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Fascinating Read About Target Markets in Videogames

There’s an interesting article by Sergey Galyonkin on Medium titled, Your Target Audience Doesn’t Exist, and looking at how PC gaming data from Steam shows that there’s a ‘World of Warcraft’ audience, rather than one for MMORPGs, and a ‘DOTA 2’ audience rather than one for MOBA gaming.

So the result is that certain games create a specific market, but when companies and marketers plan releases, they assume there’s a general market for MMORPGs, MOBAs, First-Person Shooters etc, and that they just need to capture a percentage of it. Which doesn’t actually exist.

In addition to the data Sergey provides on Steam PC gaming, it certainly rings true in my experience. Even if Call of Duty isn’t the only first person shooter around, any gamer can probably name the 3 or 4 titles which own that vertical. In racing games, there are few cross-platform titles which capture the attention of Sony-specific Gran Turismo and Microsoft’s Forza Motorsport (And I’ve spent a fair while looking at FPS games and Racing games).

Picture of a market asking Is your target market really there?

Is your target market really there?

But I’ve started wondering how far that same effect occurs beyond videogames. Entertainment seems the next logical place to look – If people obsessively listen to Beat The Champ by The Mountain Goats (Spotify link), do they want more American indie music? More songs about classic wrestling heroes and themes? Or could it be possible that we only really need one eloquent collection of wrestling themed songs in our life?

In movies, studios tend to emulate the best guesses of other studios and recent success. After all, it’s an industry where William Goldman’s excellent ‘Adventures in the Screen Trade’ has been endlessly quoted;

“Nobody knows anything…… Not one person in the entire motion picture field knows for a certainty what’s going to work. Every time out it’s a guess and, if you’re lucky, an educated one.”

So if you’ve watched every Fast ‘n’ Furious, do you need the Need for Speed film?

I can answer that question, because you can enjoy the increasingly unbelievable and trashy action adventure of the Fast ‘n’ Furious series, but Need for Speed manages to make racing supercars tedious. Meanwhile 200MPH is often claimed as the worst car film of all time for good reason.

But does it go further than that?

In business and marketing everyone has obsessed over data as the answer to all uncertainty. With enough big data, we can examine the past and present to apparently predict the future as well. Hence the problems when a target set-in-stone isn’t met and exceeded on schedule. And the potential business collapse when share prices are affected.

But the data on videogames suggests that existing general markets don’t necessarily exist. Do we need more than one Facebook or Twitter? How many apps does the average person actually use? (The answer is a handful)?

How much of the explosion of craft beer, coffee and food companies is due to forecasting the potential to steal a 1% market share of the 30+ male beer buying consumer, and how much is based on making something brilliant and then getting to know customers personally?

It’s not about discarding all your data. It’s about using the right data in the right way, and not seeing it as the sole motivation. And with that, we go back to the likes of Henry Ford and Steve Jobs.

“If we used data on existing target audiences, all we’ll build are faster horses”, as Ford might say now…

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Why I envy designers and developers

It’s relatively common to find people who will happily admit they’re not technical, or can’t code.

It’s reasonably common to find people who will admit they can’t draw or design, even if they still have a habit of making ‘helpful’ suggestions.

It’s not very common to find people who are aware that they can’t string a decent sentence together. It’s somewhat understandable when all our days are increasingly filled with texts, emails, and social media updates. And that’s even if you don’t have a job which requires written work.

Workbench by alicjacolon.com/

Workbench by alicjacolon.com/ (CC Licence)

All of the work I do for my business is around content and communication. Whether it’s client explanations and updates, consumer-facing writing and media, or improving the meta data and information structure for SEO and increasing conversions.

I’ve been employed full-time as a writer, formally studied literature and journalism, and taught writing, journalism and marketing (including on behalf of organisations including the Press Association). Out of the top handful of magazine publishers in the country, I’ve worked for, freelanced or trained at almost all of them.

And I then spend my spare time attempting to bootstrap a digital publishing company, which started literally with nothing. For a long time, I was the sole writer, editor, sales and admin person for any website I worked on.

So hopefully by now, I can string a reasonable sentence together. Although I still get nervous every time I start to write, and a compliment for work I’ve produced can put me on a high for days.

Which begs the question why it can be so difficult to explain the situation to someone who needs great writing and content to promote themselves, or their business. And why they often find it hard to accept that they might not be doing the best possible job – especially when they want to dump it all on the cheapest intern or member of staff they can find.

Those are the times when I really wish I was a proficient coder. Or welder. Possibly an electrician like my father.

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The highs and lows of bootstrapping a business

Starting a new business can be tough a lot of the time. Bootstrapping a new business without the right preparation is tough almost all the time.

The sensible way to start working for yourself or to launch a business without any funding or loans would be to make a plan months before you make the leap. Start saving some cash to use as a buffer at the beginning and if you have any emergencies. If you can, perhaps trial it as a sideline while you’re still in your previous job – the best way to test demand from potential customers or clients, and also a great way to find out whether you’ve really got the drive and determination to make it work. Better to figure out you’re not bothered when you have a safety net, rather than when you have 0.01p in your bank account and it’s weeks until payday.

I wasn’t sensible.

When I started working for myself it was at short notice due to plans to restructure by my employer. I could have potentially stayed, but felt like it was time to do something different for personal, as well as professional, reasons. I’d learned to tolerate commuting, but didn’t enjoy the expense in time and money, particularly when it meant missing out on so much time with my young son.

So I didn’t have much of a buffer saved. And that quickly evaporated in the first couple of months as I started to realise that I wasn’t as motivated to find a new role for an employer as much as I was to work for myself.

And when things are going OK, or even well, that’s fine. Thanks to great friends, former employers and colleagues, lovely clients and new contacts I managed to survive and at times I even thrive. At the start of 2013, I reached the stage where I had enough income to bring in someone fulltime to help me run the business, in addition to the various people we’ve employed on a project basis.

Bootstrapping

But when things aren’t OK, the lack of preparation 3 years ago still comes back to haunt me. Bringing in a fellow director essentially meant my income from the business was halved – not a long-term problem as we were showing plenty of progress and growth with a lot more planned.

Then we were hit by an external financial issue which was outside our control, and which cost us thousands. That essentially wiped out our small safety net in one go, and took months of hard work to recover from. All the time we’ve been dealing with the day-to-day issues of delivering quality work, chasing late invoices, securing new clients, etc. By the end of the year things have been looking better, and we were planning some big steps forward in 2014 when another external factor hit us just before Christmas.

The big lesson, and advice I’d give to anyone, is to plan for everything to go horribly wrong most of the time. Make sure you have cash,contracts and a minimum viable level of income for surviving in place at all times. And ensure that you are constantly thinking about what happens if something goes wrong before it actually does. I remember reading that most successful entrepreneurs tend to resemble rabbits rather than lions, because they’re constantly slightly nervous, paranoid and scanning around for potential predators and threats. More than that, you need to know what action to take, and to get on with it, in the face of problems.

That may mean cancelling services and lowering your costs in advance of problems, or it may mean taking a gamble and actually increasing your spending on advertising or marketing before a competitor becomes an issue. The important thing is to not end up paralysed like a deer in headlights as the problem gets bigger and bigger.

As for me and my business? While the bad news is that we may not be able to invest in some of the plans we’d put together quite yet, the good news is that we still have a growing client base, we’re able to refocus some of our efforts, and it’s an incentive for us to innovate more quickly. And thankfully I also have someone I respect a lot working alongside me to share that journey with rather than doing it alone… By the end of 2014 I expect to be writing about the best aspects of building a business from nothing but a laptop, and how we’ve progressed so far in 12 months….

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The selfish business gene

…although evolution may seem, in some vague sense, a ‘good thing’ especially since we are the product of it, nothing actually ‘wants’ to evolve

From The Selfish Gene: 30th Anniversary edition and as true of business as it is of organisms.

And it seems to be as true of every new, disruptive, company or idea as it is of traditional businesses. Has Google, Facebook or Twitter shown any inclination to evolve without changes being forced upon it by external factors?

 

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Bauer Media acquires Absolute Radio – thoughts from an ex-employee of both

The news that Bauer Media has bought Absolute Radio in a deal close to £22 million wasn’t a particular surprise, and there are plenty of great radio minds who have written about what it means in terms of scale and advertising, such as Matt Deegan. All interesting reading as people try to second guess what the acquisition will means for the various Absolute Radio brands, particularly the 60s,70s,80s,90s and 00s stations, and the crossover between Absolute Classic Rock and Planet Rock.

While that’s interesting, I’ve been thinking a lot more about the culture and approach of both companies. I started my career as Emap, and left a while after the acquisition by Bauer Media, somewhat ironically now, to join Absolute Radio, before starting my own business a couple of years ago. I’ve got enormous respect for the skills of both companies, and for many of the individuals working at Bauer and Absolute – I haven’t spoken to any current or former employees before writing this, so I’m purely going on my own memories and perceptions of how things may play out.

Absolute:

Absolute Radio at One Golden Square - Christmas 2009

Absolute Radio at One Golden Square – Christmas 2009

The main reason I joined Absolute Radio, and went on to have a great experience working at One Golden Square, wasn’t the prospect of radio, or bumping into celebrities. I’d admitted in my interview I already used streaming music services, and literally bumping into Colin Firth, or realising I was stood next to Robert Carlyle when I was having a cigarette break soon became fairly standard.

The best thing about Absolute Radio is the culture.

The combination of history, location, environment and leadership made it a cool place to work. The number of employees was somewhere round Dunbar’s 150 number, which meant it was soon possible to know everyone, compared to the large number contained in each Bauer Media building. And there was always something going on, whether it was a live performance by a band on the 3rd floor (also home to the studios, eating area with free drinks, and conference room), or a summer game of rounders in the park.

In addition, there was a very big focus on being entrepreneurial and innovative. It always felt like Absolute was the fast-moving underdog which was punching well above its weight to claim itself from both the Virgin legacy and take on far bigger radio companies, which tended to result in great ideas and quite a number of awards.

But it was clear that the then COO Clive Dickens and the board were also very engaged in staking a digital claim, both in terms of DAB and streaming. Whether it was working with radio manufacturers like Pure, meeting with the likes of Apple and achieving success via iTunes and apps, or working with Nokia on an app for the launch of a new phone, every day seemed to be bringing new and exciting challenges.

That came from both a very flat hierarchy, in that a good business idea pitched in a meeting could be given the go ahead before the meeting ended – and a very talented group of people across the business. Most of my work involved the relatively small digital and technology teams, and both had a talent for knocking out projects which were brilliantly designed and implemented, and in a far shorter period of time than you could have predicted…

As the latest RAJAR figures are being analysed today, it appears that approach is still creating healthy growth for Absolute Radio.

 

Bauer:

Meanwhile Bauer Media has very different strengths. My career was largely spent in the digital side of the consumer magazines business, although in the later stages I did also work with some of the radio stations on their social media strategy and digital innovation.

Bauer comes with a history and legacy stretching back decades in both the UK, and Germany. And both Emap/Bauer had a very well-honed process for churning out efficient products at a large-scale and reach. That doesn’t mean that innovative individuals and projects can’t surface, but my experience was that it involved a lot more procedure to get them approved, funded and built which also meant larger expectations for results.  Much of the work completed quickly tends to be done under the radar by the intrapreneurial types who went ahead and did things, asking for forgiveness later if required.

It means that Bauer has industry-leading brands, which have dominated their markets for many years, and as a result, direct competitors have stayed away, such as Motorcycle News, for example. There’s consistency and reliability inherent in the business model across the company.

It also means that there is resource to be thrown at any challenges if required. On the occasions where the company had reason to rouse itself, it always did so pretty well.

 

Ideal and reality:

The ideal outcome of this acquisition in my mind would be that Absolute Radio is supported by Bauer with increased resource to continue in the same vein of innovation and entrepreneurship, without adding huge amounts of oversight and management. And that approach could be infused into the main Bauer business to a larger extent. Many years ago I suggested splitting out smaller teams particularly on digital projects, rather than constraining everyone within the large confines of the three main offices, and Absolute could be a great example of how that can work effectively.

My fear is that Absolute will become just another Bauer property – meaning that they’ll be brought into the main offices and the Bauer business process, which won’t harm the end product in terms of on-air output necessarily, but will limit the digital and technology innovation that’s possible. It won’t be stopped by a ruling, but by the motivation and perseverance needed to get new ideas through a much larger company.

To compare experiences at different times, both Absolute and Emap launched quite radical properties which I had the pleasure of working with. In the space of around 12 months, Absolute proposed, built, launched and closed Dabbl, which was an online streaming service powered by listener voting which was well-received by a core group but wasn’t really sustainable in the face of other opportunities and the costs of streaming services. Meanwhile back in my Emap/Bauer days, a new social ranking service named Ditto was launched over the course of many months, but failed to grab enough advertising cash early on to be kept running, despite the fact I still believe that the core mechanism could have worked well, particularly if it was tied into Facebook etc.

The difference for me was seeing the scale of the task for the Ditto team, versus the Dabbl project, which was well supported by senior management and the rest of the Absolute business, but was essentially led, built and run by a handful of people in the digital team alongside their other responsibilities.

The technology industry is littered with acquisitions which have seen small, innovative companies subsumed within the larger whole (Flickr into Yahoo for example), so I hope this will be different, but only time will tell. I can only assume Bauer will be coming to make an offer for TheWayoftheWeb in a few years!

 

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Nice interview with Joss Whedon on getting things done…

I’m a big fan of pretty much everything Joss Whedon has done, so it’s interesting to hear him talk about how he manages to do it all. And particularly as he admits to not finishing David Allen’s ‘Getting Things Done’. I’ve had a similar experience with 7 Habits of Effective People…

The full text is at Fast Company.

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Motorcycle inspiration… Identifying new market opportunities

I find this video feature and interview interesting for a few reasons. As a biker, the motorcycles and interview are interesting, and I’m always interested in how people shoot automotive videos. Plus I do have a small role in helping out with bike site Rescogs.com, and have clients in the motorcycle and car spaces.

As a business owner, I also found it interesting to see how Cleveland CycleWerks came up with their new bikes, in terms of doing something different to the established brands. The market previously had brands like Harley-Davidson at the high end, or unknown Chinese brands at the low end – so it certainly seems like there’s a very valid gap for affordable, American motorcycles.

 

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For musicians

I have a fair number of talented musicians as friends. Quite often I’ve seen them posting some of the popular image memes around people not paying for music anymore, despite paying for a cup of coffee.
I explain that I don’t buy CDs much any more, aside from the occasional secondhand bargain. But I do pay directly to a variety of artists for their work, even if I can already access it via Spotify or I’ve already downloaded it, and I’m increasingly buying gig tickets, merchandise and other items.

This TED talk by Amanda Palmer has just been posted, and I think it’ll be my default response in future:

 

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Working from Home vs the Office

The internet has been up in arms since a memo revealed Yahoo employees will no longer be allowed to work from home. That includes those who may have arranged to work from home 1-2 days a week as well as remote workers.

I spent several years working in an office, including a period split between office and remote working, before finally starting my own business, which has run from my dining room both as an advantage for clients (no office means lower costs), and a necessity when I started out bootstrapping my company.

Working from home

Having looked at various studies, and the experiences of friends alongside myself, I’m a big believer in being able to work flexibly, whether or not that includes working remotely. And here are some reasons why:

  • Social Interaction is important to humans: But who says that all the great insights into work come from social interactions with colleagues? And not family, friends, meeting random strangers etc? Not to mention events like #DPIP, or being able to chat whilst out during a walk rather than in a meeting room.
  • It’s not Either/Or: In an average week of ‘working from home’ I spent 2 days working alone by myself, 1 day in a client office, and 2 days with one of my colleagues from TheWayoftheWeb sharing my home office. That’s a pretty healthy mixture between social interaction and the ability to concentrate. And not wear trousers if I don’t want to.
  • I can still have meetings: Expanding on the above – where suitable I’ll happily attend any meeting/brainstorm/planning session etc. All it means is that I’ll not be around beforehand or afterwards, unless there’s a beer involved.
  • Getting more from breaks: Working in an office means that breaks tends to involve smoking, grabbing a snack or sitting around, and aren’t always the amazing watercooler moments of insight you might imagine. Whereas working from home means breaks can include putting washing in the machine, doing the washing up whilst listening to a podcast and other manual tasks which mean I can let my mind relax as recommended in every guide to creativity, but also avoid spending all my nights cleaning up. Which means I can work later if required, or spend time learning something new.
  • Getting more from me: There’s no shortage of time tracking and project management tools to show whether I’m working or idly surfing cat videos on Youtube. And at the end of the day it’s very simple – I don’t deliver the agreed work, and I don’t get paid.
  • Memory Bias: It’s great to remember that evening before launch when the whole team was in the office, hopped up on pizza and caffeine to meet a big deadline. Or that time someone had an amazing insight in a meeting and we all added more to it until it became the most awesome solution to a problem ever invented.
    Because why would you want to remember the other 300+ days of the year spent sat in a meeting room because everyone else was late, or spent trapped in a pointless debate about something irrelevant. Or spent sat in a queue in a car park to get in for 9am and out for 5.30pm, after standing in a line at 1pm to grab a sandwich to eat alone at your desk?

I’m not suggesting everyone should work from home. Or in an office. But it’s hard to rationally understand why I’m going to be more productive or creative in a room full of people away from a comfortable chair, my favourite music, my choice of food etc? Or why it’s better for me to be in rush hour traffic, standing on a commuter train, or trapped in a packed shop at lunchtime?

I like offices. I actively look forward to those days when I’m meeting or working with clients. But I appreciate it more when it’s not something enforced on me every day.

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Fenceless farming and flexible technology

I was fascinated by this article on The Atlantic website about virtual ‘fences’ and how they could change farming. By using a combination of GPS and deterrents, livestock could be moved around a territory to the best places for natural resources in real-time, which opens up a lot of possibilities for areas which were cost-prohibitive, as well as increased collaboration by groups of livestock owners, for example.

It’s well worth taking a look – I tend to find I get more inspired by seeing how technology is being used in non-marketing applications, and then applying that to my own areas of expertise, than simple watching the latest marketing trends and tools.

It’s interesting to think that in 20+ years, fences could be a symbolic symbol for humans, rather than required for animal control.

I also loved this insightful quote:

Anything that I can do in my profession to encourage flexibility, I figure I’m doing the correct thing. That’s where this all came from. It never made sense to me that we use static tools to manage dynamic resources. You learn from day one in all of your ecology classes and animal science classes that you are dealing with multiple dynamic systems that you are trying to optimize in relationship to each other. It was a mental disconnect for me, as an undergraduate as well as a graduate student, to understand how you could effectively manage dynamic resources with a static fence.

Given that humans are dynamic resources, it makes sense that flexibility is as important to us, whether that’s building businesses, or working with employees, etc.