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“Only a paaaaaaaawn in their game.”
by John Barrows

Bob Dylan was referring as I recall to “the poor white” who “remains on the caboose of the train” (“but it ain’t him ta blame”) etc. But wait, before we get into this (you’ll see, it does have something to do with VRML), remember what I told you in my first article (www.vrmlsite.com/apr97/a.cgi/appearance.html) (doncha just love tech-ese?)? “Make sure you know who’s talkin’ to ya before ya read the damn article....could be an ex- Commie or a neo-Fascist...or even a journalist (not me)”. So this is the second rant from the font of hi-tech critical analysis (hey, let’s hear it for interactivity...you can click any link on this page and dis me permanently). In the first of this series of blatantly irreverant articles, we discussed (the lack of) entertainment on the Web, and we touched on the topic of marketing. Here, we’ll focus more on the marketing angle...if you can stand it.

So who’s in the caboose. Well, according to Dilbert it’s all those poor engineers subject to the disabilities and dysfunctionalities of management in general and marketing slimeballs in specific. (Hasn’t Dilbert heard of the revenge of the nerds, for God’s sake?)! Recall in my first missive how I turn green with envy leering at the girlfriends and bank accounts of the nouveau riche/nouveau “hunks”....techno-geeks. The people who are in the caboose are the slimy marketing people, together with the whole damn high-tech industry for relegating marketing to the caboose.

Scientific method: Hypothesis...computer industry stalls in quicksand as economy rockets forever upward, because there is no marketing savvy and no competition. (BTW, it’s up to you to disprove). But empirical evidence suggests, ta-da!...hypothesis is true!

Item: Last week I attended a Red Herring sponsored conclave of hungry entrepreneurs and even more hungry VC’s in Monterey. There, one honcho John Doerr, of some multi- name money bags firm, claimed that the penetration of PC’s into the home market had stalled at about, I think he said, 30%. (Meanwhile at the same conference, and I’ll discuss later in this article, the brains behind Microsoft’s takeover binge explained how it was Bill Gates’ mission to put a PC in every garage...or somewhere in your house. Since he is obviously not interested in making less expensive computers, he must be planning somehow to raise the average income of everyone by over 100%). Why is that?

Maybe everybody in the country can’t afford a $2000 black box that they can’t figure out what to do with if they had it. Maybe most of the 30% are yuppies who bought one just because they had to, but still don’t have a clue (I have further evidence to support this last statement if I don’t run out of space here). Why is it that a vast majority of homes still don’t have a computer, least of all an Internet connection, after all these years? Price, price, price. Complexity, complexity, complexity. Value, value, value. Elitism, elitism, elitism. Monopoly, monopoly, monopoly. There, you have 15 reasons.

Item: Microsoft owns the industry. Proof? Everybody hates them! Why do they own the industry? Because the only possible competitor, Apple, was run by a bunch of techies and iconoclasts who thought they had a better mousetrap (maybe they did) and waited for the path to be beaten to their door. Meantime, the hated Bill Gates (why is he hated?....because he’s a marketer!), “put in his thumb, pulled out a plumb, and said ‘What a good boy am I!’” Then of course, he ate the pie. And the reason the rest of the folks can’t unseat him, to their great frustration, consternation, and weeping and wailing, is that there isn’t a decent marketing guy in the house!

Item: Where are the marketing people? Why, they’re over there at Procter and Gamble, R.J. Reynolds, General Foods, Coca Cola, Nike, Ralph Lauren and all their erstwhile competitors fighting for their lives and in doing so creating even bigger markets for themselves to feed from. Except, in these industries, they aren’t called “marketing slimeballs”. They’re called “CEO”.

Item: How does the high-tech industry define “marketing”? I think it’s something like, “The guys who try to get shelf-space at Egghead or Computer World, together with the other guys who lie and otherwise prevaricate to create untrue product images, together with the guys who are always bugging the engineers to make stuff that people will actually buy”.

Item: How do the savvy consumer goods companies define marketing. Something like, “ What’s it gonna take (product, price, design, quality, service, advertising, brand management, distribution, competitive strategy) to deliver a product that people will want and be able to afford to buy, so that we can compete successfully in the global economy”.

Item: How do the leading tech companies view the consuming American public. Answer: With fear, loathing, distain, and incomprehension. How else to explain Microsoft’s talking down to the public in the voice of “Bob”. How else to explain why the vast consumer masses who built the market successes of TV’s, VCR’s, cellular phones, and pagers can’t get the attention of computer hardware and software makers to deliver something useful, simple, and affordable. How else to explain industry powerhouse Sun Micro’s notice in The SF Chronicle last week announcing their “first foray into the consumer software market” with “ads that are written like a chilren’s storybook....see Pat. Pat wrote a program...run,program, run!” One astute analyst noted that the consumer market produces lower margins, “but it’s so much bigger”. WOW! A real discovery. A huge market of retarded people we haven’t even tapped yet!

Item: All right, I know you’re saying, “Then how come the high-tech industry is driving America’s growth and resurgence, if they’re all asleep at the marketing switch”? Answer: “Because America is becoming an information and service oriented economy and transitioning out of a manufacturing economy”. And just imagine what the growth could be if there were some really savvy marketing people in this hi-tech game and if there were serious competition to Microsoft!

Item: So what? What’s this got to do with VRML (even if you did agree with me). Well, for starters, you gotta have a product. Contrary to popular opinion, people don’t have junk rammed down their throat. They buy stuff that they perceive will add some value, meaning, or fun to their lives. The tech game is filled with gee-whiz ideas that people don’t perceive as having value. VRML could very well be one of those products. I mean, it’s free for God’s sake, and people don’t want it! Microsoft knows this. It takes a perverse mind just to find information and a place to download a VRML plug-in for IE3 in the www.microsoft.com site. They couldn’t care less! Hollywood doesn’t buy it because they’ve been through the 3D novelty scam thing already and discovered the truth. Why do anything in 3D? What does it do for you?

Item: Challenge! Presumably you’re reading this because you’re some kind of VRML aficionado (and you hate me by now). Well, I’ll tell you. Besides cat-scans (or however you spell it) which can save lives, and some high end design and engineering concepts, VRML isn’t a consumer item....unless...unless you guys can think of a really good reason and use...and come up with a compelling product...and market the hell out of it! Creating a market (or discovering a market) is part of marketing. And you guys ain’t doin’ it!

There, the gauntlet’s at your feet. Call me when you’re flexible enough to bend over to pick it up.

As for me, I “ain’t ta blame”, I’m “only a paaaaawn in their game”.

(One final word. I suggested that if I had the space I’d tell you how I know that most new computer buyers are yuppies who pick one up on their way to get a latte and a bowl of overpriced granola at Cafe Fannie’s. Recently, my company built a simple piece of software whose only purpose was to enhance the fun quotient of the average e-mail user. The download site noted that the product was only, initially for Macintosh. We have uploaded thousands of copies of this piece of freeware, the use of which by competent people has amused them greatly.

Yet, I get scores of e-mails every day from new Windows users complaining that it won’t run on their spanking new Dell machine, either cursing me (“that’s what I should expect for free!”) or sheepishly explaining that they can’t figure out how to work their computer or “extract a stupid binhex file”. I know in my heart that these are decent, intelligent human beings. And that their downloading my silly little app was nothing more than their attempt to find something simple and fun to do on their computer. It sure as hell ain’t them ta blame...they’re in the caboose with the marketing people).

Next from this poison pen pain: How DO you make 3D a marketable product???

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