Zen and the Art of Surviving Today’s Hyper Marketing

hyper marketingHere is an approach I use to understand and help cut through the torrents of mis-information we’re increasingly subjected to. The hyper marketing chatter though corporate blogs, twitter, press releases, industry reports, news articles, commentary, emails, social media, etc. is driving many dysfunctions. Think of it as a mass attention deficit disorder. I wrote about it back in 2010, here we are 7 years later, and the problem is ever more manifest.

Some of the dysfunctions include:

Black and White thinking

The tolerance of ambiguity continues to diminish. Things are either good (new fashions that are going to transform the world) or bad (old legacy stuff that is close to death). Its got so bad it doesn’t even have to be legacy, if you’re not shouting about product X at event Y and a competitor is, then you’re a loser.

A recent example from CES: voice-first is now quoted, with breathless titles such as “I have seen the future: Alexa controls everything”. This is utter bollocks. Just like mobile-first, it makes sense in a few cases, e.g. ordering an Uber in the case of mobile-first. But generally multi-channel is best as the use case changes by context, i.e. time of day, person, location, action, situation, mood, intent, etc.

The world we live in is ambiguous, which is OK, there are many more uncertainties than we can process. The key is asking does this uncertainty matter for the decision I am making. For example, should we build product X to be voice-first as that appears the fashion. Clearly the answer is no in most cases, however, what message you tell the VC or the Press to gain attention can be quite different to what you actually build. Hyper marketing today is generally wishful thinking not reality.

As another example for multi-channel, the simple need of finding the weather today versus for the week. Alexa is great for what’s happening today, given the limits of our short-term aural memory. However, the weather app is much better in displaying what’s happening this week, given the parallel processing of our visual memory. Similarly, playing a favorite music station is easy by voice, but when you’re not sure, being able to browse an app is better.

Alexa in the car is receiving lots of hyper marketing. Ignore the silly use cases based on incremental linear thinking. Alexa is a great leveler for children with their parents, they use it today generally for fun, ‘ALEXA (always shouted never said) sing happy birthday!’ Or my son’s current favorite, “ALEXA tell a fart joke.’ Alexa’s use cases today are limited: timers, weather, headlines, games (sort of), home control (sort of), etc. In the evening when the kids are going to sleep you do not want to be asking Alexa to turn on / off lights, that will only get the kids going again in shouting for ALEXA to tell a fart joke.

Alexa in the car today is a ‘nice to have’, its not yet clear what will be the compelling use cases as Siri is already there for a number of years. But absolutely encourage experimentation, put it there and see what people do with it. Our opinions do not matter, let the market decide as it has all the problems and Alexa may provide some great solutions to difficult problems. We just do not know, and should not be afraid to admit it. With the awareness of black and white thinking and acceptance of ambiguity, most of the hyper marketing falls into bombastic statements to cover what is in essence experimentation. Such experimentation does not herald disruption, or the softer term used today of transformation, as disruption is now passé. Like all experimentation its a step into the unknown, which drives us all forward.

TADHack has taught me that many problems can be solved through very simple telecommunication tools, problems I would never have imagined. But for the developers creating the hacks, matter intensely. So ignore the silly claims on disruption, changing the world as we know it, tens to hundreds of billions in market value being created. Its cool they’re adding Alexa to things, its fun, and who knows it may be useful. Its just not that clear at the moment, so get out there and test, use hackathons to surface problems the technology could solve, and then get them out into the market. Such an approach is core to Zen and the Art of surviving today’s Hyper Marketing.

Confusion of Facts and Opinions

Part of this problem we have with hyper marketing stems from we no longer have experts we can look to, like a “David Attenborough of Telecom or Technology”, backed by a massive natural history department of the BBC and many Universities. Everyone’s opinion is treated equally no matter now ill-informed. A fresh out of University Arts Major employed by some hyper marketing agency will write an opinion piece on Digital Transformation and its given the same weight as a quantified, in-depth analysis from someone with decades of experience that debunks the article.

As a side note: other keywords that could indicate the person / organization’s opinions should be treated with suspicion include: open APIs (APIs are either public or private), Internet of Everything (nonsense term), API economy (API is a HTTP request – that is not an economy), Digital X (where X could be: smart connected device (they mean computer), platform, business model, service, lifestyle, maturity). But back to Zen and the  Art of surviving today’s Hyper Marketing…

It is even hard to bring facts into discussion these days, as often the next dysfunction raises its head of emotional decision making / belief-based systems. I remember in October in a chat with a neighbor, who I thought was middle of the road quoting a journalist’s research on the number of legal suites facing the two candidates. Clearly, that data had no place in their world-view, so I changed the subject. I then later discovered climate change was another no go topic, where quoting scientific research in a discussion is considered bullying, especially when showing via an internet search on my phone that I’m not making the stuff up. Anyway, focusing on telecoms….

We have similar challenges in telecoms, take for example TMO US’s 6+ million “RCS subscribers” is positioned by some as endorsement of RCS’s success. Its 6 million out of 72 million, most of the 6 million users have no awareness they are using advanced messaging (TMO do not market it, and perhaps never will). So they are not really subscribers (paying specifically for that service), rather they are accidental RCS users, but nonetheless RCS users. Which is OK, the service was launched in 2015, and its simply there in the messaging client on certain phones, and TMO is growing that number. Its a way for operators to roll-out a new technology, just put it there and let people discover it. Like Skype when new emoticons become available. You just discover it when a friend does something you’ve not seen before.

Its experimentation – some may think its the herald of great things in carrier messaging, some may think its not very impressive at all – that’s OK its just opinions, everyone has an opinion. Facts, such as no interop between TMO, Sprint, AT&T and Verizon; Verizon has signed up for Network 2020 which includes the RCS interop spec, but has yet to make any RCS announcements. Facts, such as in the US market most people still buy their phones through the big 4, means carriers have significant control over the market. Mean the situation is ambiguous, and likely will be a long run play, as RCS has been from the start. So all the opinions on RCS in the US market are OK, the future is unclear, its a long run play with no guaranteed outcome. We have far more short-term stuff to worry about. Did I mention this was going to be a bit Zen 😉

Emotional decision making / belief-based systems

I still have fun pointing out guaranteed transport QoS does not drive consumers’ decisions for most telecom services, good enough QoS rules, and seeing the righteous indignation from the guaranteed QoS brigade. Anyone who has T-Mobile in the US has made a decision that access to e911 is not absolutely critical. NYC tri-state Root Metrics gives them a score of 95.5 out of 100 in 2nd half 2016, while AT&T gets 95.2, and Verizon/Sprint both get 99. All US mobile operators have not spots, change the location and the results will be different. A fixed line is the only way to get above 99%.

The reality of this situation is when your mobile does not work, try again, try someone else’s phone, or use a fixed line. The TV my family watches has no guaranteed QoS. The HD voice and video conferences we use have no guaranteed QoS. Even my desk phone has no guaranteed QoS. Good enough QoS is good enough for most people. Guaranteed QoS does matter, but not everywhere, and particularly not in most consumer decision making on mobile and fixed internet access services. Such statements will have made some people I know angry, oops!

The risk of an e911 call not working when you need it on mobile can be quite high, see the Root Metrics numbers above. If you’re out on a deserted highway by yourself and need e911 in a not-spot, there’s always rare situations reported in the news that number perhaps 10 per year (can’t find a good number apart from the odd news reports of such incidents). The much greater risk is location accuracy, the FCC estimate improvements there could save 10k lives a year. We tolerate far greater risks than an e911 call not going through without blinking an eye, every time we get in a car we risk being one of the 38k people killed or 4M people injured on US roads each year. BTW the last fatal crash of a U.S. passenger airliner was back in February 2009!

The numbers are all there, yet people struggle to understanding those numbers, and what they mean when putting themselves in harms way through daily activities. Hence the rise in emotional decision making based on perceptions, which leads to emotionally deciding X is the answer “because it just makes sense (feels right)” and soldiering on with X regardless of market indicators. For surviving today’s Hyper Marketing, numbers are your friends, know them, test them, and use them often in your chosen discipline.

Single-factor cause and effect

Why did Nokia loose the mobile phone business? Coz of Apple! Hmm… Nokia were really good at 2G phones, but their smartphones sucked, there was a decade of sucky ‘smartphones,’ even O2 xdas were sucky and expensive, and even the first iPhone was just an iPod Touch plus phone with limited battery life.

Nokia failed in the mobile phone business for a long list of reasons based around not being in the computer / consumer electronics business to begin with, culture, miss-hires, listening to telcos screaming at it when they did an app store, a dumbass Microsoft only OS strategy, the list goes on. Apple just did their thing, as did the Android ecosystem, and Nokia did a number on itself.

10 years ago, Apple took smartphones into the computing / consumer electronics ecosystem, rather than the specialized mobile phone ecosystem, coz the timing was right: technology (processors / screen / battery (just)) and customer demand after a decade of failed attempts. Nokia was unable to respond to competition from a different ecosystem. Its like we see in messaging and voice today, the web offers in multitude of telecom services that the telco ecosystem can not compete with.

BUT because of barriers like spectrum licensing and rights of way, telcos are not going anywhere. Anyone predicting their death because of the web is falling prey to the dysfunctions in this list. Rather, Telcos’ business is slowly retrenching towards internet access, with a range of service bundles depending on the region and history of the telco. Avoid single-factor cause and effect, the world is more complex.


Its hard to filter out all the hyper marketing, one thing we can do is lend credence to the person making the time to communicate. Using that to guide the time we spend, even if we do not agree with them. Monitoring the hyper marketing noise is OK to get a sense of the chatter, but don’t spend your time there. And remember:

  • Black and White thinking. The world is ambiguous, often we just do not know and that’s OK. Experiment and see what happens. The market (and hackathons to get things going) are a better lab than the mind.
  • Confusion of Facts and Opinions. Opinions are OK, everyone is entitled to them, but focus on the facts of the case.
  • Emotional decision making / belief-based systems. Numbers are your friends, know them, test them, and use them often.
  • Single-factor cause and effect. Avoid over simplified cause / effect – the world is complex. When presented with an over-simplified story, beware, its often done to frame an argument which is likely not going to be in your favor.