Constructive or Destructive in our Lives?
Photos by Bill Millios
A Note from the Editor:
Most of you know the roundtable discussions are my thing. I love moderating these lively discussions and encouraging civil discourse in our community. But, when Glenn Braverman approached me about tackling the topic of technology and how it can be both constructive and destructive in our lives, I had to admit to myself, that despite how much I love moderating Frederick Gorilla’s roundtables, there really is no one better suited than Glenn to lead this particular discussion. We made some phone calls and invited people from various industries and professional situations to join this conversation. I am pleased to tell you that I was most impressed with what came out of this discussion and hope that you learn as much as I did from it.
Moderator: Glenn Braverman
Braverman is the Principal at Brave New World Consulting, Inc., which focuses on assisting high growth technology companies. His company has assisted start-ups as well as Fortune 500’s enter new markets from the white board to execution. Based in Frederick, MD, the company has clients locally, regionally, nationally and internationally.
Glenn: We’re here to talk about technology. It’s part of your day-to-day life and a part of your business. In a sense technology is either your friend or your foe. Let’s talk about how technology impacts your marketplace. Vaughn, give us an example of a product that you offer.
Vaughn: We have a task management work- flow “app” that’s oriented for teams of 15 to 15,000. It enables midlevel managers to design their own workflows and associated forms, et- cetera, and then gets any information about any task assignments to move through a business process in a cohesive way.
Glenn: Give us an example of a client who has had a problem that you’ve solved.
Vaughn: We have a gigantic oil operation in Balikpapan River, in Indonesia—5,000 people that need to be able to make IT requests for sys- tems that impact operations around the clock. They produce as much oil as one-third of Saudi Arabia in that one particular river and have to deal with all the IT-related operations that go along with it. Not only did we have to make sure they could find their server on the web, we also had to become their marketing team, because we couldn’t find marketing people to keep up with us. It’s the concept of “disruptive technology,” a buzzword everybody loves. I think some of the technologies have been so disruptive they’ve left people unable to get anything done. We’ve found people who are search engine optimization experts or messaging experts or web content experts or video experts. But we haven’t been able to find anybody who can bolt all of those things together for us and help us put a cohesive message in front of the people on the other end of the world looking for the product- solution.
Glenn: The Frederick News-Post has a consistent audience in the community. How do you transfer tools to your marketplace in a relevant way without disrupting your core base of readers?
Geordie: That is the challenge. One thing I’m realizing is how much our customers keep us grounded. Though I am susceptible to the tendency of seizing the latest flashy tool or technology that comes down the pike, our customers and advertisers might not be. The things that meet their needs are not always the latest and greatest. They constantly bring us back to finding technologies that actually solve their particular needs. It’s not always the most elegant technological solutions. We have to balance an understanding of where things are going in technology trends with knowing what really matters to our advertisers, and solving their real world business problems.
Glenn: Caroline, you are a marketing professional focusing on a market that is over 50-years-old and likes paper more than digital media. How does technology come into play for your work?
Caroline: I struggle to stay on top of every new technology. Everything we do is web- based. Our clients expect us to stay on top of everything. Even those things we know have little value, we need to make an argument as to why it’s not valuable. As far as the marketplace’s older customers, they tend to have a higher attention span. The present culture of scanning and scrolling through things, walking and texting, talking to someone while you’re tweeting that you’ve arrived somewhere doesn’t apply to the 50-years or older person who is more like- ly to sit and read all the text on the screen, or watch a video while actually taking their hand off the mouse. That alone is a huge commitment. When marketing to this older segment, that difference in culture is in our favor. Most of what we do is ageless, or we at least need to have ageless principles apply. I definitely struggle to stay on top of everything that’s out there when it comes to technology, though—and it’s al- ways changing. It’s tough.
Glenn: What about your business, Nick? How do you work with technology?
Nick: We work with chief marketing officers on the marketing aspect and chief technology officers on the technology part. But a lot of businesses are missing chief information officers, people who are actually gathering information, storing it, and using it wisely. We try to focus on getting marketing information into a decentralized data- base, so we can reap the business intelligence we gather from that database. It’s all about turning the data into information that people can process. In the past we’ve seen data delivered to us in a “here are your stats; here’s what happening” form. But giving that information to someone who can process it through visuals or in telling a story is real business intelligence. That’s where things are really moving forward.
Glenn: Jesse, how does Apple play into this conversation?
Jesse: Well, we don’t have to market our business. Our customers come to us, because they see that shiny new Apple product and they want to know how to use it. Here’s a perfect example: Recently a CEO bought five iPads for his sales team and then asked me, “How do I make this work in my business?” It’s my job to take that shiny new toy or that tool and guide him through the steps for making it work. In his case, I created an online form that they could use out in the field that would automatically go back to his business. It was just a simple PDF (compressed) form. He was looking for a whole build-out of an app, but quite often it’s the simplest solutions that are the best solutions.
Glenn: Vaughn, tell me about your own personal experiences as a consumer.
Vaughn: Oh gosh, I’m confused. I have an iPhone that I connect to my Lenovo ThinkPad with Windows running on it. When I look at making a technology decision, it’s a challenge to look forward three-to-five years. When I first got into the IT industry three-to- five years was the budgeting cycle. Now, you may say it has a 36-month cycle from an accounting perspective. But from a viability perspective you have about 12-18 months where you have a competitive advantage over someone else. If you want to have an advantage in terms of technology, you’ve got to be thinking that every 12-18 months we have to be refreshing, significantly updating or replacing the entire system. If you just want to stay with the market, you can probably do that 24- 36 month cycle. Struggling to make a decision on what I should move forward with can be a tremendous investment that has no opportunity for return. Sometimes, however, you have to look at what attracts you, make a decision to buy it, but acknowledge that with technology no decisions are forever. Not anymore.
Glenn: Geordie, how do you feel your own personal preferences influence the business you manage and the decisions you live with everyday?
Geordie: I’m thinking about technology in my personal life, and reflecting on the constants of my life be- yond technology. The most important aspects of my life are not really determined by my technology choices. We cook with gas; we go to Farmers markets, etcetera. But even with things like photo albums, we moved to digital photos 10 years ago. But really, I’m not looking for the latest technology for my photos. Relating this back to business decisions, the shiny new toy thing is a real attraction. But the needs we’re trying to solve with that technology are actually much more enduring and not in need of the latest, greatest technology at any given moment. In many ways, it’s actually a relief for me, be- cause there just aren’t enough hours in the day for me to stay up on all the new technology. But if I stay focused on the needs of my clients, then lots of tools will work.
Glenn: Do you feel that you create tools that are sensitive to the customers’ experience and give them the ability to ensure that they’re not bombarded or over-communicated with—that those touch points are regulated and managed in a customized way?
Nick: Absolutely. The question really becomes whether or not technology is making us dumb. There is research out there that proves that Google is making us dumb. People are not reading all the factual details; they are skimming through it. What’s happening is the brain is now processing information that way. My job is to get information to the right people at the right time to help them buy something or to make an executive decision about some- thing. We have to do that in a timely fashion; we have to give it to them in a meaningful way, so that they can make a decision. We have to accept the fact that bandwidth is finite and storage is infinite. For successful products to be out there they have to be cheap. For example, no one thinks much about buying a dollar “app.” Products have to be green, and simple. If you take cheap, green and simple, and you build a business around them, you are setting yourself up for something powerful in the future.
Glenn: Part of the attraction for my moving here was that it wasn’t urban; it wasn’t intense; it wasn’t the same generic “everywhere” that exists in the world today. How does technology fit into the Frederick phenomenon?
Vaughn: Most of us who are trying to get away from the urban lifestyle, at the end of the day are bringing some portion of it with us, because we are somewhat comfort- able with it. What we want to have is that same urban lifestyle in which we have access to technology, but with the beautiful farmlands—a combination that’s available because the price of real estate is down. But, the first thing people ask when shopping in a rural environment is, “Can I get DSL or Comcast out here? Because if I can’t, we will have to look elsewhere.” It’s interesting that, while people are choosing the lifestyle of disconnection from urban life, they don’t want to be completely disconnected. People want to have a home office where they have that wall of windows overlooking the forest and the farmland but also be able to look over at the 23-inch-wide screen with the internet connection It’s a dichotomy. Technology has also empowered us to become a more sophisticated and wealthy society that has the means and re- sources to get out into the country. I am working for companies in Indonesia, Australia, China, the UK, and in the United States. And I am doing all that from little, old Frederick, because of technology. But, at the same time, it is technology that drives me crazy.
Jesse: I consider myself Gen-X. I was born in the 80s. We know how to absorb information quickly; it’s just self-training. I think the iPhone is amazing. I have been able to work my butt off and work long hours, and still see my son’s first steps. You know, being able to talk to him over the phone, he knows how to “face-time” me. I am at work and able to take my lunch break, while communicating with my son. That is beautiful. That is using technology as a tool to balance my life and work.
Glenn: Do you think Apple has designed around what consumers want rather than what we marketers need?
Jesse: Apple’s philosophy is to make it simple, so anybody is able to use it. They took a concept—the iPad—and totally flipped the industry on what computing means. There are tons of Android tablets out there that are great. It’s not really who the manufacturers of the hardware are; it’s who the software developers are. The software developers are converting silicon and glass into a tool that can be used by the masses. Whether you are developing for the iPhone, Android, or whatever, you have created a new tool for people to use. It’s portable, it’s always on, and it’s always connected. New technology can really be scary for a lot or people, but I find myself in the position to guide people into what they can do with both Apple and Android technology.
Geordie: Steve Jobs was often characterized as a revolutionary who created these experiences that had never existed before. But author Malcolm Gladwell makes a compelling argument that Apple inventions are really just brilliant improvements on existing technology. For ex- ample, Jobs took smart phones that had been around for seven years, or so and made a smart phone that was far better than any other one out there. I think we need to differentiate between evolutionary technology and revolutionary technology. We have been talking a lot about how technology has been changing our lives and our businesses. And, I think, there’s a sense that a lot of it is revolutionary. However, I think most of it is evolutionary. Actually, the soundest way to look at your business growth is to look for the ways that technology is evolving and improving and making faster or better existing processes for your needs. For example, we can see how the smart phone is making it possible for you to connect with your son while at work. But that’s mostly evolutionary. There are relatively few technological changes that are absolutely revolutionary and that create new marketplaces or new experiences that you don’t already have.
Glenn: With the existence of social media everyone now has the ability to be a publisher of the magazine called “Self.” How do you as a publisher create media that is more interesting than someone’s self-published photographs or blogs?
Geordie: I think social media is more revolutionary than other technology developments. I think social media fundamentally changes how people get information about their world in a way that we have not reckoned with, and we have not yet seen how it will play out. Still, I come from a family of newspaper publishers. I am a fourth-generation newspaper publisher. I see the role of a newspaper as helping a community talk and helping it shape its future through discussion. Other media do that as well, but the newspaper is uniquely capable of doing that. So, bringing it back to the social media question, it will be interesting to see if social media ultimately provides substantial enough glue to replace what is being lost as the traditional media lose their dominance.
Glenn: Vaughn, as person who has clients both locally and abroad, I had the same conundrum when I moved out here. I really like working here; I really like having clients here. They don’t pay the same, but it’s much more fun and re- warding because it’s my ecosystem. This is the ecosystem in which we work. So, how about you, Vaughn, where do you find the fork in the road between working in Indonesia versus working in Frederick?
Vaughn: I believe message beats media. I recently purchased the old, Boston album from iTunes. I originally owned that album on eight- track as a kid. Then I bought it on cassette when I couldn’t find an eight-track player. At some point I owned it on CD, and now I have it on iTunes. It wasn’t iTunes that excited me; it was finding the Boston album via the newest media I use to listen to music. That excited me. A message with enthusiasm is just a message. But at the end of the day, it’s the relationship that wins. I will never win against a guy across the street from a customer in the UK, no matter how exciting I am—unless I figure out how to create a better relationship with that custom- er. We have to employ technology as a tool to help us build relationships. For example, I had a prospect in the UK, and had a video meeting set up to present to them. After they introduced themselves, I introduced myself and launched into my presentation, and was very excited to share my ideas with them. I did the entire presentation inside 90 minutes, and I kept their attention for all 90 minutes—and really thought I was doing great. When I was done, I asked them what they thought. One of the guys said, “Vaughn, would you mind if I gave you some honest feedback?” Then, I thought: This can’t be good. “You’re product is perfectly lovely,” they continued, “but, at he end of the day, we are used to someone coming in and having a little social chit-chat. Going directly into your presentation comes off a bit rude when you’re working with people in the UK. We just thought you should know that. To be honest, we hit the mute but- ton, and probably missed the first few slides.” And so I started realizing that it doesn’t matter if I am doing business near a river in Indonesia or in the corporate halls of Reinsurance and Lloyds of London in the UK, I still have to know who I am working with, what their pain is, what they do on the weekend, what book they are reading and how to convey all that via the technology that brings me from Frederick to the UK. Newest technology or not, the relation- ship still wins.
Glenn: I would like to end this discussion with a quote from my old president at MCI: “Treat technology like a slave, but treat people like gold.”
To watch this discussion in its entirety, go to frederickgorilla.com and click on our media vault.