The problem facing every tech company

Jonathan Schwartz, CEO of Sun Microsystems, blogs about the difficulty of getting people to see their new technology and programs.

I feel his pain.

When I was in Montana I met people who hadn't heard of blogs, podcasts, or Second Life (or even Windows Vista). You know, normal people. People who have other things to care about than what is on TechMeme.

Heck, today I spoke to a group of PR professionals and only 2 out of the 40 or so that were there watched TechMeme (they really should, since they are PR pros in the tech world).

So, if you were talking to Jonathan what ideas would you give him for reaching the unreachable masses?

Disclaimer: the other day Jonathan invited me to have lunch with him (thanks to Tim Bray). That'll happen soon. He's the first CEO of a major tech company to invite me to lunch. I am very honored and hope to learn a lot from one of the few CEOs who blog.

My tip? I'll ask him why he doesn't do a video blog ala a Channel 9. So many people come up to me and tell me Channel 9 changed how they viewed Microsoft that I know there's some real power in amateur, shaky-cam video.

I wonder if that team he spoke with (a Fortune 100 tech team) knew about Windows Communication Foundation or Windows Presentation Foundation, or what's in the latest Sharepoint, or what Microsoft Dynamics does? 

Comments

  1. Robert – that is a problem that you will find in almost any industry. But, I don’t necessarily see it as a problem. In many ways, I feel glad that the average user is not bogged down by various technical acronyms, codenames, future releases, etc. Unfortunately, this doesn’t help any company that is trying to push a new product.

    What companies need to do is promote solutions to everyday problems. Instead of selling Server X with Y GB’s of Ram, a server company can instead market their product as being X percent reliable at only Y% the cost of your current implementation. Many of the more successful entertainment devices these days follow that rule. The Xbox 360 is not sold as a multi-piplined GPU connected to a modified PowerPC processor. If you go to Best Buy, you will see it marketed as something that makes gaming fun.

    In short, I think marketing a solution to a problem is more effective at connecting with average users than marketing a product with a list of features/advantages/etc.

    Cheers!
    Kirupa =)

  2. Robert – that is a problem that you will find in almost any industry. But, I don’t necessarily see it as a problem. In many ways, I feel glad that the average user is not bogged down by various technical acronyms, codenames, future releases, etc. Unfortunately, this doesn’t help any company that is trying to push a new product.

    What companies need to do is promote solutions to everyday problems. Instead of selling Server X with Y GB’s of Ram, a server company can instead market their product as being X percent reliable at only Y% the cost of your current implementation. Many of the more successful entertainment devices these days follow that rule. The Xbox 360 is not sold as a multi-piplined GPU connected to a modified PowerPC processor. If you go to Best Buy, you will see it marketed as something that makes gaming fun.

    In short, I think marketing a solution to a problem is more effective at connecting with average users than marketing a product with a list of features/advantages/etc.

    Cheers!
    Kirupa =)

  3. Kirupa is right. Normal people (you are not normal, Scoble. The majority of people that work at Microsoft are not “normal”) would only care about a blog, a podcast, or Second Life if solved a problem for them. What problem does a blog solve for normal people? What problem does Second Life solve? XBOX solves and entertainment problem. Second Life? Yea, maybe. But it’s too much work compared to an xbox or something like that.

    We’ve debated ad nauseum what problem Vista solves for normal people. Sure anyone buying a PC next year will likely have Vista, but upgrade? Again, is that compelling?

    People like you and most geeks think technology is the objective, not the method. Tecnology can’t get in the way. Normal people don’t care WHAT the technology is or how it works. They just care that it accomplishes their goals. Don’t focus on the technology (blogs, podcasts, bla bla bla). Normal people that an iPod nano doesn’t have a hard disk but a video iPod does. The only reason they care about the size of the disk is that it translates into how may songs they can potentially store, not that its 30GB, 60GB bla bla bla.

    Even for the PR “pros”, when you tell them to watch Techmeme, that means nothing to them. Tell them what it is and what it can do for them. No one (normal people) cares that its called a blog, or a video blog.

  4. Kirupa is right. Normal people (you are not normal, Scoble. The majority of people that work at Microsoft are not “normal”) would only care about a blog, a podcast, or Second Life if solved a problem for them. What problem does a blog solve for normal people? What problem does Second Life solve? XBOX solves and entertainment problem. Second Life? Yea, maybe. But it’s too much work compared to an xbox or something like that.

    We’ve debated ad nauseum what problem Vista solves for normal people. Sure anyone buying a PC next year will likely have Vista, but upgrade? Again, is that compelling?

    People like you and most geeks think technology is the objective, not the method. Tecnology can’t get in the way. Normal people don’t care WHAT the technology is or how it works. They just care that it accomplishes their goals. Don’t focus on the technology (blogs, podcasts, bla bla bla). Normal people that an iPod nano doesn’t have a hard disk but a video iPod does. The only reason they care about the size of the disk is that it translates into how may songs they can potentially store, not that its 30GB, 60GB bla bla bla.

    Even for the PR “pros”, when you tell them to watch Techmeme, that means nothing to them. Tell them what it is and what it can do for them. No one (normal people) cares that its called a blog, or a video blog.

  5. They recently announced a change in the Java license, but it was not changed to GPL. This is what is blocking them from reaching the commercial masses of their target audience. This is what prevents inclusion into several operating systems.

    I am guessing, though I don’t know for sure, that changing the license to one that allows for modification and redistribution could effect the case against Microsoft for WFC, when it sued them for modifying and redistributing java and won. If they change the license now, I’m not sure how it would effect that case.

    Perhaps that’s an X-factor to why they are stuck.

    I know JBoss and Redhat amalgamated or will very soon. That will be a boost, with Redhat using more java/tomcat servelet technology like on their new http://mugshot.org website.

  6. They recently announced a change in the Java license, but it was not changed to GPL. This is what is blocking them from reaching the commercial masses of their target audience. This is what prevents inclusion into several operating systems.

    I am guessing, though I don’t know for sure, that changing the license to one that allows for modification and redistribution could effect the case against Microsoft for WFC, when it sued them for modifying and redistributing java and won. If they change the license now, I’m not sure how it would effect that case.

    Perhaps that’s an X-factor to why they are stuck.

    I know JBoss and Redhat amalgamated or will very soon. That will be a boost, with Redhat using more java/tomcat servelet technology like on their new http://mugshot.org website.

  7. I think dmad has it right: “We’ve debated ad nauseum what problem Vista solves for normal people. Sure anyone buying a PC next year will likely have Vista, but upgrade? Again, is that compelling?”

    Shaky video recordings of real people may be the answer. Blogs too. But the deep, deep fundamental issue with marketing technology to non-techies is one of imagination.

    When I write for Articulate’s clients (and Microsoft is one of them – full disclosure) the first thing I try to do is to understand the world of the reader. What bothers them? What do they read? What problems do they have? Focus groups and market research will tell you some of this. Anthropological research will also tell you some of this.

    For me, being a former journalist, the quick, cheap and easy thing to do is to ring up a bunch of them and simply talk to them. Intelligent listening with the odd question thrown in is a great way to do some research and most people respond really to being asked their opinion.

  8. I think dmad has it right: “We’ve debated ad nauseum what problem Vista solves for normal people. Sure anyone buying a PC next year will likely have Vista, but upgrade? Again, is that compelling?”

    Shaky video recordings of real people may be the answer. Blogs too. But the deep, deep fundamental issue with marketing technology to non-techies is one of imagination.

    When I write for Articulate’s clients (and Microsoft is one of them – full disclosure) the first thing I try to do is to understand the world of the reader. What bothers them? What do they read? What problems do they have? Focus groups and market research will tell you some of this. Anthropological research will also tell you some of this.

    For me, being a former journalist, the quick, cheap and easy thing to do is to ring up a bunch of them and simply talk to them. Intelligent listening with the odd question thrown in is a great way to do some research and most people respond really to being asked their opinion.

  9. Be careful, we don’t want too many blogger goes videoblog because they doesn’t provide caption or transcript for deaf and hard of hearing community.

    gwlj

  10. Be careful, we don’t want too many blogger goes videoblog because they doesn’t provide caption or transcript for deaf and hard of hearing community.

    gwlj

  11. [...] I’m up at the wee hours of the morning (OK, it’s 5 am… I had a solution to a problem, and couldn’t get back to sleep).  As I was perusing some blogs I noticed this entry from Scoble.  I want to say first that I really like Scoble.  When I’m a good blogger, I like to believe that it’s Scoble’s influence that has done this for me (his and Rory’s <grin />).  I guess with all that I’m going through right now, he caught me off guard (or maybe I caught him napping). [...]

  12. I do not completely agree with Kirupa and dmad, The purpose of producing anyhing is to sell it based on a need. We are used to PRthat shows use the problem and a solution. With technology, it is a changing enviorment that requires a constant watch just to see what is available.
    The current normal person (non-techie) has a boat-load of issues and marketers are trying to solve those issues with out dated methods by shoving solutions at people and watching what works. What we need is for the normal person to tell the producers what the problem is and for the producer to listen and resolve that issue.
    This is not proactical due to the number of people walking around, how ever, given the internet and all that it brings we now have the ability to get closer to this possibility.
    Imagine, telling GM or ford exactly what you want your transportation to do for you and they produce it.
    Technology is now as ingrained into our lives as phone service and it is only going to get more involed with our lives, it is time we (techies that is) stop drooling over ever new gadget or software that comes out and start reliazing the potential that we have in our hands.

    Guy

  13. I do not completely agree with Kirupa and dmad, The purpose of producing anyhing is to sell it based on a need. We are used to PRthat shows use the problem and a solution. With technology, it is a changing enviorment that requires a constant watch just to see what is available.
    The current normal person (non-techie) has a boat-load of issues and marketers are trying to solve those issues with out dated methods by shoving solutions at people and watching what works. What we need is for the normal person to tell the producers what the problem is and for the producer to listen and resolve that issue.
    This is not proactical due to the number of people walking around, how ever, given the internet and all that it brings we now have the ability to get closer to this possibility.
    Imagine, telling GM or ford exactly what you want your transportation to do for you and they produce it.
    Technology is now as ingrained into our lives as phone service and it is only going to get more involed with our lives, it is time we (techies that is) stop drooling over ever new gadget or software that comes out and start reliazing the potential that we have in our hands.

    Guy

  14. Preparing for my interviews at Microsoft (one was actually for Microsoft Dynamics), my perception of Microsoft as a company definately changed, and Channel 9 was also a part of that.

    It’s amazing what a minute of video can do, even comparing it against the many blogs (or even podcasts) by Microsoft employees.

    Blogs are great for communicating many things, but they won’t touch on things like corporate culture, etc. Also, the thing about blogs and podcasts that I’ve found is that most have very specific content, so they aren’t geared towards the general public who have little or no knowledge on the topic.

    Om Malik has said, when he writes on his blog, he’s speaking to us, but if he’s writing in Business 2.0, it’s like he’s writing to his grandmother (or something like that).

  15. Preparing for my interviews at Microsoft (one was actually for Microsoft Dynamics), my perception of Microsoft as a company definately changed, and Channel 9 was also a part of that.

    It’s amazing what a minute of video can do, even comparing it against the many blogs (or even podcasts) by Microsoft employees.

    Blogs are great for communicating many things, but they won’t touch on things like corporate culture, etc. Also, the thing about blogs and podcasts that I’ve found is that most have very specific content, so they aren’t geared towards the general public who have little or no knowledge on the topic.

    Om Malik has said, when he writes on his blog, he’s speaking to us, but if he’s writing in Business 2.0, it’s like he’s writing to his grandmother (or something like that).

  16. i’m always surprised to see how many IT/developer people are completely clueless. in high school i took a Cisco networking class and the teacher didn’t know what Slashdot was. had never heard of it. this was like 3 years ago, but still.

    also i’ve met lots of web developers who have never heard the term “model-view-controller”.

  17. i’m always surprised to see how many IT/developer people are completely clueless. in high school i took a Cisco networking class and the teacher didn’t know what Slashdot was. had never heard of it. this was like 3 years ago, but still.

    also i’ve met lots of web developers who have never heard the term “model-view-controller”.

  18. Come up with a compelling product, plain and simple.

    I’m a geek, I know about TechMeme, and I could give a damn about it. It does nothing special for me.

    As for Schwartz, Soalris is not fully OSS yet and Sun has reversed the direction of their company slowly over several years after maintaining a business plan for 20 years. That could be his problem. A silly ass video blog is not going to teach CTOs that Sun knows what they are doing that’s for damn sure.

  19. Come up with a compelling product, plain and simple.

    I’m a geek, I know about TechMeme, and I could give a damn about it. It does nothing special for me.

    As for Schwartz, Soalris is not fully OSS yet and Sun has reversed the direction of their company slowly over several years after maintaining a business plan for 20 years. That could be his problem. A silly ass video blog is not going to teach CTOs that Sun knows what they are doing that’s for damn sure.

  20. Sun’s problems and your problems are completely different.

    Sun is having trouble surviving in a commodity hardware marketplace, and there are no huge technology developments on the horizon where their integrated model will work (though that’s what people said of Apple 5 years ago). They aren’t high end enough to compete with IBM, aren’t cheap enough to compete with HP. They’re Pontiac. They aren’t Chevy, they aren’t Cadillac, and not just investors have trouble hearing their message. Customers can’t identify with their place in the market, either. On the other hand, Pontiac is very underrated.

    As for MS, there’s a simple way to get more exposure for new stuff: release less stuff. In this case, the cure is worse than the disease, so you’ll just have to console yourself with billion dollar videogame machine marketing campaigns and million dollar office and windows rollouts. POOR MS!

  21. Sun’s problems and your problems are completely different.

    Sun is having trouble surviving in a commodity hardware marketplace, and there are no huge technology developments on the horizon where their integrated model will work (though that’s what people said of Apple 5 years ago). They aren’t high end enough to compete with IBM, aren’t cheap enough to compete with HP. They’re Pontiac. They aren’t Chevy, they aren’t Cadillac, and not just investors have trouble hearing their message. Customers can’t identify with their place in the market, either. On the other hand, Pontiac is very underrated.

    As for MS, there’s a simple way to get more exposure for new stuff: release less stuff. In this case, the cure is worse than the disease, so you’ll just have to console yourself with billion dollar videogame machine marketing campaigns and million dollar office and windows rollouts. POOR MS!

  22. @9 I guess that was basically way I was saying but didn’t articulate it well. Solve their problems with solutions not technology buzz words and features.

    Take the iPod. Did the market ask for the iPod? The market would suggest that it didn’t given that there were a plethora of choices in the portable music space..even the MP3 player space. At its core all the iPod is is an MP3 player. I think one of the reasons the iPod took off is the Apple didn’t market it as an MP3 player, which is what the majority of companies had done up to that point. Normal people likely said “What the hell is an MP3 player?” “What the hell is MP3?”

    Do normal people care how navigation software works in their cars? Do normal people care that BMW’s iDrive is java based? (which is likely one reason why it sucks, but that is a different converastion.

    Do normal people care that Tivo runs Linux and the WMC is Windows based? (again probably why one sucks and the other doesn’t.. I didn’t say which.. draw your own conclusions )

    Again, many geeks think that technology is the objective. Technology is the method.

  23. @9 I guess that was basically way I was saying but didn’t articulate it well. Solve their problems with solutions not technology buzz words and features.

    Take the iPod. Did the market ask for the iPod? The market would suggest that it didn’t given that there were a plethora of choices in the portable music space..even the MP3 player space. At its core all the iPod is is an MP3 player. I think one of the reasons the iPod took off is the Apple didn’t market it as an MP3 player, which is what the majority of companies had done up to that point. Normal people likely said “What the hell is an MP3 player?” “What the hell is MP3?”

    Do normal people care how navigation software works in their cars? Do normal people care that BMW’s iDrive is java based? (which is likely one reason why it sucks, but that is a different converastion.

    Do normal people care that Tivo runs Linux and the WMC is Windows based? (again probably why one sucks and the other doesn’t.. I didn’t say which.. draw your own conclusions )

    Again, many geeks think that technology is the objective. Technology is the method.

  24. Second Life is still small time, despite their dreams of being the biggest MMO and it doesn’t surprise me that nobody has heard of them in Montana.

    Mark these words, the #1 problem Second Life will have for wide adoption is scaling, which Rosedale disputes and ridiculously compares to Google, see: http://www.blogcharm.com/vtor/33219/

    Get more than 75 people on a single sim (server) in SL and things start falling apart. *This* will be the achille’s heel of SL if they don’t work this out somehow. Isn’t going to be a lot of people who want to spend $200/month for a server that can only have 75 people on it, even if it’s all 3D and can do cool, geeky things.

    I like Second Life, have been working on building a business annex there, but I see this as a major drawback for the platform in the bigger picture. Especially when it comes to holding larger events.

  25. Second Life is still small time, despite their dreams of being the biggest MMO and it doesn’t surprise me that nobody has heard of them in Montana.

    Mark these words, the #1 problem Second Life will have for wide adoption is scaling, which Rosedale disputes and ridiculously compares to Google, see: http://www.blogcharm.com/vtor/33219/

    Get more than 75 people on a single sim (server) in SL and things start falling apart. *This* will be the achille’s heel of SL if they don’t work this out somehow. Isn’t going to be a lot of people who want to spend $200/month for a server that can only have 75 people on it, even if it’s all 3D and can do cool, geeky things.

    I like Second Life, have been working on building a business annex there, but I see this as a major drawback for the platform in the bigger picture. Especially when it comes to holding larger events.

  26. Robert

    I think a lot of people are intimidated by technology because a lot of it is not user friendly. Even educated professionals can be put off by the use of ‘jargon’.
    Being a user of technology, self taught and always learning not a ‘specialist’, I look at blogs, cell phones, computers and the like as communication tools in the same way that I use a car to travel or go to work.

    Serge
    Biz:
    http://www.njconcierges.com
    Blog:
    http://www.sergetheconcierge.com

  27. Robert

    I think a lot of people are intimidated by technology because a lot of it is not user friendly. Even educated professionals can be put off by the use of ‘jargon’.
    Being a user of technology, self taught and always learning not a ‘specialist’, I look at blogs, cell phones, computers and the like as communication tools in the same way that I use a car to travel or go to work.

    Serge
    Biz:
    http://www.njconcierges.com
    Blog:
    http://www.sergetheconcierge.com

  28. Well, if you remember getting out of Seattle or especially the US, you will find a lot of people not even knowing about what the people in the US know about.

    Why should they? It does not affect their daily life. It needs something like the just started Podcast of the German chancellor to get people attracted to a new technology. *That* will give exposure. :)

  29. Well, if you remember getting out of Seattle or especially the US, you will find a lot of people not even knowing about what the people in the US know about.

    Why should they? It does not affect their daily life. It needs something like the just started Podcast of the German chancellor to get people attracted to a new technology. *That* will give exposure. :)

  30. How to make / get normal people to see your technology

    Scoble writes about “The problem facing every tech company”: Jonathan Schwartz, CEO of Sun Microsystems, blogs about the difficulty of getting people to see their new technology and programs. I feel his pain. When I was in Montana I met people who ha…

  31. Simple.

    Tell them not to focus on technology, but on solving problems that people care about.

    Or just tell them to read Godin’s “All Marketers are Liars”…

  32. Simple.

    Tell them not to focus on technology, but on solving problems that people care about.

    Or just tell them to read Godin’s “All Marketers are Liars”…