The most important question you should be asking

From Jeff Bezos via TechCrunch

I very frequently get the question: ‘What’s going to change in the next 10 years?’ And that is a very interesting question; it’s a very common one. I almost never get the question: ‘What’s not going to change in the next 10 years?’ And I submit to you that that second question is actually the more important of the two — because you can build a business strategy around the things that are stable in time. … [I]n our retail business, we know that customers want low prices, and I know that’s going to be true 10 years from now. They want fast delivery; they want vast selection. It’s impossible to imagine a future 10 years from now where a customer comes up and says, ‘Jeff I love Amazon; I just wish the prices were a little higher,’ [or] ‘I love Amazon; I just wish you’d deliver a little more slowly.’

How quickly does the news industry change?

The landscape shifts every two weeks. Here are some of the recent changes…

What have i missed?

The potential of personalisation

How much could personalisation increase engagement?

Here is my best guess at engagement for 100 stories on a typical news homepage. (I estimate that relevant stories have a CTR of 15% as opposed to 10%).

  • 30 stories relevant tag/category. 4.5 interesting
  • 70 stories not relevant. 7 interesting
  • TOTAL: 11.5 interesting

With a mix of personalisation and curated:

  • 60 stories relevant tag/category. 9 interesting
  • 40 stories not relevant. 4 interesting
  • TOTAL: 13 interesting

That’s an increase of 13%. I’ll update the numbers as i continue to gather data.

 

Why growing products is so complex – part 2

My last post talked about the complexity we face. This post gives 7 ways we can turn that complexity to our advantage.

1. Audiences are complex. We can gain an advantage if we can get feedback from real users faster than our competitors do.

science-and-sensibility

2. Our product faces tough competition. We can outflank our competitors if we prioritize more ruthlessly than them.

3. Technology is complex. Don’t think, “we’ll figure out the requirements and then throw it over to the tech team”.

We can beat our competitors by being more collaborative than them. We need deep collaboration from kickoff to launch and beyond.

How do the most successful company in the world grow their products?

Because he [Jobs] believed that Apple’s great advantage was its integration of the whole widget—from design to hardware to software to content—he wanted all departments at the company to work together in parallel. The phrases he used were “deep collaboration” and “concurrent engineering.”

Instead of a development process in which a product would be passed sequentially from… design to manufacturing to marketing and distribution, these various departments collaborated simultaneously. “Our method was to develop integrated products, and that meant our process had to be integrated and collaborative,” Jobs said.

4. People are complicated. Think in terms of “smart creatives“, not org charts. It’s how Google out-innovate their competitors.

5. The platforms we rely on are constantly changing. That’s why we need to start thinking like a platform – how can we turn our readers from passive consumers to active co-creators?

6. Resources are scarce. It’s possible to get a degree in the allocation of scarce resources. It’s called economics. Google, Airbnb and others hire economists (detail here).

You don’t need to hire an economist, but you need someone on the team with an economics mindset.

7. Change is the only constant. This works to your advantage if you’re more adaptable than your competitors.

As Charles Darwin once said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.”

The six pointers above will all help your team be more adaptable. They feed into each other, something like this…

More adaptable

Beware of applying linear thinking to complex challenges.

MORE:

 

6 reasons why growing products is so complex

Product development is complex. Outcomes are unpredictable. Here are 6 reasons why.

1. A product’s success depends on it’s audience

At Metro we have millions of users who are inter-connected and who influence each other in unpredictable ways. A single influencer can make or break us on social media.

We know very little about our users. We rarely have conversations with them. We have no signups where they fill out their profile.

We have a good idea of what articles they’ll click/share, but not much idea about what product features they’ll care about.

2. Products faces tough competition.

It’s not enough for a product to be good, it has to be competitive.

We compete for Google rankings. We compete for a slot in Facebook news feeds. We compete for ad revenue. We compete to be a destination.

We compete for attention in an attention-saturated world.

3. Products rely on ever-changing platforms like Facebook and Google

The ecosystem is constantly shifting. Here are just a few of the recent shifts…

  • Facebook launched Instant Articles, Facebook Live, chatbots, and Facebook Stories. Facebook Instants is continually evolving.
  • Apple launched Apple News, then moved from RSS to JSON syndication
  • Google Search rolled out six major updates in 2016
  • Google launched AMP and it’s changing fast
  • Snapchat launched Discover
  • Google Newsstand is adding Omniture support
  • iPhone embraced adblock. Chrome is about to embrace it.

What next?

4. Technology is constantly changing

Social media changed the game. Mobile changed the game.

Riding the mobile wave increased Metro’s traffic by 161%. What’s the next wave for Metro?

There’s also a constant stream of new tech such as CrowdTangle, Bounce Exchange, Content Insights and Google Optimize.

5. People are complicated

We are biased. We have pet projects. We get caught up in company politics. We lose sight of what’s most important. Motivation can fluctuate.

For any particular product feature, we misjudge how important it is. We misjudge how much work it will take to deliver it. We forget to weigh the benefits against the costs. We forget that any day now something big is likely to pop up and derail our plans.

6. Resources are scarce

The lists of things to do is constantly getting longer. The list is infinite, and the resources available are scarce.

Audience, Competitors, Platforms, Technology, People and Scarce resources.

What’s the answer?

How can a digital media brand be successful amid all this complexity?

A good start is to realise that complexity requires a different mindset to complicated. For example, building your own house is complicated.

but a flock of starlings is complex…

(If you want to know more about complex vs complicated check out Cynefin).

We can turn this complexity to our advantage. Find out more in part 2 of this post.

Don’t judge a developer by their job title

I taught myself to program in 1981 (when i was 8) on a ZX81.

I got my first real job in 1995. I did frontend development for a search engine – including design and UX. I acquainted myself with the UX classics – The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman, Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug, and the writings of Jakob Nielsen.

I’d had some informal training as a designer – my mum was a graphic designer and planned for me to follow in her footsteps. Most teenagers had posters of bands on their bedroom walls but i had posters of fonts.

In 1999 i joined Ogilvy, one of the world’s top advertising agencies. It was here that i had the importance of branding drummed into me. (Although i learned more from Start With Why to be honest).

After a stint at a digital media agency i joined DMGT in 2005. It’s where i work now.

Many projects at DMGT lacked a business case, and had little value. I was desperate to make the business (and not just the dev team) more agile.

I found inspiration in Adapt, by economist Tim Harford (my degree was Business Economics). I self-published a short book about business agility and innovation. I soon discovered the Lean Startup movement which articulated the ideas far better. I founded a meetup about it – the London branch of the Stoos Network.

Early on at DMGT i was given management responsibilities. As part of this i did 2 years of management training. I also became a certified ScrumMaster.

I’ve been at Metro (part of DMGT) for 10 years.

I consider myself what Google calls a “smart creative“.

The profit paradox

At Metro, it’s been suggested that we “monetize everything”.

The dev team happens to be very commercially minded. Most of the developers have started their own commercial venture. Plus, i have a degree in economics.

Clearly we need to monetize our product, but we shouldn’t monetize everything. Here’s why.

1. The most valuable company in the world is Apple. Their biggest commercial successes came from Steve Jobs, who put great products before profit…

My passion has been to build an enduring company where people were motivated to make great products. Everything else was secondary. Sure, it was great to make a profit, because that was what allowed you to make great products. But the products, not the profits, were the motivation

2. The Obliquity paradox is explained by top economist John Kay in his book of the same name – “the most profitable companies are not the most profit-oriented”

“At one time Boeing’s leaders would ‘eat, breathe, and sleep the world of aeronautics’.  The company created the 747 and its fortunes soared.  When in 1998 it shifted focus to shareholder return and return on investment the company, well, took a dive.”

3. Metro exists to publish great content, and this requires revenue.

If Metro exists to make profit… why did we choose news? Why didn’t we choose to be an IT recruiter or a property developer?

4. It’s about finding the right balance

Conclusion: the question is “what should we monetize”, not “how do we monetize everything”.