Why Marketing Doesn’t Deliver

October 26, 2016

Every organisation in the world spends a fortune on marketing, to the extent the DeliveryDemon would have to go entirely off the grid to avoid the deluge. With that volume, it’s not surprising that it’s easy to find examples of stupidity. One of the commonest marketing fails is when an organisation is so busy preening its corporate ego that it completely loses site of the real customer experience. Microsoft’s latest idiocy provides a classic example.

For most people, email is a utility – boring stuff but it needs to be there and usable, low key but reliable. It doesn’t have to look pretty or to keep coming up with new bells and whistles when a typical user ignores most of the facilities already in existence. Hotmail used to be a good utilitarian email. It popped up quickly on the screen. It was easy to skim through emails and get rid of the trash. Emails could be sorted. There were reasonable filters. It was pretty good at identifying spam. And, having been around for so long, a hotmail address was reasonably memorable.

For a good while after taking it over, Microsoft let Hotmail be. Then came the change to Outlook. Now Outlook on a business network has been a pretty reasonable utility too, but that wasn’t carried forward when Hotmail became Outlook. Loading became painfully slow. Months later it hasn’t improved. On an iPad it’s still totally unreliable, verging on unusable. First it displays a smug little picture showing how the floppy disc supersedes snail mail. Below that appears what the DeliveryDemon at first assumed to be a progress bar. Actually it’s a throwback to the 1980s, when time and again users would watch the blue bar inch painfully slowly across the screen, only to freeze when it reached a fraction from the end. Time and again it does this, with refresh and URL reentry making not the slightest bit of difference. The DeliveryDemon has left the progress bar for 40 minutes and it still didn’t display any emails, hit refresh over 100 times without anything useful happening. Sometimes there is a complete access fail because the site has failed entirely. And of course there are no updates from Microsoft to let users know what is happening.

That’s the user experience. How does Microsoft marketing handle it? With a classic demonstration of being blinded by focus on the big fat corporate ego, that’s how.

Several times during this (ongoing) fiasco, the DeliveryDemon has had emails from Microsoft marketeers. ‘Now that you’ve been using Outlook.com and some of its features for a while, we hope you’ll try one free month of Office 365 to see how much more you can do.’ Lets translate that into user experience.

Now that you’ve been using Outlook.com and some of its features for a while…. –
Now you have endured for a while the primitively slow response times and clunky user interface……

….we hope you’ll try one free month of Office 365…. – A free month is nothing but a cynical attempt to entice users into locking themselves into something which is barely usable and certainly not worth paying for when that month runs out….

….to see how much more you can do – If it can’t even do the basics at a barely competent level, it sure as hell isn’t going to do anything more useful.

In other words, Microsoft has made crap out of something useful and its marketing department are so enamoured of their own verbiage that they expect the world to be equally blind and shell out hard cash in response to that slimy marketing-speak.

Of course there may be another agenda behind this. Maybe the end of free Hotmail is in sight. Maybe Microsoft hopes that enough users will transfer to the paid for product so that any furore following the withdrawal of Hotmail will be minimal. If that’s the case, the marketing needs to be a damn sight more intelligent than the current efforts. And if that does happen, the DeliveryDemon will follow the oft-tested prudent advice. If something which works well is withdrawn, don’t blindly accept the offered replacement. Treat that replacement as just another product and evaluate it against whatever else is available. And of course, that replacement offering starts with an immediate handicap – it comes from a supplier which values its corporate ego over the customer’s need for continuity and reliability.


Delivering Libellous Content

March 17, 2014

The DeliveryDemon had to chuckle at this article http://www.pressgazette.co.uk/content/dont-let-internet-linked-stories-land-you-libel-writ

The law has certainly been working hard to catch up with technology, and the impact of this sort of libel is very real to those who are libelled. But the legal profession is missing a trick here. Behind the scenes, there is technology which looks for keywords and tries to interpret them. By and large this software is still remarkably primitive. It has yet to get to grips with the ability to interpret the context. Basically it lacks ‘intelligence’. It is designed to provide an answer at the expense of providing a sensible answer.

Google predictive text gives some good examples of what can happen http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/google/6161567/The-20-funniest-suggestions-from-Google-Suggest.html and various mobile phone predictive text engines can be even funnier. The automated parsers used by recruiters cannot distinguish between Coral the bookmaker and Coral the programming language. Amazon’s ‘you might like’ suggestions suggest you buy an identical item to a recent purchase, with a different brand name.

To some extent, many of these tools are designed to depend on data which is not quality-controlled in any effective way. Certainly an Amazon vendor will enter the keywords likely to maximise search hits. that can mean the entry of keywords with little relation to the product being sold.

Google is one of the more sophisticated players since its product depends on understanding what a searcher is likely to want, but the Telegraph article shows how primitive the logic is. Asking users to log in and relating searches to their search history has the potential to improve search result quality, but people are becoming increasingly sensitive to the amount of their data held by large corporations, and legislators are starting to respond to those concerns, so relying on users logging in may not be the most fruitful development path for this type of tool.

The examples in libel article certainly have merit. Either the tool is not fit for purpose, or it is being used unintelligently. A fairly obvious solution would be for the news website to flag articles as being either positive or adverse, provided the tool refrains from coming up with links to ‘similar’ articles unless they were also flagged as adverse. If the tool can do this, the web publisher is at fault. If the tool can’t do it, then there are two potential breaches. The tool may be inadequate for the purpose for which it is being sold. Or the web publisher may be making inappropriate use of the tool. Of course, when a payment model is based on click throughs, the incentives tend not to favour anything which limits the number of links displayed.

A fruitful approach for legislators would be to look beyond individual libels and examine the capabilities of current tools, and the processes which web publishers use to to mitigate the risks arising from tool limitations.


Olympics…..We’re Dooooooomed!!!! Jubilee….We’re Dooooooomder!!!!

April 25, 2012

The Delivery Demon isn’t really much of a spectator so she didn’t bother tying up her credit card limit in the fiasco of Olympic ticket sales. Why put all that effort into a lottery level probability of seeing an event that might be of some slight interest? She stood back from that, leaving the remote chance of getting a ticket to those who really wanted to watch. As the chaos was delivered, she felt a few pangs of sympathy to those sportspeople who, even if they managed to get tickets, had very little opportunity of getting tickets to see the sports they actually participate in. The whole setup seemed pretty half-baked.

Beyond some vague plans to avoid the areas of transport mayhem during the Olympics, the DeliveryDemon has tended to ignore the media hype, but a recurring theme has been carping for her attention in news reports. There seems to be a developing assumption that the Olympics, like the equally-hyped Jubilee, will damage the economy. The DeliveryDemon recollects some reference to think tanks in those reports but a cursory web search hasn’t provided any hard evidence, so perhaps the reporters concerned are inventing or misinterpreting. Whatever the case, the DeliveryDemon has become interested in what those reports imply.

The general theme is that workers will be taking holidays and days off, will be surreptitiously following the events on their mobiles and their work PCs, will be spending long lunches in pubs, watching events unfold. Transport chaos will make people late for work. Workers will be tired and hungover from late night TV watching and alcoholic celebrations. Production will plummet, customer service will suffer, the economy will drag its way into another recession. Two big events in a single year? We’re all doooooomed!!!

So what are the facts behind the scaremongering?

  • Yes, people will want time off – they usually do in the summer. But it may be easier to achieve a spread of holiday dates as a significant number of people may choose to avoid holidaying during the Olympic peak times – much as many people avoid taking their break during school holidays.
  • Transport chaos? Commuters are used to this but it’s likely to have a worse than usual impact on venue access routes and the air and rail hubs which serve them. That’s not the whole country, and the areas concerned have a relatively high concentration of work which can be carried out remotely with a little bit of forethought.
  • People will spend more than they plan then cut back after the event? Pretty normal for any holiday type event, except that the spend will be in the UK.

So far, so normal. No reason to predict a recessive impact from normal human behaviour. So what might these pundits be suggesting?

  • All that well-paid Olympics work will disappear in the aftermath, true. Why should that be a surprise to anyone?
  • In some – but not all – businesses, less work will be done during the various events and celebrations. Really?
  • There will be a fairly heavy demand for time off during the peak period. A bit like Christmas and the school holidays. After all, people work to live, not the other way round.

Either the reporters who come up with these doom-laden headlines lack the most elementary understanding of business planning, or they are trying to deliver the message that UK management is so lacking in basic business skills that the entire country went down the plughole years ago.

The DeliveryDemon wishes that those recruiting for media positions would realise that those jobs have a need for basic commonsense and the ability to use data sensibly.


Delivering Sports Participation

April 3, 2012

The DeliveryDemon isn’t hugely fascinated by the 2012 Olympics. She didn’t bother with the ticket allocation fiasco. She hopes she won’t be in London, or near one of the few non-London venues during the event. She has no intention of going anywhere to peer through crowds at anyone trotting along with a badly designed bit of metalwork, which is the nearest many Brits will get to the Olympics. She certainly won’t be watching the Olympics on television, as she still hasn’t found a good reason to go out and buy one.

According to BBC talking heads, this means that the DeliveryDemon is not interested in sport. No matter that she walks for miles in the mountains and across country – that doesn’t count. Nor does bodyflying, an activity which tests muscles most people never get round to using. As soon as she finishes rehab from last year’s skydiving accident, she aims to be back flowriding and doing the occasional bit of running. But she’s not interested in sport. The DeliveryDemon was delighted when recovery reached a point that allowed her back in the gym and the pool – but that’s not sport. She’s looking forward to being able to take winter holidays with ice climbing and snowshoeing and cross country skiing and dog sledging – but according to those in the know, she’s not a sporty person. Obviously not, since she isn’t inclined to sit on the couch, munching and drinking, while watching others do something which may be active – or which may be as inactive as darts or snooker or angling or even poker, all of which are skilled, none of which contribute much to the body’s need for physical activity.

There’s a lot of justification of Olympic costs on the grounds that the fact of the Olympics will increase sports participation. It’s a pity that those who made the decisions to spend shed loads of public money didn’t do some realistic thinking:

  • What does participation actually mean?
  • How can you demonstrate that it’s happening?

Since the powers that spend our taxes clearly haven’t done this thinking, please allow the DeliveryDemon to suggest a few actions and measures.

Work is spread throughout the country so that people don’t have to spend so much time commuting that there’s no weekday time for anything else and no weekend time because weekends are used up with recovering from the week’s commute and doing all the chores there wasn’t time for during the week.

School offer a range of activities within the timetable with sufficient variety so that all children can particpate without feeling useless or stupid, and sufficient competition to give the competitive a way of measuring their success.

Sports funding includes reasonable support for public facilities which provide ready access for the public at times when people want to use them.

Bylaws and bureaucrats do not use health and safety as an excuse to prevent popular and emerging sports like inline skating and skateboarding and freerunning in public places.

Planning decisions require provision of public open spaces including green space, and sports facilties, with properly thought out arrangements for their long term upkeep.

That’s just for starters. The Olympics will long be remembered for the white elephant developments it leaves behind, but any effect it has on sports participation will be as transient as the annual blip  in tennis court use around the time of Wimbledon – but without Wimbledon’s annual influence. If the powers that be seriously want to influence public health for the better, they need to think more pragmatically than low usage monolithic development and nanny state pronouncements.


#Orange Can Only Deliver Wireless Over a Wired Connection

August 31, 2011

The DeliveryDemon is becoming increasingly annoyed with Orange’s inability to deliver the broadband service she is paying for. At signup time Orange were claiming a minimum of 4 Mbps speed and an expected speed of 8 Mbps. With stunning regularity Orange fail to deliver anything like the promised speed, dropping as low as 0.1 Mbps.

Not surprisingly the call centre is dire, with operators incapable of accessing Orange’s own systems. When they do they deny the existence of a problem, or claim it is the fault of a (non-existent) microwave on the property. Their solution is invariably to demand that I set up a wired connection.

Most UK broadband speed claims seem to be fraudulent these days, but Orange seems to lead the field in both non-delivery and call centre uselessness.


Delivering Interim Services

June 24, 2011

It is flawed logic to set an interim manager’s fee based on the pro-rata of a permanent employee’s base salary

Compiled by the Institute of Interim Management

When businesses look for an interim manager, they sometimes mistakenly value the ‘interim day-rate’ based on the pro-rata cost of an ‘equivalent’ permanent. An interim manager is not an ‘agency temp’.

This worked example shows why:

On top of an (example) £80,000 base salary, add company NI, benefits costs and variable employment costs. Then, factor in all the holidays, bank holidays, sick days, jury service, training days, burst boilers and compassionate leave days that you pay for. The following figures are approximate, but give a good sense of what your employees actually cost you:

Employee base pay (example) £ 80,000 100%

Company national insurance (limits apply. Rounded) £ 8,000 10%
Car allowance £ 6,600 8%
Medical, life insurance and other benefits £ 3,300 4%
Employers’ pension contributions (often higher or ‘final salary’) £ 6,600 8%
Bonus and other incentives (can be much higher) £ 12,000 15%
Employee holidays & absences (52 days not worked, but paid for) £ 16,000 20%

Total costs to the business for 208 days worked: £ 132,000 165%
Total cost to the business for each employee working day: £ 640 0.79%

Employers offering ‘pro-rata’ employee base-pay rate to an interim manager are offering a rate of only c.60% of the ‘equivalent’ employee’s package. That strategy significantly reduces the likelihood that a genuine professional interim manager or executive will express interest in your assignment. Once below a ‘daily-rate’ of 0.8% of ‘equivalent’ employee annual base pay, an interim manager would actually be providing services to you below ‘cost-price’, as they cover their own business costs.

Any ‘savings’ on engaging a ‘cheap interim’ may be swallowed up in time delays and recovery costs if the assignment is not implemented properly or if the ‘cheap interim’ leaves you in the lurch.

The actual value of professional interim managers and executives:

Engage in a fee discussion on the basis of the added value that interim managers offer through:

• Return On Investment – delivery of a solution that gives real benefit to the client
• Speed – being quickly available and able to make an impact quickly
• Expertise – being sensibly over-qualified with a wealth of skills and knowledge
• Objectivity – outside of company politics with a business focused perspective
• Accountability – being instrumental in an assignment’s successful delivery
• Effectiveness – with the authority and credibility to effect significant change or add value
• Commitment – a professional interim approach to deliver then exit in a good way

For real added value, don’t use an ‘agency temp’ pay calculation to attract a professional interim manager. They offer ‘Expertise as a Service’ and handle ‘Business as Unusual.’

[This common sense explanation © Institute of Interim Management (IIM) http://www.iim.org.uk may be freely reproduced and used, with due credit, to explain interim management (03/ 2011) ]

To the IIM’s model, the DeliveryDemon suggests adding the following factors:

  • Recruitment of a permanent employee may have associated search costs
  • When the services of a permanent employee are no longer required, there are costs associated with redundancy
  • An interim takes responsibility for their own professional development whereas with an employee there are costs for training and time away to train

Delivering Stakeholder Management

June 14, 2011

It’s relatively easy to identify most stakeholders. Once they have been identified it’s relatively easy to put together a communication plan which allows you to tell them what they need to know. The plan can include two way communication events such as requirements analysis, Q&A events, document reviews and user tests. These are all part of the tried and tested approach to stakeholder management.

Rather more difficult is the management of stakeholder expectations. The project manager can issue crystal clear bulletins about what has been agreed and what is actually happening. At some point these butt up against stakeholder assumptions, recollections and aspirations. The bits which match will bolster the stakeholder’s world view. The bits which don’t match may provoke a reaction. If they do, that’s all to the good as it allows the project manager to identify and deal with any mismatch between the project as agreed and stakeholder expectations. But not all readers will bother to react. The danger comes when stakeholders skim project communications for the bits which confirm their expectations and ignore the rest. Then expectations may begin to diverge substantially from the project aims. Once that happens to any extent the project will never be a success. It may deliver to scope, cost and timescale but it won’t be viewed as successful because it’s not delivering what stakeholders have come to expect.

For a project manager to become a good stakeholder manager, it’s necessary to look beyond the project’s formal structured communication, and apply the black arts of expectation analysis and expectation management. Catch a straying expectation before it’s far from the straight and narrow and it’s easy to nudge it back on course. Let it stray long enough to become feral and you may not catch it in the lifetime of the project.

Becoming a curator of expectations requires a diverse set of skills, but the core skill is networking. Informal chats can alert the project manager to straying expections much more quickly than any formal discussion. It’s not just the obvious stakeholders who can be useful sources of information. Other projects and BAU targets may hide a reliance on invalid expectations, and people may set such targets as a means of pressurising a project to change its remit.

Sometimes divergent expectations arise because the business has moved on from the original project requirements, and the project may need to change in order to deliver business benefits.

It may not be easy to decide whether expectations should be brought in line or the project changed to meet expectations. This is where stakeholder management feeds into risk and issue management, and through that to the broader project governance and sponsorship if it appears that problems are going beyond the authority delegated to the project manager.

You can, in isolation, deliver a project which meets all its objectives. But unless you step outside the ivory tower and keep abreast of events in the wider context the project may not be seen to be successful. That’s why a project manager needs a taste for coffee, beer and cocktails, not to mention a tolerance for the smoky, windy conditions endured by the huddles which gather outside the doors of most office buildings.


Delivering Over the Web

October 29, 2009

The DeliveryDemon is becoming fascinated by marketing and PR, particularly the ways of achieving a balance between appealing to the aspirations of potential customers, and providing those customers with the comfortable feeling that they are dealing with a supplier who can be trusted to fulfil those aspirations as promised. When it comes to marketing over the web, the press regularly has a field day with scare articles which, I am sure, many of us read with the smug assumption that we would never be so foolish as to fall for such a scam.

But how can we distinguish between a genuine seller with poor website skills, and a website thrown together by a scammer who knows that, if they can drive sufficient traffic to the website, enough people will unthinkingly enter their personal or financial details for the scammer to reap a profit? The answer is that there is no foolproof way to distinguish between the scammer and the amateur.

Anyone who wants a commercial website to deliver results needs to deliver a professional presentation in order for the customer to feel confident about buying. The DeliveryDemon has been surprised at how often she considers buying from a website then decides not to because something generates a feeling of mistrust. If you find that potential customers are dropping out half way through buying on your website,  have a look at http://www.thinklikeauser.com/sell-more-online-by-ditching-the-red-flags-on-your-website/ It’s surprising how many websites ignore these ways of building in customer confidence


Delivering Food in the Internet Age

September 23, 2009

The DeliveryDemon hates shopping. Walk round the supermarket spending money on stuff to eat, and you only have to do the same thing a week later. It’s SUCH a chore!! So it came as a bit of a surprise, returning from a holiday in the Lake District, to have a reasonably enjoyable shopping experience. Which, of course lead the DeliveryDemon to wonder why she doesn’t mind picking up foodstuff at Booths in Keswick, while she absolutely hates trudging round each and every one of the local supermarkets in her home area.

And before anyone suggests that the DeliveryDemon shop online to avoid the supermarket experience, think about trust. On a visit to a supermarket you can form an opinion about how the goods are handled when customers can see what’s going on. If an online order is packed in some distant warehouse, that discipline has gone. If you don’t see respect for food in a store, how is food being handled behind the scenes? If, when you come to unpack your order and cook dinner, the veg are unappetisingly wilted or bashed, what do you do? You can complain and return items but by then your meal has been spoiled, and often people find it too much hassle to return stuff. It’s you who has to deal with the quality problem.

So why does Booths deliver a shopping experience which is so different? Certainly the layout is a bit more spacious, reducing the frustration caused by shoppers who stop for an extended chat, trolleys carefully parked to block the aisle. The excellent selection of beers on offer is an attraction, as is the carefully chosen range of local products, but the range doesn’t dictate the shopping experience. The secret is in the way the goods are handled and displayed, something long known to every market trader with a layer of shiny polished apples hiding a stock of poorer quality fruit.

Compare and contrast:

  • A freshly picked carrot with a glazed looking item from near-zero storage,  in its brief orange period between frozen lump and black slime
  • The tight white curds of a trimmed new cauliflower with the brown-splodged, limp-leaf-hidden face of one which has survived a lengthy trip along the supply chain
  • Tomatos with the sharp green smell of the plant, and the green-red, rock hard spheres, picked long before ripeness to prevent bruising in transit
  • A choice of breads from various bakers, each with their own baking method, and a choice of breadshapes all made to the same process and with zero taste variation
  • Glittering fish you need to get up early for because it comes in fresh every day and sells out every day, and dull-eyed specimens dragged from the freezer
  • Large packs of perky-leaved herbs, and niggardly sachets bulked out with parsley stalks and leaf fragments.

When the Delivery Demon stops at Booths she usually heads back south with a full shopping bag. Lakeland plum bread, Morecambe Bay prawns, rye loaf, ‘Cornish’ pasties, fresh fruit and vegetables, chocolates, artisan crisps and some interesting local beers. When she shops in her home area, she comes back with a bad temper and a list of items which were out of stock.

What’s this got to do with the internet age? In the old days, word of a poor shopping experience would circulate in a local community, but lack of convenient options would to some extent protect a poor quality shop from wholesale customer defection. The internet has widened the options. Supermarkets think they have addressed the internet age by offering online shopping and web-based information. Many have still to realise that the web has created a window into the quality of their entire operation.


Why Single Point Estimating?

July 9, 2009

A couple of weeks ago DeliveryDemon got involved in some interesting discussions about whether a single point estimate could actually exist. Various thoughts circulated for a while before being buried in a deluge of other ‘stuff’. Now the ‘stuff’ has been cleared, the thoughts are coming to the surface again.

Certainly an estimate has associated with it a degree of uncertainty. Depending on  who’s looking at it, understanding of that uncertainty varies with the eye of the beholder. A good estimator will have a fairly sophisticated view of the nature and range of the band of uncertainty. Some people will recognise the existence of the uncertainty without having much understanding of how it can be managed. Some people are oblivious to its existence while others take a position of total denial – ‘Just give me the number. What’s wrong with you that you can’t give me a single number?’

There’s an education gap creating the demand for a single number. There’s also something more systemic. Take a look at budgeting systems. They demand single values for each line in the budget. If a manager wants to create contingency to allow for uncertainty in a project, the common ways of doing it are to include contingency in each budget line, and to have a separate slush fund for allocation at the manager’s discretion.

This approach was a minor anomaly in the days when business as usual consumed nearly all of a company’s budget. Today, Change is an important business function and companies often need to allocate a substantial proportion of the budget to it. The anomaly is becoming a significant problem for two reasons:

  • A large uncertainty factor is becoming embedded in every budget
  • The company does not know how much contingency it has in its budgets, and how much contingency it needs. As a result it is not in a position to manage contingency in line with business priorities.

The DeliveryDemon doesn’t have a perfect solution, but a working solution would have some of the following features:

  • Three figures associated with each budget line – target, best case and worst case, with budgets being based on the target figure
  • The ability to allocate contingency to individual budget lines based on the best case / worst case figures
  •  The ability to allocate contingency at an aggregate level, thus reserving decisions about its use for more senior management. This would also allow for a lower contingency figure, on the assumption that not all lowest level budget lines would need to call on contingency.
  • A process to review allocated contingency, and retrieve it when the need is reduced or gone, or reallocate it should business priorities change.
  • A requirement to justify the use of contingency, to offset the human tendency to use up the funds available.

Some of this happens in practice in some companies, but not as an explicit process, which is dangerous from a due diligence perspective. The big difference will come when Change is recognised as a fundamental business function, and managed from a strategic perspective in the same way as other major business functions. Once that happens, Change ceases to be special. Its processes and characteristics will be made explicit  in the same way as those of any other business function, as will its interfaces with other business functions. When Change is recognised as just another business function, then it makes sense for it to feed business requirements into systems design, which will be an interesting challenge to current budgeting and contingency management conventions.