Designing for Stupid Users

I just demonstrated how stupid users can affect the success of a software rollout because I was a stupid user.

We recently had to install a new VPN client. And being a know-it-all, I quickly scanned the directions and launched into the installation. Which immediately failed.I didn’t read the instructions. 

No surprise—I’m a guy and it’s our job to NOT read directions, right?

The VPN client install was actually the installation of two programs, the VPN client and then a patch. We all got two emails that looked very similar, with the installer file name in large font in each (that had the same name followed by a letter & number identifier), and then the instruction email with the instructions attached.
I looked through the instructions in the attached file, said, “Oh yeah, simple InstallShield Wizard,” then opened the most recent email and double-clicked the file name in very large font and launched the installer. And promptly got an error message.

After being referred to the directions annoyingly by IT and told to enter a ticket as specified in the directions, I scanned through the whole set of instructions. I discovered that there was a sequence of the two installers. Ohhhhh!!!!! 

Then when I failed the install again I read the descriptions and discovered there was a screen where I entered the wrong info.

What did I learn? In today’s world, computer users don’t read details. Us users visually scan titles, look at pictures, look for key words, look at large or cool text/fonts and notice steps that are simply and clearly laid out.

Looking at this from a product planning standpoint, what were the failures?

First and foremost, and this is a no-brainer, a two-step installation process is a recipe for disaster. Why does a program require two installers??? The remedy: Instead of a patch after installing, make an up-to-date installer.

Second, while the detailed instructions went through both installers in sequence, the two-step installation process wasn’t identified in the installer emails nor in the beginning of the directions. The remedy:

  1. Clearly state in the beginning of the directions in large font that there are two installations and they must be done in sequence.
  2. Each installer email says clearly, “Install this file FIRST” or “Install this file SECOND.”

Even I would have a hard time screwing that up.

Third: Instead of a paragraph describing what to enter, use a bullet list or numbered list. For example:

“You must enter:

  1. Organization name: <Company name>
  2. User name: your email prefix (example: johnj, omitting “”)
  3. Password: your computer login password”

That was the paragraph I didn’t read completely because the content was written in one long paragraph.

Also on this third point, the directions had the screen described above displayed, which is a very good thing. Even better would be red arrows pointing to each field with the appropriate number at the arrow tail (1, 2, 3), with the numbers corresponding to the numbered list. It is obvious at a glance that specific info needs to be entered where the arrow is pointing and I have to look at the list to find out what I need to enter.

The short story is that directions need to be visual. Think IKEA furniture instructions. Pretty much anybody can assemble IKEA furniture by scanning the directions. Can you imagine trying to assemble IKEA furniture with written directions?

How does this impact viral growth? The harder it is to install and use the software, the more likely the user will give up and not use it. The easier to install and use, the more likely it will be used, the more likely the user will mention it to others, the more likely lots and lots of people will install and use it.

You’ve got to design the UI for stupid users. Even the smartest of us can become a stupid user and get fed up. If a genius like me who is computer-literate (more or less!) can become a stupid user, how likely is the average Joe or Jane going to act like a stupid user?

It is a lot harder to make software and directions dirt simple. But it’s effort well invested, as the ease of use has a big impact on viral growth.


Not Invented Here Syndrome

This phenomenon is not restricted to the software world. It’s prevalent throughout every industry, every facet of our lives. So why mention it regarding going viral?

Going viral is hard work. It’s made harder when there are barriers or obstacles to overcome, and there are always barriers and obstacles. Because going viral is hard, you need to do the right things and not waste time on useless or unnecessary things. Common sense, right?

The problem with the “Not Invented Here Syndrome” is that people think they have the best widget/gadget/software in the world for their planned conquest—but they really don’t. The result is a product and go to market strategy that falls flat on its face.

When a company falls prey to this condition, they stop looking. They stop looking at the competition, they stop looking at the market, they stop looking objectively at their own product(s), they stop looking at what the customers need and want. Their own opinions and beliefs outweigh the realities of what they are striving to achieve.

It’s a tough slog going to market when your product is not the best and your marketing misses the mark. Yes, I have done this. But I also knew my shortcomings, had realistic expectations and used that first foray to generate revenue so that I could build a better mousetrap and compete effectively.

This condition can happen to small start-ups, but it’s most common in large companies that have enjoyed market dominance and they start believing their own press. Meanwhile some young turks out there are focused on doing the impossible and building a better product while the mega-company is convinced they are the be-all and end-all, only coming out with incremental improvements or cosmetic enhancements while the new guys are changing the world.

And what about the company that was the only player in a space, the product is actually mediocre, but their dominant position prevented competition? And then a young upstart comes along with a much better product and starts eating away at market share? How does the goliath respond? What is their mindset when facing an adversary for the first time?

If you think your product is the best, so what? It’s only the best until consumer tastes or expectations change or another whipper-snapper comes along and beats your pants off.

If your market research conclusively proves you have the better mouse trap, congratulations! But remember: sports teams don’t automatically win the championship the following year. Other teams get better, your stars age or get hurt, and the next thing you know you’re playing .500 ball.

Business is the same. Markets change, new products come and go. Just because you’re #1 now doesn’t entitle you to remain #1 forever. Take the rose-colored glasses off and look. Keep the market research going to identify what’s changing, identify the competition, identify what you need to provide to stay competitive and especially better.

Constantly find out what your customers need and are going to need, build it, market it and sell it to them.

The moral of the story is, the moment you think you’re the best is (often) the moment you stop striving to be the best. It’s the moment when you stop paying attention and arrogance and complacency sets in.

Sometimes I think a company needs the threat of extinction to maintain focus, to stay sharp and constantly strive to be better. A little fear can be a great motivator that spurs folks into action.

If you want to become the best, if you want to remain the best, keep your eyes peeled at the market and your competition, and keep driving to create great products that customers want.

“Jack be Nimble, Jack be Quick”

I would hazard a guess that most people have heard the old poem:

Jack be nimble
Jack be quick
Jack jump over the candlestick

A search on Google traces the origin to one of two possibilities: The tendency for “Calico Jack” Rackham, the notorious pirate, to narrowly evade capture for many years, or the popular past-time (there was no internet in those days) of jumping over candlesticks as a game, and having good luck or your fortune come true if you didn’t extinguish the flame.

Whatever the source is, the mantra of “Jack be Nimble, Jack be Quick” certainly applies when going viral.

Speed of software development is very important, as taking too long to bring a product to market means someone else will beat you to it. Being able to change mid-stream is also critical, as you may have the “perfect app” only to see someone else bring a competitive product to market and you have to figure out a “more better” solution fast.

There are enough examples of companies taking too long to bring a product to market, or not updating fast enough to keep up with the competition. Can you say Blackberry? They had the market cornered on mobile phones with email capabilities—only to see the iPhone and Android phones obliterate them. Failing to be nimble and quick when faced with a superior product resulted in them becoming practically irrelevant in the smartphone revolution.

I’m a firm believer in Agile/Scrum software development because its main focus is on fast and nimble software development. Whether you believe in Agile or Scrum is not the point of this post—whatever your software development method, you need to get the project done and out the door fast, and you need to respond to market challenges quickly without laborious and lengthy discourses on what the changes need to be.

I recommend a third line to this nursery rhyme:

Jack be nimble
Jack be quick
Jack be right

Your organization needs to adapt to changing market conditions, your organization needs to bring new products to market before that target market expires or is otherwise fulfilled, and the new products have to do what the customer needs and wants.

Build an organization that does all three and you’ll become the entrenched market leader. Stop doing those three as an organization and you will become irrelevant.

Going viral is one hell of a ride. To achieve viral growth and keep it going, be nimble, be quick and get the products right.

Passion for Excellence: The Viral Crusade

When you really, truly, want your product to go viral, there’s nothing that beats passion and dedication.

Some people want to go viral because they seek fortune and glory. They want it for the rewards of the good life—relaxing on the balcony overlooking Malibu Beach, skiing the slopes at Vail, driving the Ferrari in Miami Beach. Those skills aren’t the type of character qualities that result in obtaining fortune and glory.

Other people want to go viral because they’re seeking to change the world. Some people want to create a product that revolutionizes a market or changes the way people play, do business, or otherwise conduct their affairs.

The hard work required to go viral is not for the faint of heart. It is more than a 40-hour a week proposition—it’s late nights and weekends and constantly striving to make the best possible product and constantly marketing and tweaking the marketing campaign.

It’s the hard work and the nose for the chase that drives someone. It’s having that passion for excellence, the drive for perfection, that causes one to burn the midnight oil in search of the killer software program, that next utility, the code breakthrough that sets the competition on its ear.

It’s not just a job, it’s not just an adventure, it’s a crusade. You have to be driven to succeed—it doesn’t happen by accident. That drive comes from within.

Those who have changed the software world have had that extra quality, that magic Q factor to go above and beyond, to wake up in the middle of the night and instead of watching You Tube videos or playing video games sit down at the computer and work out that unsolvable problem, figure out the next brilliant marketing campaign, go that extra mile to determine exactly what resonates with customers.

Perhaps the single most important quality in going viral is the drive to succeed.

Do you have that drive? Will you go that extra mile in search of excellence, in search of viral perfection?

PR & Marketing

The one common denominator I see in companies that don’t succeed is a lack of marketing. To be more precise, I should specifically state, “PR & Marketing.”

Companies that rely heavily on Sales are asking salesman to not only close deals, but also cold call, nurture and develop prospects up to the point where they can work on closing the deal.

Companies that only do marketing (no capital “M” for a reason here) concentrate on creating and sending out collateral, building websites and landing pages, doing email and snail mail blasts, creating “rich” copy full of platitudes and descriptions and buzzwords.

I cannot tell you how many websites I’ve visited where it was obvious that product descriptions were created by “marketing folks” using a specific dialect known as “marketing-speak” that sounds fancy and rolls off the tongue sounding elegant and persuasive—but doesn’t have even a hint of rock-solid product description.

The purpose of Marketing is to convey meaningful information to prospective customers that educate, enlighten, and strive to convince the prospective customer that the product or service being advertised solves the problem(s) that potential customer is experiencing.

Here’s an example. You have a home with a busted pipe and water is pouring out. You find the water valve that turns off water to the entire house, so the leak is stopped. But now you have no water. You pull out a Yellow Pages (old, archaic version of the internet with information printed on yellow paper) or fire up Google and search for plumbers in your area.

You see three ads. The first two say something like, “Serving the metro area since 1989. We have radio-controlled fleets and are happy to serve all your plumbing needs.”

The third ad says, “Fast, emergency service. We don’t gouge you. No butt cracks visible.”

Which ad are you going to respond to? If you say the first one, you really don’t have an emergency. The third ad comes right to the point, communicates to the homeowner in a crisis in the manner that he’s thinking, and speaks directly to his main concerns.

Marketing that speaks to the prospective customers in their language and terms and in the attitude or tone of that specific public, gets assimilated by those prospects. Marketing that addresses customer problems and concerns also gets assimilated. Marketing that addresses the specific problems and concerns, using language terms and attitude of the intended recipient, gets assimilated and remembered.

“Marketing” that doesn’t match these criteria gets ignored.

The “one” in the one-two punch of PR & Marketing can be concisely stated as dealing with the media. The media is your best ally. Dealing with the media effectively and professionally results in great publicity for your company and product. Some call it free advertising, which it is not. For one thing, it’s not free because you need to invest in someone to do the PR and there’s a lot of work involved, and done right it doesn’t advertise your product.

What it does is make you or the company the expert in the field—which migrates over into your marketing materials being more believable. Customers habitually disbelieve advertising, considering it hype. But if they consider the subject or source of the advertising to be the expert, AND the advertising follows the above criteria, then the advertising is more believable. In addition, effective PR creates an interest in the company and product or service.

Working in harmony, PR & Marketing drive interested customers to your door. Web page hits lead to email inquiries and replies, which leads to phone calls and conversations and ultimately purchasing, whether in person, over the phone or online.

PR & Marketing. The backbone of successful companies and rapidly increasing sales.

A Great PR Caper

Among other cool projects in my automotive career, I had the good fortune to work on the original Dodge Viper. While then-Chrysler reaped many benefits from this vehicle launch, it was a PR bonanza of major proportions.

How so?

The free media coverage generated by this car was astronomical. You can’t buy the kind of ga-ga gushing coverage from journalists that they wrote or talked on-air about this car.

Originally released in “any color you want, so long as it’s red,” when the next color was announced, jet black, Jay Leno was first in line and took delivery of the first black Viper. That’s newsworthy in itself, a well-known celebrity with a passion for cars plunking his cash down on a potential collector car.

But eclipsing that event was when the first-ever Viper (in red) was delivered to Los Angeles, it was featured on the 6:00 news. I was in Los Angeles and happened to see the newscast. I was dumbfounded at the coverage. Before or since, I have never seen coverage on the arrival of a car at a dealership.

When the opening of the newscast listed the major news being reported, the delivery of “First Viper in LA” was mentioned. When the segment aired, there was a reporter at the car dealership with a team filming live as the first LA Viper was being backed off the car transporter and driven past the camera, complete with the requisite vroom-vroom.

The excitement in the reporter’s voice about this newsworthy event surprised me. Here they were, in Tinseltown where movie stars and celebrities dominate the headlines, and they’re agog over a car? They were more excited than covering the Oscars or a grand opening of the next blockbuster at Mann’s Chinese Theater.

Delving into how this was accomplished or the reason for the enthusiasm is a research project that digs into what lies behind successful PR. I’d like to focus on the impact of successful PR and how this helps a product’s success.

How much press coverage did Chrysler receive for the Dodge Viper? More than they could have purchased if they spent the entire vehicle development budget on media advertising.

What was even more astounding was that Chrysler was solidly recovering from its second death knell. The LH sedans, dubbed “Last Hope” by the media, had been launched and were a success. The Neon had launched and was doing well. Minivans continued to be strong, and the new Dodge Ram pick-up was making waves.

But the general public perception of Chrysler was still of a company on the verge of bankruptcy. Again. The media didn’t cover the resurgence of a nearly-dead car company, nor the strong sales of several new models. Instead, they went ga-ga over a hot-rod, overpowered sports car that looked and sounded bad to the bone.

Perhaps the fact that Chrysler was in such dire straits and could pull off a car like the Viper made the story that much more interesting.

The end result was nationwide media publicity of the Viper that drove customer awareness and showroom traffic that spilled over into sales of all Dodge vehicles.

The moral of this story? Great PR drives brand and product awareness and interest. Awareness and interest result in serious consideration of the product, resulting in the purchase.

Before The Close occurs, the customer needs to move through the steps of awareness, interest, investigation, serious consideration, decision, and then purchase. PR is your starting point to drive awareness and interest. Marketing takes over to increase interest, satisfy investigation, develop interest into serious consideration, turn that into ready to decide, all of which primes the customer to finally decide and purchase.

(As mentioned in my previous blog post, great PR & Marketing can move the customer all the way through to deciding to buy and ready to purchase, making The Close easy.)

If you want to go viral, PR is an essential ingredient. I tend to lump it in with Marketing as both of them change and shape customer opinion, but PR is a technology in its own right and should be recognized for what it brings to the table.

Use PR properly and watch your bottom line soar.

Sales vs. Marketing

I’ve never been fond of outright selling. I dislike cold calling, I’m no fan of talking someone into doing something when they’re not interested, I’m not big on the persuasion methods some sales folks use.

And yet I’ve had success selling big ticket items. And recently I’ve been studying more about selling, thinking it would be useful to be a better salesman.

Which leads me to the question: “What’s more important, Sales or Marketing? And why?”

If you walk through your local mall, there are the ubiquitous kiosks with people hawking RC helicopters to hand lotion to calendars to jewelry and everything in between. Some of those folks are downright aggressive in engaging you!

I’ll also bet money you’ve walked by an Apple or Starbucks store that was busy, yet no one accosted you to go in and check out their wares. With this seeming low-key sales approach Apple and Starbucks haven’t been hurting for sales.

How is this?

PR, Marketing and Sales are three legs in the process to achieve The Close. The better the PR & Marketing, the less effort is required by Sales. In the absence of PR & Marketing, Sales is left with the daunting task of getting someone interested and convinced in spending that precious commodity called money for the product in question.

To achieve viral growth, the sales process has to be fast and easy, with the end goal of the sales process merely being the administrative aspect of swapping dollars (or credit/debit cards) for goods and services.

The handling of objections, the changing of minds, the answering of questions, the more these are addressed with PR & Marketing, the easier the sales process is and the easier The Close is achieved.

The better the Marketing and PR, the easier the close. Conversely, if getting the close is tough, then behind it you’ll find ineffective or non-existent Marketing and PR.

If you look at the history of Starbucks, they started their company on straight PR. They continue their efforts with great PR and Marketing. It’s so good, you NEVER think of anything bad about Starbucks. Ask anyone, coffee drinker or not, about Starbucks and they’ll say something good or great about the brews, the confections, the stores, the entire experience.

Apple also has great PR and Marketing. Their customer experience is fabulous. By and large people have a great opinion of their products.

Conversely, people dislike buying cars. They hate the dealership experience. Once the car purchase is decided with the sales person, they visit the dreaded guy or gal who wants to sell them more insurance and warranties and protections. And it all takes hours and hours and hours!

So obviously the sales process needs to be improved. But behind that, the majority of people today research their car purchase on line and find out what appeals to them. Their decisions to buy are influenced by how effectively the information is presented to them. This is MARKETING. Even with a lousy sales process, people are buying cars in great numbers this year. Why? Great Marketing, great presentation of data.

The nice thing is that MARKETING can be automated. PR can be automated. A few people create and prepare and execute the campaigns while millions are the recipients of the campaign.

Other products fall into the same boat. Let’s ignore which dish soap you buy, or laundry detergent or brand of cereal. Which grocery store do you choose? Nobody accosted you on the street and said, “Buy your groceries in our store! Right this way!” You made a decision of where to shop. Chances are there are several grocery stores in your extended neighborhood area. What made you pick your favorite? Certain foods, cleanliness, layout of the store, advertisements, coupons and sales, etc.

Where do you buy the tires for your car? Where do you buy your furniture? Where do you buy your home improvement supplies? Yes, for each of these things there is a final “sales” step, where you pick which brand of tire and the appropriate characteristics, or which ceiling fan or which vertical blinds.

Furniture stores do a lousy job of marketing. They do a great job of advertising, but how many people walk into a furniture store and say, “I want the Banyon 650 sleeper sofa with the massage option and built-in surround sound speakers?” No one! They say, “I’m looking for a sofa,” then look at every sofa in the store, sit in a bunch, look at prices, maybe ask about quality, and then if the sofa looks like how they want it to look and the sales person knows how to close, they buy a sofa. If not, they go to the next store “looking for what they want.” No marketing! The only real “marketing” is of the store itself, not of the products.

How many times have you gone into a tire store needing tires and walked out without buying tires? Chances are you did some checking, figured where to buy them, then got to the store and worked out your best deal.

PR and Marketing got you into the tire store and pre-disposed to buy from them. The sales closing consisted of matching the brand, type and price to your needs and budget. There was no need to close you on, “Should I buy tires or not?” or “Should I buy tires from this store?”

I’m a car nut. Car enthusiastic, to be politically correct. I shop online, have even bought tires online. Being an enthusiast, I was marketed to by an online store with ads, sponsorships and displays at races, technical content to answer questions, all of which got me pre-disposed to seriously consider them for my purchase decision.

That’s Marketing.

Get the idea?

The better the Marketing and PR (and PR is a whole ‘nother but related subject that influences peoples’ opinions), the easier the sale. If the Marketing and PR is superlative, the sale is already made and you just have to give them the contract to sign or take their money. They were closed before they (or you) walked in the door.

If you’re having a tough time with sales, and assuming you know how to close, then your Marketing and PR needs to be improved. You know you have great Marketing and PR when people are asking you to buy your product or service. It’s as simple as that.