Reinventing the Newsroom

The Other End of the Telescope

Posted in Cultural Change, IPad, Social Media by reinventingthenewsroom on February 18, 2010

Read this, from a Tuesday New York Times article by Katrina Heron, but replace “winery” and “wine” with “publisher” and “journalism”:

Rick Bakas, a panelist at the symposium, joined St. Supéry winery last August with a title heretofore unknown in the valley: director of social media.St. Supéry, which produces 100,000 cases a year, now has the requisite Facebook fan page, in addition to which Mr. Bakas has inaugurated Napa cabernet and pan-California virtual wine tastings via Twitter.

“Where wineries need to focus most is on signing up new wine club members through social media,” he said, rather than rely on cementing relationships with tourists who drive up to the tasting room.

Mr. Baker estimated that only about 20 percent of Napa wineries are on Facebook so far. Mr. Bakas, who last worked at a Web start-up that folded, said his spiel on new marketing techniques still meets with bewilderment and reticence in some quarters. “Wineries will say they say they can’t afford to learn about social media,” he said. “I tell them they can’t afford not to, and the economy is pushing the reluctant ones whether they want to or not.”

In short, Napa’s winemakers are in the throes of a classic market disruption. They can’t go backward, and the way forward is still largely unknown.

The only certainty is that they can’t stay where they are.

Granted, the wine industry isn’t trying to reverse having spent 15 years letting consumers quaff bottles without paying, but other than that I think the parallel holds. The potential wine club members are your valuable core loyalist readers, while the tourists are your drive-by readers. The suspicion of social media is the same, as is the struggle to realize it isn’t a fad but the way the world increasingly works. Read the rest and you’ll find a lot else that sounds familiar: falling sales, grumbling about middlemen, and scrappy new wineries selling cheap and bucking tradition.

The wineries that are succeeding are doing something that’s simultaneously very basic but agonizingly hard for established organizations with a lot of resources tied up in doing things an established way: They’re looking at things from the customer point of view. This is disorienting after you’ve done things a certain way for a long time and made assumptions about your customers that no longer hold true. It’s the view through the other end of the telescope. But once you get used to it, you see clearly that some of the things you do need to change.

This morning someone sent me Matt Legend Gemmell’s advice to hardware manufacturers looking to compete with the iPad — another excellent example of seeing things the other way around.

My own first reaction to the iPad was that the largely disappointed digerati were missing something basic — they’re not the iPad’s intended audience. The digerati saw the iPad as a neutered computer, while many consumers will see it as a superb way to read, play games and do some simple Web exploring without a lot of squinting or fussing with settings. For the digerati, “simple” plus “closed system” equals “bigger iPod Touch” and is a letdown; for Apple’s intended audience, “simple” plus “closed system” equals “bigger iPod Touch” and is great news.

Gemmell’s thinking along the same lines, warning those who’d compete with the iPad that thinking of their devices as tablet computers is a basic mistake. The iPad, he says, appeals to a new, neglected consumer segment, similar to how the Nintendo Wii appealed to a subset of potential videogame customers that hadn’t been considered an interesting target market.

Here’s Gemmell:

It’s difficult to get our heads around the fact that these non-technologically-savvy users can suddenly constitute a core market for a device, yet that’s the case here. Nintendo saw it, and Apple sees it too. It’s an uncomfortable realisation since these people are so unfamiliar to people like you, as hardware manufacturers, and me as a software engineer. This discomfort leads to a kind of understandable blindness, and more importantly can make us leave money on the table. The relative sales and demand figures for Wii vs PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 over the last several Christmases are indicative of that.

When competing with iPad, you have to realise that, to your new core market, tablets are not computers. There’s no such thing (to your customer) as a “tablet computer”; the very name reduces the likelihood they’ll buy it. The potential of the tablet is that it’s not even seen as a computing device. This is an incredible opportunity to expand into a new market, if you’ll only commit to that mindset.

If you’re thinking of a “tablet computer”, you’re only coming halfway, and you’re asking your customers to come further than they want to. My advice to you is: commit to the vision of a tablet, not a tablet computer, and you’ll have taken the first step towards claiming your share of the money which your new customers are ready and waiting to spend.

That’s exactly right. Gemmell’s looking through the customer end of the telescope, and noting how things look different.

Here’s a third example. John Bethune argues that journalists need to think more like marketers, examining another blogger’s question about why journalists have been generally worried about or unexcited by the changes ushered in by social media, and are making incremental changes while marketers are eagerly overhauling the basics of what they do. (Apologies for the Russian-doll effect of all this blogger commentary. Peril of the form.)

Bethune writes that “editors tend to have a craftsman’s view of their copy. It is a product that succeeds or fails on its own terms. It’s either good or bad. How it affects the reader, though important, is not the crucial test. You know when you’ve produced something good, even if no one ever reads it. For marketers, the only important question is how their copy affects readers. The measure of its success is simple: if it doesn’t produce leads, it doesn’t work. For editors, the copy is an end in itself. For marketers, it is a means to an end.”

Bethune is talking about marketers, not customers, but I think the point holds: Marketers are much better than journalists at understanding what customers want, because their continuing employment depends on it. Publishers and journalists have to learn to do that too. They can start by turning the telescope around.

(Tip of the cap to Joan Fry and Massimo Barsotti for interesting reads.)

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