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Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Marketing for the Mob

It happens only, like, three or four times in every major project, if you're lucky. You've planned out some spiffy new feature, convinced your client liaison that it will revolutionize their website/workflow/inner balance, executed it with a skill that a samurai would envy and even, if you found the time in between deadlines, documented it.

Then you meet the proverbial boss client, and hear the fateful words: I don't like it. Scrap it.

Then you hear that tinkling sound. That's your elation at a job done and done well, shattered into several million infinitesimal pieces and scattered all across the boardroom floor.

Another, slightly more gentle scenario is when you realize, three months down the line after deployment, that while everyone was thrilled about the project, something seems to be subtly wrong, mainly because no one is using the bloody thing. Then it dawns on you that that everyone really meant everyone except the people who were meant to do the donkey work of actually operating it.

It boils down to targeting, both of marketing and design. Sometimes we lose track of the focus of the audience, wasting resources pursuing the attention of the wrong people. The exact social dynamics of a client organization are inevitably varied and complex, but it's worth sorting out at an early stage who the decision maker is - generally through the subtle interactions that happen between parties present at meetings etc. In some cases you'll even find that the bugger pulling the strings never actually shows up until it's too late.

You'll learn to appreciate that there's a good reason that police employ criminal psychologists to draw up profiles. You have very limited input by which to determine what the top guy wants, unless you're lucky enough to get a really solid brief. In my experience so far, a really solid brief ranks up there with the myths of the holy grail, the bleeding lance, and the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. So get stuck in.

The other group you'll need to target are the people who will operate the system. As Gil Grissom of CSI fame is so fond of saying, "before you're a forensics expert, you need to become an expert in everything". Same for systems design. Learn what these people do. Learn what they want. Learn how they think. Then you will be in a position to design something they like. If they like, they use. No other way about that, I'm afraid.

Then maybe we'll all hear that tinkling sound a lot less often.

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I started this post at 8:15pm and am still typing at 8:57pm, mainly because I've stopped a bit to discuss the vagarities of life with a friend of mine who has come up with a noble plan to cheer up another friend of his. Just dropping this note in here to wish him luck and to say that hell, anyone who has friends who care enough to worry about them and try to make them feel better shouldn't feel like a god-damned failure.

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