Bob Schwartz

Category: Marketing

Women Who (Don’t) Develop Apps

Why are there so few women developing mobile apps? The numbers haven’t yet been established, but the guess is that out of the literally million apps already created, and more on the way, few are developed by women.

The app world is one of the most fascinating phenomena in technology. It is in some ways an extension of the old school software development model, and bears some similarity. But a number of things are different. Development is easier, creativity is open, distribution is seamless and global (thanks to the apps markets), and the user base is expanding exponentially. The scale of the resulting tech opportunity is mind-boggling.

One more thing: it is a transparent development world. Many of the most popular apps (popular as in millions of downloads) are the work of one person. It is, even more than in the early days of computers, a place for garage developers, the equivalent of the garage band model of rock. And in many cases, we know exactly who that person is, because the market allows us to communicate directly with him. And, anecdotally, it is almost always a him.

The thought is prompted by the continuing drumbeat that women are severely underrepresented in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math). The focus is properly on the failure to cultivate and use so much needed talent in our always needy enterprises. But app development is also an enterprise, a remarkably democratic and free market that is now an inextricable part of daily life.

Discovering the extent to which women don’t develop apps, and the reasons why, may hold a key to the entire women and STEM debate, as well as to bigger issues of emerging consumer tech. In any case, it is an intriguing and fun question. As to the question of whether women can develop apps, the garage rock analogy is useful, if not entirely encouraging. It turns out that women actually could rock pretty hard, given the opportunity. But in a boy’s club, that continues to be a struggle to this day. Let’s hope it goes better for app development and next gen tech.

Tragedy and Branding

It may seem insensitive to mention this small and bizarre facet of a fresh tragedy. Yet an intensive commercial campaign has run headlong into sad current events in a very peculiar way.

The tragedy is the shooting and killing of multiple students at Oikos University, a small Christian college in Oakland, California. Few have heard of this school, and except for some scholars, Greek-speakers, and religionists, few will have heard the word “oikos” (which means house, home, household, or in the religious context, house of God; it is also the root of the word “ecology”).

Few, that is, except for the millions who have been exposed to this strange-sounding word by the Dannon Company in promoting its Greek-style yogurt. The story behind the brand is a little complicated. Stonyfield introduced it as its brand of organic Greek yogurt first. Then last year, its sister company Dannon adopted the Oikos brand as a new name for its previously unnamed non-organic “Greek yogurt.” Dannon launched the campaign starring John Stamos with its Super Bowl commercial, and it has been pushing ever since, aimed at its  insurgent independent yogurt rival Chobani (“chopani” means shepherd in Greek).

There is no sensitive way to say this: In the days ahead, as the coverage about this school tragedy expands and intensifies, it is likely that some small number of consumers is going to think of this yogurt the first time that they hear about an unknown college named Oikos. It’s not that the name is familiar to them; it’s that the name is peculiar and newly almost-familiar to them. It is also possible that some brand managers are thinking about this too, though their likely response is to do nothing at all in the face of strange happenstance. Strange happenstance, and a tragic event, much more important than any yogurt business.

Tone Deaf Marketing at SXSW

The marketing program that turned homeless people into walking WiFi hotspots at the SXSW Interactive conference in Austin has gotten plenty of criticism and ridicule. But above all that, it seems to be one more example of epidemic tone deafness in marketing, entertainment, politics, and everywhere that people don’t seem to be listening to what they are saying and doing.

BBH Labs of New York came up with the concept. They posted:

This year in Austin, as you wander between locations murmuring to your coworker about how your connection sucks and you can’t download/stream/tweet/instagram/check-in, you’ll notice strategically positioned individuals wearing `Homeless Hotspot’ T-shirts. These are homeless individuals in the Case Management program at Front Steps Shelter. They’re carrying MiFi devices. Introduce yourself, then log on to their 4G network via your phone or tablet for a quick high-quality connection…You pay what you want (ideally via the PayPal link on the site so we can track finances), and whatever you give goes directly to the person that just sold you access. We’re believers that providing a digital service will earn these individuals more money than a print commodity.

The “print commodity” that inspired the program was the classic model of homeless people selling newspapers (remember them?) on the streets. Since coworkers are no longer wandering around murmuring about how it sucks that you can’t find a newspaper, this seemed to someone like a rational, even brilliant, marketing analog and social experiment. The critics have been quick to point out that treating people like digital transmitters might be a little depersonalizing, even if you tipped them. Expect to see this one satirized mercilessly and immediately.

You can’t catch all controversial ideas before they go live. It’s a fine line between “what were they thinking” and groundbreaking, just as, in the words of Nigel Tufnel, “It’s such a fine line between stupid and clever.” What can help, simple as it sounds, is taking time, listening to what you’re saying and doing, and exercising some discernment and discretion. All that is in shorter supply, given the pace of messaging and the opportunity to communicate infinitely and instantly. But a little less deafness, a little more time listening, is a way to avoid “it sounded like such a good idea at the time.”