Friday, July 17, 2009

mercy this and mercy that, let justice prevail, but I just want my trophy back

The next phase of steampunk: depression punk? There has to be a better name. Miss Kamenev suggests 'hobopunk'; and, considering some of the surviving chip carving out there, it's not that un-apt a designation. Still. There has to be a better name.

Bit of a departure for me, I know, but I'm going to vault from a sub-mention to another blog entirely, and rework some guidelines originally found in a decade-old book on the subject.

The twenty-two Immutable Laws of marketing (I don't agree with the "immutable" tag, either, they contradict themselves in their own internal structure...but it was the title of the book, and thus):

Law #1: The Law of Leadership

This law affirms the importance of being number one in a category. People track by popularity; they usually know who the number one player in the game is, but don't often retain knowledge of who comes in second. Tylenol is the brand most people think of when they think of over-the-counter painkillers; even being accused of poisoning pills didn't remove their market share.

Who's number two? Very few people know.

(We could bring up Bare Rose, for instance, or FallnAngel Designs as examples of the law of leadership. Who's second on that list? Anyone come to mind--without serious thought?)

Law #2: The Law of Category

This law states that if you cannot be number one in your category, set up a new category. It's part of the larger principle of differentiation; making enough differences in your brand and your product to stand out from anyone else who, on the surface, makes similar things. Take on a large, diverse market of similar items, you'll get lost in the shuffle. Take on a smaller, targeted grouping, you may well rise to the top.

Find out what makes you different, and be that. Who will note this difference? Your customers. To them, even if you're in a smaller, subset grouping, you are number one in that category.

Law #3: The Law of the Mind

This law states that it is better to be first in the mind--that "household name" cachet--than be number one in the marketplace. This "mindshare" is tricky stuph, though, and far too many businesses fail who fall prey to it.

I'd like to state from the blog author's point of view, something on the hazard of "mindshare", as well:
"The problem here is that we talk about customer minds without reminding ourselves that not all of those minds think the same way. Remember the marketing bell curve? Changing the mind of an early adopter is cheap and easy. Changing the mind of a conservative or a laggard is expensive and hard. These differences cause us to either overestimate or underestimate the value of mindshare:

* If most of your mindshare inventory is in early adopters, you are in trouble. Early adopters don't stay anywhere very long. Eventually, you will lose most of them.

* Your valuable mindshare is among conservatives. It will be very expensive for anyone who wants to take these people away from you.

* If you are a new player trying to gain mindshare, don't be afraid to steal early adopters from your competitor. It's easier than you think. Just remember that the next guy is going to steal them from you."
He's not wrong.

Law #4: The Law of Perception

This law states that perception is nearly always more important than reality. In a sense, "reputation" could replace "perception", here, as it applies to Second Life, and the war for Linden dollars on the grid. People tend to think that the best product will win. Because that's how it works, right? Evolution, sports, music...the best design wins.

Except that's not always so. Packaging plays into it, reputation, perception, previous designs, "gut feeling"--plus the fact that "better" and "best" are both subjective terms, and have a disparate definitions set to start with.

Reality matters, yes. But perception ofttimes trumps reality, without reality ever catching on.

Law #5: The Law of Focus

This law is essential, it can't be downplayed. Every business needs focus like people need oxygen, like builders need prims. The book says, "the most powerful concept in marketing is owning a word in the prospect's mind." This means, you need to be incredibly precise with your marketing terms. If you can capture the essence of your business behind one phrase, one single can be a market leader.

Twitter gives you 140 characters to play with. Most market types, advertisers, organizers, businessmen, when they ask what's your business, they want 25 words or less. Even better if you can snap back with one single word.
"The customer has lost interest after the first ten seconds. The wire between your marketing efforts and your customer's mind is an extremely low bandwidth connection. Less is more."
Law #6: The Law of Exclusivity

This law is blatantly, very nearly stupidly, obvious: two companies cannot own the same word in the customer's mind. One of them will always lose that battle.

The example cited when the book was written was the war between Duracell and Energizer. Both want to lay permanent claim to the term "long-lasting". They are right in that it's the most important quality for trusted battery brands, but--neither company wants to back down and release their death grip on that phrase.

Sooner or later, one of them is going to dominate the other, and then it's all over; but until then, they are two dogs locked on the same bone, in a tug-of-war. They want the same market share; they want the same concept. They can't both have it.

And in the minds of their customers, this is already clear.

Law #7: The Law of the Ladder

This law states that in most market categories, there's actually more than one slot available per product--at least, in the minds of the end users.

This is tricky to define, but think of an actual ladder: there are rungs, it's used to help us climb from one level to another. Simple. Basic.

The ladder can have more than one rung per level. It's not only possible, it's hardwired into the way humans think. How many brands of tea can you name off the top of your heads? How many artists? How many authors? How many brands of clothing?

There's more room, per category, than most people think; the trick is to define what you do narrowly enough that it's only seen as one rung in that one category. You know by larger definitions, you'll have your customers looking at all the other rungs. But by narrow definitions, there's only one. There's only you.

Law #8: The Law of Duality

This law is about endurance, it's about strength of market name and market share. One hundred runners start a ten kilometer race; one runner finishes. Or looked at another way, no matter how many horses are in the race to start, it's always going to come down to two horses on the field. And eventually, one will win.

That's human nature; that's nature in general; and that's the market.

This applies very much to SL, in that young businesses start, and grow, and some flourish, some die down; but sooner or later, as those markets grow up, develop, evolve, some of those businesses will die off. It happens. Sooner or later, the market will always settle down to two players. Coke and Pepsi. iPod and Zune. Nike and Reebok. McDonald's and Burger King.
"Buyers don't like choosing between ten or twenty players. It's too stressful."
And also keep in mind, most of the buying that goes on in Second Life? Is not original decisions. We see trees; we pull the tree into edit; we track down the profile, the business, and go look at the rest of the trees. We see a lovely gown; we pull the skirt into edit; we track down the designer, go to her shop, and buy the gown.

Maybe we'll buy the gown in another color; maybe we'll buy a different tree; but the point is, we didn't make that decision. We just made the decision to buy.
"Pragmatists buy something only after they see the Early Adopters buying it. Conservatives buy it only after the Pragmatists are buying it."
Law #9: The Law of the Opposite

This law is excruciatingly simple: who's your competition? Who's doing better than you are? Look at your main competition, and then do something else.

This is almost meaningless to say, but there it is. You can't just expect to make the same category of items, and have that miraculously vault you over the designer ahead of you. You have to be different. You have to find your strength and play to that. You have to find what sets you apart, and focus on that.

Never try to beat the number one designer at their own game. You won't end up number two, then, you'll end up out of the business entirely.

Law #10: The Law of Division

This law states that over time, one category will nearly always multiply; or, seen another way, will subdivide into more specific categories, from the initial general starting point.

This isn't bad, it's not even unnatural, but it can interfere from time to time. Especially when you end up with a subdivision and a product line you're not sure has anything to do with where you originally started.

Law #11: The Law of Perspective

This law states that all marketing has a long-term end goal, and that's fine; but that sometimes, immediate, short-term goals, can derail or even destroy those short-term goals in a business.

It's like what Bewitched Hair is running into now. When they started, far before the alpha bug which so plagues Second Life, they were top of their game. They were popular, they had a big sim, they had hundreds of different hair styles to choose from. They frequently offered freebies, and, in fact, became known for "Secret" Linden sales--certain of their products you had to find marked down to one hundred Lindens, fifty Lindens, or even one single Linden for a hair pack.

Then the alpha bug. And everyone changed their hair, for good or bad, even Bewitched, but it wasn't enough to save certain styles. People like Calico Ingmann of Calico Creations realized all her lovely curls would alpha, so broke into creating hair that was half-sculpt, half-alpha textured, or half-normal prim, half-alpha. She also paired with hyasynth Tiramisu of Silent Sparrow and now frequently offers hair for SS's clothing designs.

The design team behind Bewitched didn't do that. First they bought another sim, and brought in vendors for it. Then they redesigned their sim, in the hopes a new look would bring more traffic in. But they didn't change their hair beyond making it full-bright on occasion.

Now? A year later, they're staggering. Their "Secret" sales are generally on hair nearly everyone has, already. Their new release 'free' packs are now for fifty Lindens: which, granted, is around L$12 a hairstyle, depending on number in each pack, but still is a marked--and resented--departure for their patrons.

Now, this month, this week, they're realizing sales are down, customer traffic is down, and they're frantic, trying to figure out what went wrong, where--to the point they're offering a survey to their clientele. Surveys won't solve things, by a long shot; and part of what got them in this position is that they kept offering so much for so very, very little.

Or take Bare Rose, an example that proves the point, but positively: part of what draws people to Bare Rose is that the prices are phenomenal, compared to what we're given. And June Dion is beyond prolific, and she's no longer Bare Rose's only designer. If they can keep up the pace of at least one release a week--and they've never failed it, to date--they keep the public interest.

Essentially, this law advises against running a ton of limited-time sales. You might increase operating capital in the short run, as well, but you'll be training your customers to come in for bargains, not full-price items.

Law #12: The Law of Line Extension

This law says it's pretty much always a mistake to rebrand in the same line. What does that mean? Crystal Pepsi--sometimes nicknamed "Pepsi Clear" due to a brief resurgence of sales in Mexico in 2005, though nearly everywhere else on the planet had stopped selling it in the mid-nineties--is the single staggering example of this.

Pepsi: strong brand, strong competition, strong brand identification; hasn't fallen by the wayside yet, still pushing forward. But in 1992, in reaction to market trends signifying a desire for more 'pure' foods and drinks, Pepsi authorized the development and sale of Crystal Pepsi.

It was non-caffeinated, thus severing the high-caffeine connection with Pepsi. But it didn't conform to the typical lemon-lime--or even the less typical berry flavored--'clear' drinks comparable to it. In fact, though there was a citrus trace to the taste, it pretty much tasted just like Pepsi. Only not brown.

Sales skyrocketed due to novelty in the beginning, but six months later, sales had bottomed out completely. They yanked it, reflavored it as a citrus quencher, but two months, three months later that was over, too.

The power of the brand name is another thing that's viewed as an immutable principle. It isn't true. Rebranding within a product line won't strengthen the original, it will diminish everything made by the company. Think of Dare Designs, for instance: they're known for leather, latex, rubber, goth skins, occasional goth furnishings...Basically, if 'goth fetish' is a category, that's their niche.

What would happen if they suddenly came out with a line of tanned surfer-girl skins and a line of blonde hair to go with them? Every single one of their customers would be confused as hell. Worse, they'd stop going there.

Now, can a company switch product lines? Sure. I'm certainly not the one saying it should never be done. But switching product lines, and insisting that it's the same doesn't work. It never will work.

I'm thinking I'm going to stop here, and do the rest of the rules in another entry. Because this is getting on the long side.


Darien Mason said...

I think "scavenger punk" might be a better term. It can apply to cyclical economic depressions, desperate and stranded Sparks, post-battlefield and full post-Apocalypse scenarios such as environments those collectors in the Wastlends sims endure.

Emilly Orr said...

Ooh. That's not bad. That works, too, within the steampunk ethic, from the opium dens to the docks to the orphans on the street corners.

And of course, your wars, your conflicts, and the dystopian future scenarios.