Saturday, November 24, 2012

HP Continues Its Plunge Into The Tenth Circle Of Hell

I just can't get over HP. The sheer magnitude of the incompetence is breathtaking. The only other company that comes to mind is General Motors, and we all know what happened with them.

At first, what with this being primarily a marketing and design website, the scope of this subject may appear to be a bit large. But this Wired article says it beautifully.
After years without a hit product, the company’s reputation may be irrevocably tarnished.

“Bright technology people don’t want to go there,” says Bickel. “If you’re coming out of college and you’re a really bright kid, why would you want to go there?”

Pressman isn’t quite so harsh, but he agrees that it’s still not clear what HP is going to do to attempt to correct its course. “It really feels that they’re strategically adrift and they’re not really committed to any one sector,” he says.
Marketing and management are very tightly integrated. A well-run company executes vision into product. That vision is either created in response to the market, and is thus directly associated with marketing, or comes from an internal wellspring which then needs marketing to package that vision into something digestible that the market can understand. HP failed miserably in regard to all of these elements. They lacked any vision, couldn't figure out what the market wanted, and had no brand identity aside from total ubiquity.

Truly, HP is shaping up to be the greatest failure of vision and marketing in the technology industry since, well, ever. The only other company in their industry that is collapsing in an even remotely similar way is Sony. To be fair, Sony provides more than just a comparison, but also evidence of something larger than HP.

HP and Sony, to say nothing of Sharp, Panasonic, Nokia, HTC, and any number of other companies who have seen their fortunes deflate with alarming speed, I think illustrates a sea change which we will only fully appreciate through the lens of history. And as history shows us, this has happened before.

Large companies are machines. They are built — sometimes through vision, sometimes through organic spontaneity — and much like a real machine made of gears and circuits, it will function as long as the world in which it works continues unchanged. But when the world changes, as happens with major technological or social shifts, we see the companies that are run well quickly separated from those that are not.

In this brave new world, Apple and Samsung are flying; HP and Sony are falling. They were likely just as terribly run a decade ago as they are now, the only difference being that the world is forcing this reality to be visible.

And in HP's case, the reality sucks. The Autonomy debacle has revealed more than we could have ever hoped to have learned about back-room problems. What's interesting is the intensity of the internal conflict. HP went from being a hardware company, to a services company, to a wannabe software company, and with the recent Autonomy write-down, is apparently back to being a hardware company. And with the failure of it all, people are getting thrown under the proverbial bus left and right.

I know that I so frequently hold up Apple as an example of what to do, but that's because so few other companies seem to know it. Apple didn't focus on hardware or software, they focused on experience. That was the unifying idea. Whatever was needed to create the experience is what Apple did. That sometimes meant hardware, it sometimes meant software. And it always meant accountability. Someone, somewhere, the buck stopped. We aren't seeing any of this out of HP.

Basically, much like General Motors and the infamous "GM Death Watch" that was started by the website The Truth About Cars, what we are seeing now was predicted long ago. It was seen coming by everyone but HP and its leaders. This trainwreck was inevitable.

You may be wondering why it seems that I am enjoying the spectacle of HP's Titantic sinking into the icy depths. It's because I am. I've had some amazingly bad experiences with HP products and service, costing me thousands of dollars, and am reveling in watching them fail with style.


HP’s Autonomy deal highlights pattern of bad ideas (Daily Herald)

Autonomy Founder: HP’s a Bunch of Lying Liars (Gizmodo)

Guy Responsible for HP’s Humiliating $11 Billion Autonomy Purchase: Don’t Look at Me! (Gizmodo)

HP Leadership Seen Lacking for Turnaround After Writedown (Bloomberg)

HP's Financial Mess Is Making Everyone Sorry (Business Week)

The HP Way, and How It Completely Screwed HP (Wired)

Surprise! HP discovers new internal disaster, takes $8.8B charge (Ars Technica)


Thursday, November 1, 2012

Underwear Ad Highlights Differences Between Male and Female Marketing

I've long been amazed at the divide in marketing to the sexes. Sometimes, this has a solid foundation in the zeitgeist, such as cosmetics companies trying to sell makeup to men without actually calling it makeup. Other times, though, the advertising is a shocking example of poor vision, sexism, and at times outright misogyny and misandry.

What the ad of the day shows is also how much marketers seem to think that men cannot deal with clothing problems in any way but irreverent comedy, whereas women need dour images of women looking sternly into the camera, or they need to be prancing through fields of wheat to symbolize freedom from periods.

While I prefer the former, the fact that both of these modes seem etched in stone, at least for the US market, is annoying. Women deal with bad smells and periods every day. Issues inherent to the human body do not need to addressed with glum reverence. Similarly, not all men think about the human body with a Beavis & Butthead-style laugh.

The ridiculous circumlocution inherent to women's advertising is perfectly represented in the fact that commercials for menstruation-related products always feature the standard blue liquid. They couldn't even use red? We know that it's blood. It's not like this is ancient Greece, where women are seen as impure because they menstruate.

We have an excellent counterpoint, and commentary, on this absurdity in a recent commercial that's made the rounds, and for good reason: it's excellent.

What a fantastic commercial. It recognizes that its customers are not idiotic caricatures of human beings. It recognizes that they are intelligent and, gasp, aware of the circumstances that cause them to want a product!

And that is the problem with this stereotype-driven marketing: it is insulting. No matter what the stereotype is, it is insulting. If commercials are to be believed, only women eat yogurt, children are all borderline-retarded, and men are so incompetent at all things home-related that they would burn down the house doing laundry.

Not only are these tropes insulting, they do not represent reality, and as such are fundamentally disconnected from the demographics to which they are trying to sell. Everyone is concerned with health, children are sometimes more competent than their parents, and a significant portion of men are the primary homemakers and don't like being called idiots.

The future of marketing, and thus the future of the companies to embrace it, are those that recognize that sometimes the horse comes before the cart. The advertising environment is reciprocal, and even if the different genders may initially be resistant to change, the very fact that a company is advertising using more progressive views legitimizes those progressive views, thus putting the company at the forefront of the dialog in their respective industry.

As a company, you not only want to be there, you need to be there. You need to be the entity directing the discussion, because that way you control the industry. Apple controls the cell phone industry because they control the dialog. That's why their keynotes are so damned important: it is them setting out what the dialog is going to be about. All of the other companies after that point are only responding.