Author Archives: IdeaEngineering

Premature Prognostication

It's Too Soon ClockNot for the first time, I was speaking with the CEO of a tech firm who was lamenting the lack of success of a previous firm he had worked for. He said, “sadly, they were just ahead of their time.”

I stopped to reflect on that comment and said, “No, they just sucked at communicating what their value was.” Tech firms in particular run into this problem (but certainly not exclusively). I think it stems from a couple of reasons. Firstly, the nature of tech is such that a company is often coming to market with a product that is new or different. Secondly, tech firms are very apt to believe (as engineers often do) that the value of their proposition is obvious to anyone who looks, and so needs little explanation beyond, perhaps, a cool name.

So listen up: No one cares. Few look. And your name is not that cool.

“Ahead of its time”? Really? Is that not the same thing as having a jump on everyone? So you’re a genius if it works, but it’s not your fault if it doesn’t?

If no one understands what you do or why they need what you are offering, then where do you expect your idea to go? As I often tell clients: “People don’t care who you are; they care what they are in you.”  Which is to say, people want to know why their life is going to be better because they are using your product or service. And if they don’t understand what you do, or why your product is different – and better – from the five other products that they perceive to be the same, then you have a problem. And the fact that you bought an oh-so-clever domain name like is not going to fix it for you.

I remember coaching some students for a venture capital competition and watching them show up for a rehearsal looking unkempt and with a glitchy PowerPoint. My admonition to them was, “Don’t ask me to respect you more than you respect you.”

Similarly, don’t ask your potential customers to figure you out beyond what you are willing to clearly communicate to them.

— Simon Dixon


female duckThe assaults on our privacy come in so many flavors. I recently spoke to a couple of high school classes and a university class and admonished them for giving up all their privacy with nary a whimper. Forty years ago people would have been rioting in the streets over the NSA revelations, but Facebook did them the favor of slowly eroding our privacy and so nothing feels particularly amiss.

Of course, not all our information is swept up for nefarious gain (at least initially). Take ICD-10 (International Classification of Diseases, 10th revision). These are the codes that caregivers use to describe the medical services they provide to patients. The old system had 14,000 variations. The new one has 70,000. So the good news is that there is now a specific code if you are burned as a result of your water skis catching fire (I’m not joking) (I’m also wondering what the heck people are getting up to for such a possibility to come about, or the need for a second code for “subsequent encounter”. Lightning striking twice sounds commonplace by comparison.) Similarly, if you are “struck by a duck” or “injured by a macaw” each will have its own code. Finally we will get some insight into which of our birds is the most malicious. Evander Holyfield will be happy to know that ”Open bite of left ear, subsequent encounter” is waiting for his next Tyson imbroglio. And if you get tagged with a few “walked into lamppost, subsequent encounter” codes, well what does that say about you?

What, indeed…? And that is where I begin to ask what is going to happen with all this information. The insurance companies will get a very detailed profile of everything you do that sends you to a doctor. As is oft the case, there is a good side: dangerous large-scale trends can be spotted. But this has to be balanced by the fact that it can be tied back to you. The credit card companies know everything you do with a credit card. The phone companies know everywhere you go and with whom you are communicating. This information will all be compiled to tell your story better than you yourself know it. At which point, manipulating you will become child’s play. In some ways it could make my job easier. Advertising firms would be able to discern exactly what makes you (literally, you) tick and tweak messaging accordingly. But at that point how far can we be from the “pre-crimes unit“?

So grab back some of your privacy. Start with resisting the urge to tell me what you had for breakfast as a Facebook post. That way we both win.

— Simon Dixon

The Dot Dash

dot dash blog post image_cropped2I went to a Ray Kurzweil lecture a couple of years ago and remember him saying that we often view our kids’ relationship with technology as just a step more than our own. Perhaps a large step. But his view was that it is magnitudes larger and frankly just different. For our kids, the speed of evolution of today’s technology is not something that grew slowly during their lives but was present from day one.

I think of this as close to 1,000 new TLDs have begun to reach the market. Top Level Domains are the letters that come after one’s web address, such as .com or .gov or .co.UK. For some years now there have been other TLDs available but almost all have been geographically driven such as .fr (France). Now you can get .careers, .travel, or .tattoo, and hundreds more are coming.

Dot com has had such value given to it – it is of course currently the generic name for the whole internet industry – but my guess is that in a few years that advantage will evaporate. There will be so many new options for companies to take TLD’s with their preferred name in front instead of the one they compromised on due to the lack of available .com addresses. With 252 million names already registered it will be good to get some breathing room.

Now that there will be so many more options for “peteswidgets dot whatever” to exist on the net, the value of search engines will only increase. And the algorithms they use to rank searches will have to be rethought. For businesses that have relied on securing the preferred .com address as enough of a brand separator, there will now be the need to make sure that your “peteswidgets” quickly differentiates from the other 15 “peteswidgets” that come right up in the rankings. Being the first to dot com used to confer status – I believe that will significantly erode in short order and fairly soon disappear.

The millennials and coming Gen Z that drive so much of the net just won’t care. But they will still care about how they feel about you – and that comes from your brand communications. This would be a good time to assess how strong your company’s brand message is.

— Simon Dixon

Thank you for being a friend…

Water Bottle with HeartMy friend Lindsay Mask, Founder of Ladies America, sent along an interesting HBR “Daily Stat” article to me, which came from a paper entitled “Can Our Favorite Products Provide Emotional Support?” The study showed people making positive emotional attachments to a new sparkling water brand that they consumed while watching a horror movie. This is very intriguing although I would caution that it may be a risky proposition to try to emulate in a real-life marketing campaign.

However, when a brand is expressed correctly, it takes on manifestations of a real-life character. I often say, to drill down to what a brand is about is to ask, “What do people think about when they think about X?” (“X” being the brand in question). So in this case, because the brand has a “personality” it makes some sense that one might positively attach oneself to a “person” that one went through an ordeal with. One may derive comfort and trust from the “shared” suffering. Just don’t give your Pellegrino its own seat at your support group; that would be weird.

— Simon Dixon