thank you, worldwide propagation of broadband connections.

And thank you, Macromedia.

Attention B2B marketers: Your prospects are tired of white papers

In working with clients who sell to other businesses, I and my team are witnessing something I can only characterize as white paper fatigue. Remember when a truly well-written white paper that you could download from a corporate site was, although never truly a novelty, at least a welcome way to consume important information? Me too.

And it still is to some extent. I still find their contents valuable. The trouble is I’m spending less time reading and more time scanning. Therefore, the white paper has come to represent for me a workaday chore, not an opportunity to learn. Clearly others are in the same camp, because the offer of a white paper, when posed on a site or packaged in an email, is not as measurably compelling to our clients’ prospective customers as we have observed in the past.

There is an alternative, and I’m pleased to see it’s quickly on its way out of the “novelty” category of web site offerings. I’m talking about the audio white paper. AKA, the podcast.

Recent research reported in eMarketer.com suggests that the B2B audience is not just receptive to white paper content in this format: They want more of it. Here is an excerpt:

The respondents [in this survey of business and IT professionals] were actually enthusiastic about podcasting — and wanted more. Nearly 60% said business and tech information in white papers or analyst reports would be more interesting as podcasts, and 55% said they would be more likely to use the information if it were delivered in podcasts, rather than as reading material.

This same report showed how these are not just early adopters (from a statistical perspective) but are a growing base of business people who like podcasts, and use them both personally and professionally. This is encouraging news for companies who are seeking new ways to engage their target audience. 

As often happens with quickly emerging media trends, the challenge now becomes meeting this exciting opportunity — quickly — with content that truly takes advantage of the medium. Have any of my readers found strong examples of podcasted (and video!) white papers? I encourage your comments.


The chasm between IT and “the suits” remains wide and deep

My work is the management of a decidedly mixed marriage. The business I oversee, which is part of an advertising agency (filled with your more traditional businesspeople), is chiefly populated by technologists. And we know how well these two groups get along. So it is my delight to report that for the most part, we all get along quite well, thank you. Visit us and you’d see a surprisingly high level of respect and productive collaboration between these two very different types of information workers.

Good thing, too. That’s what sets us apart in the interactive marketplace.

I bring this up because a friend, who is a very gifted programmer, had the following as his IM greeting today. It’s a link to a blog entry showing dramatically how wide and deep the chasm still is between the IT world and the “business world.”

The blog entry itself was interesting, and illustrates this ongoing mistrust. Moreover, the long list of comments it generated, which runs below the entry, starkly documents the passion of opinions on both sides. Man, the anger!

Every day I see the incredible things that can be accomplished when professionals of both disciplines work together. For this reason, I’m particularly saddened that much of the rest of the world has not yet found a way to agree on something that seems obvious:

Both parties — “techies” and “suits” — are invaluable.

Two good resources to prepare yourself for the next 10 years

Thanks to Seth Godin for reminding me today that many readers may have missed the The Long Tail by Chris Andersonhoopla on Chris Anderson’s long-awaited book, aptly titled The Long Tail. This is an important book for those interested in the future of marketing and business design. It reports on a paradigm shift that we all need to get our heads around, in a similar way that The 1-to-1 Future was good intellectual grounding for what was to come, when it arrived on the scene in the mid-1990s.

You can find other support for your studies on the Long Tail Squidoo lens. And for this resource as well I have Seth Godin to thank. He is the original “squid” of this fascinating and fast-growing user-generated reference site.