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Marketing in the internet – as seen from Italy

No. 54 – December 18, 2000



loghino.gif (1071 byte) 1. Editorial: Christmas anxiety

It’s been happening, every year, for several years. There are widespread speculations in the press on how many Christmas presents are going to be bought online, then scarce reports after the fact, that include some comments about customer disappointment. Some information is published about results in the United States, little or nothing about the rest of the world.

We are in the same cycle this year, with an added element of anxiety. According to some newspapers, Goldman Sachs predicts that the year 2000 Christmas season will be the final test for many online retailers. Those that will not achieve full success – large sales and satisfied customers – are likely to die in 2001.

If that is true, it’s a very shaky industry. It’s quite normal for a business to do its best to manage a high-volume period and obtain the best possible customer satisfaction. But no well established company risks its entire future or its survival on the results of a few weeks.

Those online retailers (if any) that have a sound business concept and the financial resources to support it will survive even if seasonal results are below expectations. Those that are betting their entire future on a short gift period (and-or are unable to survive without additional venture capital or favorable stock trading) have no roots – and don’t deserve to survive, or to be kept alive by the whims of investors, even if they are lucky with some gimmick in the Christmas season.

This is just one more symptom of a nervous, hasty, superficial approach to doing business on the internet. More potentially good enterprises are likely to die. More poorly conceived and badly managed companies may be kept artificially alive by superficial short-term luck or undeserved financial support. Once again... a large part of the so-called “new economy” is built on quicksand. Most of the real future of e-business is still unborn – or not even conceived.

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loghino.gif (1071 byte) 2. In praise of simplicity (Gerry McGovern)

Of course this is no coincidence. Only eleven days after the article that I included in issue 53, I am quoting once again the same author; and on a subject that is quite familiar to readers of this newsletter and other articles on this site. These seems to be no end to the mindless growth of unnecessary and cumbersome complications. But resistance is beginning to build up. There is a growing feeling in favor of simplicity. This is the article that Gerry McGovern published on December 11: In praise of simplicity.

We live in a world where change and complexity are forced on us at every turn. The world is hitting back. People are yearning for simplicity. People are tired of technology that constantly overcomplicates things, that is poorly designed, and that is full of bugs.
A classic example is WAP phones. The ads promise ultimate freedom, but the reality is that they are excruciatingly difficult to use, and that they deliver precious little benefit. The result is that consumers are becoming more conservative than ever in what they buy and how they use technology. The average person, for example, uses no more than 10 percent of the features in common software, such as Microsoft Word.
A recent study by FCB Worldwide found that European buyers are becoming increasingly more cautious. «There is a massive amount of inertia,» according to an FCB director, «people have a lot of education about these products, but the more they know, the less they are tempted to buy something that will be upgraded next week.» The study also found that consumers are unhappy with the fact that they are being offered feature-overloaded products, but for all these features, the products often don’t do the basic things that the consumer wants them to do.
This is no accident. The technology industry is a speed addict. The only thing that matters for many companies is to get the product to market before the competition, regardless of whether it works or not. “Ship, then test,” is the motto of the software industry, according to Silicon Valley guru, Guy Kawasaki. He received a standing ovation from over 1,000 entrepreneurs when he made the statement: «Don’t worry, be crappy.»
The consumer is not happy. A July study by PC World found that very few consumers are satisfied with the computers they buy. It found that approximately 22 percent of computers break down every year, compared to 9 percent of video recorders, 8 percent of refrigerators, and 7 percent of big-screen TVs. Another study by the Gartner Group found that 25 percent of laptops cause problems.
The information worker is not happy. A report by the Meta Group found that even though technology workers are working longer hours than ever, their productivity is diminishing. The reasons given are that the projects have become more complex, and because people are changing jobs more often, they are taking longer to acquire the appropriate skills and experience. «Hours worked were far longer, but productivity was far down,» according to Howard Rubin, a leading researcher on software labor patterns.
Complexity is the curse of the digital age. It is a type of intellectual pollution that smothers clear thought. Complexity is not a sign of intelligence, but rather a sign of a hyperactive mind gouging on more. True genius and great design is about turning something complex into a product that is simple to use and delivers a real benefit to the consumer.
If the technology industry does not stop its love affair with rapid change and complexity, it will alienate a whole marketplace of consumers. Never before has the KISS motto been more true – Keep It Simple, Stupid.

Such words of wisdom should be read and heard more often. There is a lot of real complexity in the world. One of the reasons why we are unable to solve it is that we are too busy with the artificial complexities of poorly conceived technologies.


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loghino.gif (1071 byte) 3. The spam disease

There seems to be no end to the spamming syndrome. Experienced users know how to live with it. It’s fairly easy to detect spam messages at first glance and get rid of them without bothering to read them. Occasionally I glance at a few (maybe one in a hundred) just to get an idea of what they are up to. They are generally quite stupid and pedestrian; only with very large numbers the spammers can hope to find occasional customers. But that is the problem. One of the messages I read before thrashing it offered 142 million e-mail addresses for 149 dollars. Of course such lists are rubbish. They contain multiple addresses for the same person, expired mailboxes, etc. But it’s so cheap to use them... buyers of such a list could send a hundred thousand messages a day for four years. If one in ten thousands answers, they’re in business. Or so the bulk mail traders claim. Though often the buyers of such lists are the first victims, because they don’t achieve the results that they expected – and they make themselves very unpopular.

It isn’t easy to eradicate this disease. Some of the treatments are worse than the illness – as in the case of a large provider that in an attempt to block spam sources deprived it users of some of their regular mail. Maybe one day someone will find an effective remedy. In the meantime... we can take it with a touch of humor. As in these two cartoons picked from the vast collection published by Illiad (J. D. Frazer).

November 5, 2000:


December 17, 2000:


With wireless transmission, we are already spreading a fair amount of dirt in space. Let’s hope that the spam disease can be cured before it goes interplanetary. I think the only radical solution is the education, intelligence and awareness of people. When nobody buys, spamming dies.



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