(I first published this page back in August 2002.)
Friction keeps us from doing things we might otherwise really want to do, such as writing a handwritten note to a friend or donating money to people whose work we admire. The causes can be quite complex, such as the bookkeeping, auditing and disclosure that assures us that donated funds really get to their intended recipients, but it’s the other extreme that is remarkable: Even simple impediments can become insurmountable obstacles.
If it’s hard to park at a downtown store, you might go to a shopping center a little farther away, or be interested in home-delivered groceries. If an online service won’t store your ID and password, even for valid security reasons, and requires you to type in twenty characters, you won’t be eager to use it. It doesn’t take that much friction to cause a problem. Even one extra step can have as significant an effect as twenty.
Businesses constantly test this Law, and our patience, to make money. Ticketmaster hates deep linking because it wants to be sure its visitors go through several pages of ads before they get to the information they want. That’s why so many sites have those pesky pop-up ads on every page. That’s why TV networks feared TV remote controls early on. The work of getting up to change channels was turned into a flick of the thumb, and suddenly viewers were far more likely to switch programs or skip around during ad breaks.
The Law of Convenience is simple.
Every additional step that stands between people’s desires and the fulfillment of those desires greatly decreases the likelihood that they will undertake the activity.
The Law has wide applicability. It’s not just about product or service design, its obvious applications, but also about business models and sales strategies.
It’s also less about laziness than about habits and memory. Reducing the number of steps it takes to do something makes the entire activity more efficient and more likely to become a habit. But first you have to know that it exists at all, which can be a huge barrier.
Not many people know that you can change the default home page on your browser (call it the Law of Defaults, a corollary of the Law of Convenience). Fewer still know how to, even though it is easy. It can also be done by a computer program, so some Websites ask whether you want to make them your home page, knowing that people who say yes by mistake may not know how to reverse their decision later.
At the IDLO Microfinance Project workshop in Dar es Salaam, I asked the 25 collected participants to blog, email or otherwise tell us what are the most powerful things Obama might do to help Africa.
From Stella Odife of the Women’s Organization for Gender Issues in Abuja, Nigeria, the first (fabulous) answer:
“Set up a ‘genuine’ African Court to try corrupt leaders in Africa. Punish any Western, European, Asian or Arab country that allows ill-gotten wealth to be kept in their country. Once this is done, you will find more development and less migration out of the African Continent. That would ease off the pressure in countries like the USA ad UK, suffering the upsurge of immigrants seeking means of livelihood in these countries.”
Via Chris Carfi and Twitter, just saw a lovely skit that Microsoft’s ad network people created: “Advertiser vs. Consumer.”
The point that advertisers have no clue about actually conversing is sweetly made. Whether Microsoft’s ad people can actually do better than this caricature suggests remains an open question.
Old-school branding and public relations are all about creating magical, memorable brands, unifying the enterprise’s many operations under that brand banner, then making sure nothing besmirches that image.
Think of that old-fashioned brand image as a beautiful burled veneer covering the corporate facade. It must be kept pristine and shiny. Whenever anything threatens it, the public relations group’s function is to clean it up. In quiet times, to buff it to a sharp polish.
I just reposted a lost 2004 essay called “public relationships,” in which I lauded Robert Scoble for singlehandedly punching holes through Microsoft’s carefully mis-managed corporate veneer.
Now many companies are beginning to figure out how to reach through that corporate image to connect with outside publics. It’s messy, but very productive. It’s also having a lot of effect on brands.
What exactly is a brand that depends on a lot of individuals kind of free-wheeling it out there? How do they appear as a brand? What unifies them? Who owns the brand?
We’ll explore some of these questions Tuesday, in next week’s Yi-Tan call, with our guest Kevin Clark.
I originally posted this to my Blogger site — the site that vanished mysteriously some time back. It’s not showing up on Google, so I thought I’d repost:
Thursday, August 12, 2004
Public Relationships (an open letter to PR agencies)
Among my peers, the PR industry is regarded with considerable skepticism, to put it mildly. In my time with New Science Associates and writing Esther’s newsletter, I appreciated most of the PR professionals I dealt with. I had no misconceptions about how they went about their business or how they prepped their clients for meetings with me (“mention online communities, he loves them!”), but I found the relationships mutually beneficial overall.
For example, one of my practices was to end all briefings with the question, “what can I answer for you?,” after I had offered the best feedback I could during the briefings, which I treated as mini consulting sessions. I found that the best PR people figured this out and used me often as a sounding board. They got early pitch advice (“we’re 20 slides into your pitch and I have no idea what you do; there’s a problem here”) and I got to see things in earlier stages, blunders still included. I wasn’t in any rush to scoop anyone, so they didn’t get bad press from these mistakes.
Fast-forward almost a decade, during which I’ve spent considerable time pondering the word “consumer” and its many implications. Along that path, I learned more about the checkered history of PR, but I also started thinking about potential paths out of our consumer-capitalist trap. In that spirit, I present the following suggestion to corporate executives who deal with Public Relations:
What if your Public Relations department became the Public Relationships department? What if its new mission were to help individuals and groups inside your company form better authentic relationships with their various publics outside?
To do this, your PR team would improve disclosure, increase transparency, train everyone, seek opportunities, make introductions and then get out of the way. They would be open-communication consultants, looking for places where your company is screwing up by behaving in less-than-credible ways, and helping heal the problems rather than buff them up and spin outsiders.
Be prepared for plenty of justifiable skepticism from the outside. Your PR executives may currently have little credibility outside, even if they have been practicing their trade with great integrity.
That doesn’t mean they can’t get to work inside your company. Many PR practitioners already emphasize building relationships between their key staff and members of the press and analysts. I’m suggesting they go much further, that they become internal activists for transparency and relationship-building at all levels.
This may sound impossible, or at least improbable. It may also sound easy to game. I can see many a rebranding effort (come see our new Public Relationships department!) without the requisite rethinking and tearing apart that I believe is necessary. This is not easy.
Goodness knows that Waggener Edstrom, Microsoft’s eternal PR company, has done absolutely nothing to defend or improve the company’s reputation over these many controversial years. Or maybe it has, and things would be worse.
Maybe the big question is whether and how PR departments and agencies can become credible Public Relationships specialists.
No idea what made me start uttering the first lines of Robbie Burns’ old poem while pondering the subprime crisis, but the result is this:
My love is like a no-doc loan
That’s newly sprung in June:
My love is like th’economy
That’s sweetly played in tune.
As fair art thou, my bonnie ass,
So deep in debt am I:
And I will love thee still, my dear,
Till a’ the banks gang dry.
Till a’ the banks gang dry, my dear,
And Iraq drains all the rest:
And I will love thee still, my dear,
When our Nation’s not the best.
And fare thee weel, my only buck,
And fare thee weel a while!
And I will come again, with luck,
For Bush and Cheney’s trial.