Thoughts in the Clouds – Creativity As A Service

10 04 2011

Imagine a production (any video/film/commercial production), which from start to finish and including delivery is all done using cloud services “creative services”, storage, proxy generation, rendering, grading/editing, transcoding etc. Each of these services can be segmented and distributed around the private cloud network hence the interdependent set of processes becomes a series of services.

It’s happening already, there are countless examples of convergence in the market between post production and production tools or rather vice a versa. The main reason for this convergence is the reliance on file based media and the exponential growth in created content. The days of format, film canister or video tape, are over – content is only limited by the capacity to store it.  Once the content is created it has to be tagged, managed and used as quickly as possible albeit on set or via proxies over the network or sneaker net copies. I am sure NAB 2011 will illuminate more in the area of how production and post production can leverage the advantages of cloud services. Clearly I am not alone, early examples are DVS, Quantel and Chryon just to mention a few.





NAB 2011 Pre-show

5 04 2011

“It’s going to be a great show this year!” A universal claim to the seasoned trade show attendee or exhibitor. I can honestly say, this year is going to be a great year for anyone at NAB 2011, call it s hunch, call it a feeling, call it conclusions from colleagues and friends:-

  • Upturn in the market, new money based on the recovery and adapted business models
  • Cloud processing for production, post production and delivery- “Creativity As A Service – CAAS”
  • 4K and beyond
  • What’s after Stereo3D?
  • More assets, more management, more storage, more creativity
  • Higher colour depth (High Dynamic Range) in mainstream production
  • True Digital Master
  • Higher frame rates for film (going beyond 24 frames per second)
  • Content any format, to and from anywhere
  • Dynamic content convergence
  • Contextual and profile based product placement
  • Monetising user content
  • Return of the Archive
  • Production and Post Production convergence
  • Story is still king 😉




Demonstrating Products in the Best Light

30 03 2010

Having spent a few years either demonstrating software/hardware products or managing a team of product demonstrators in the Media & Entertainment industry the following discussion attempts to summarise some of my experiences, observations and recommendations in creating and performing a great product demonstration.

Firstly, demonstrating a product is nothing to do with you as a person, as an artist, as a professional or as a great person. The audience is interested in one thing and one thing only – the product and what it can do for them. There are rare occasions where some outstanding performers draw the crowds to hear what they have to say and how they say it.

Your job as a demonstrator is to generate excitement, perceived value and also an “I need this” feeling. What is also important is your ability to communicate the features and benefits clearly and emphatically. I have highlighted both features and benefits, and it is important that you match a function with the corresponding benefit otherwise it means nothing.

There are two types of demonstration, one2one and one2many. The tactics for one2one are very different to your approach to one2many. In various ways, one2many demonstrations are done many times within a stage or exhibition environment and don’t usually include interaction.

Conversely, one2one demonstrations are the most fulfilling to the demonstrator and customer due to the interactive nature of the engagement. With one2one demos, you need to be a product expert and be able to anticipate questions and correct responses. Without this level of knowledge, you can pre-build a bag of tricks in anticipation of some of the possible questions.

I have known some great demo presenters who can pull out a feature at the drop of a hat. Usually, from a repertoire of “mini” demos and this is a useful habit of repeating. You demo bag or bag tricks needs a high level of organisation whereby you can quickly get access to the correct demo segment. With complex software applications, this can take many years to create. This is just one of many different approaches to one2one demos and will form the focus of another discussion.

For the remainder of my discussion, I will talk about creating and performing great one2many demonstrations.

As a demonstrator, it is your job to convey the right amount of information to make the audience wanting more. More regarding detailed product information or an actual purchase. The old saying “always leave the audience asking for more” is very pertinent in the execution of a great and more importantly a successful demo.

Before you even think about creating a demonstration, you should try and answer some or most of these questions.

  • What is the marketing message?
    Who are my customer and market? As an expert in your field, you should have a pretty good idea of this.
    Answering headline journalist questions, What, When, Where, How and Why?
    What is the product?
    When would I use this product?
    Where would I use the product?
    How could I use the product?
    Why should I use the product?
    Third person customer specific questions
    How does the product relate to the customer?
    What will excite a customer?
    What motivates a customer to buy?
    First person customer specific questions
    What problem or situation does this product fix or improve?
    Why would I want to buy this product?
    Why should I be excited about this product?

Answering these questions will put in you in the mindset of the customer and help you frame your approach and language. To some degree, this is the first step in emphasising with a customer. Speak to people who know the customer and know their switches and triggers – as it’s all about flicking the right switches.

Above all, believe in the product! As a demonstrator of the product, you are an evangelist of the product. How many charismatic or confident evangelists do you know who don’t believe in what they are talking about? It is almost like a religion, and your belief is very transparent and visible to the customers, existing or potential; some may call this passion.

Being passionate about a mature product can be a challenge and even new products to market if the message isn’t entirely clear. Working with a mature product is an entirely a different subject and warrants a separate piece all about demonstrating and product managing sophisticated products. The good news it can and is done very successfully.

The source of your belief is your familiarity with your product, and market or at least knowing the key silver bullets of the release why these are important. Make sure you are fluent with the products Unique Selling Points (USPs) or silver bullets and how they interrelate with each other.

I mentioned this at the beginning, and it was the first question you should answer – what is the marketing message. It does pay dividends to spend a few hours of your time with the product marketing manager understanding the product positioning and messaging for the product. The information you absorb becomes part of your subconscious and will come out during the creative process and performance.

You should also have in the back of your mind the 30-60 second elevator pitch. This is especially important when you are at an exhibition. It is amazing how many opportunities you get beyond the stand, in the hotel lobby or bar to talk about your product – you never stop selling. If anyone asks what you do – tell them and 60 seconds should be enough at the end of hard days stomping the show floor. I also recommend testing understanding with a friend or spouse is to sell the elevator pitch – anyone should be able to understand it!

How do you create a product demo?

Take the corporate message, mission statement and product positioning and use this as your foundation for the demonstration. You should try and hit certain high-level points to adjoin the supporting marketing and collateral. Some people call these the company silver bullets. Hopefully, the company positioning and product positioning should be symbiotic or at least reflective to what you are trying to demonstrate.

How do you best perform a product demo?

It is obvious to say, but it surprising how many forget about obstacles and distractions. Remove barriers and distractions – limit the amount of branding, lights, mobile phones (switch off) and anything else which might distract the audience from you to the distraction.

When demonstrating, you are selling! You are not only selling the product and services but also the company you represent. Therefore, professionalism, clarity, brevity are some of the key attributes to performing a great demonstration. Your credibility is assured. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be in the position you are in – presenting the product and representing the company; you are the front person, the magician to make the product shine.

The communication skills are a pre-requisite, and it is fundamentally important to deliver a line while executing a move or action and react to the unpredicted without derailing the presentation. An uncomfortable or painful demonstration is a distraction, which will be the only thing audience will remember. I have personal experience of this and when I started it was very stilted and awkward. The key to getting around this is practice, practice, practice, rehearse and refinement.

Engaging with customer

Understand the client and why they are looking at your product and listening to what you are saying. What problems does your product solve or remove? This is all about anticipating what the customer wants based on your research, experience and conversations with the product marketing team. By drawing an audience in your have engaged with them, and the following are some classics:-

Ask who uses the current product?
Ask which roles, how many developers are there in the room?
Ask where they are from?
Ask rhetorical questions
Tell a story and look for the nods
Above all engagement is about empathising with the customer – use scenarios or stories that resonate with individual or group. Pull the audience in to see what you have – classic street trader technique that grabs the attention, the hook to the big prize! You can ask rhetorical questions, use audience plants or even ask the audience to decide what to see (this needs to be well structured and also possibilities well rehearsed)

And Finally

3 Golden Rules – Don’t…

Don’t highlight the negative of previous versions – this can upset existing customers
Don’t ever use a negative comment to sell a positive
Never mention the competition directly

3 Golden Rules – Do…

Empathise with the audience, the customers
Talk, show and show again the features and benefits
Wrap the demo up with a solid conclusion

CONCLUSION

Understand your marketing and product positioning
Understand your audience and potential customer
Practice, practice, practice, rehearse and refinement
Deliver your demonstration clearly and consistently





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30 03 2010

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Does a Product need a Manager?

30 03 2010

Does a Product need a Manager?

For those who don’t know or care about how product gets to market, I am going to answer the question; does a product need a manager? Or more to the point what is a product manager?

Are you familiar with the role of a product manager? Is it someone who is managed by a product or is it someone who literally manages or wrestles a product? And why should you care? The goal is to answer the question why a product needs a manager and hence the birth of the infamous Product Manager role.

What is a Product Manager?

Firstly, what is a product manager? You can probably guess that it would involve a product of some kind and that you be a manager of people, resources, processes and customers. The truth is that you are not a manager of anyone in particular – you have to lead through influence to develop, sell and make a product successful. The focus is not to be a manger of people but to be the manager of the product, processes and profit!.

A product, could be absolutely any product, sandwiches to satellites, they are all products that need to be managed.

In fact, most mass produced products are product managed in some form. And that’s the problem; there are different perceptions of what a product manager does. Is it pre-sales, marketing, marketing communications, price book management, product placement, product development, product research, market research and business analyst – guess what, they are all of these things. It is probably one of the only jobs around that touches on all disciplines apart from the CEO or managing director of the company.

The Walkman

Let’s look at a couple of similar products – from Sony and Apple to illustrate the evolution of the product manager.

These two walkmans basically do the same thing, play tapes and possibly the radio. Great idea – enabled a generation of portable entertainment, rollerskates and funky headphones. The difference between the two is not functionality (they basically do the same), but engineering and miniaturisation. The Walkman was a technically led not product management led.

The last version of the walkman is almost the same size as tape cassette but still retains the same features as one of earlier models. The product or technical managers of the day were happy with the functionality but they wanted to make the design more portable and even stylistic. Were they listening to the market or telling market what wanted?

The iPod

So now let’s compare the Walkman with the iPod? They basically do the same things, play music, and entertain. But when you compare a walkman and iPod, they are complex in different ways. A Walkman is far more mechanically complex yet simple in features, whereas an iPod is far more complex in features and mechanically simple.

There is also a third difference, the approach. The product managers at Sony took a not so portable tape player and turned it into a portable version. Sony has been the tape business for many years and this was a classic example of technology and miniaturisation.

Conversely, one particular product designer at Apple, Jonathan Ive, took the idea of portable entertainment and flipped it on its head – Why, he noticed a change in technology and the market.

Sony was and still entrenched in the media market and worried about music copyright. Hence they were concerned about piracy and proliferation of MP3 files. Whereas, Apple decided lets leverage the new file format and give people what they want.

Apple was driven by innovation and striving for a new ways to listen to music – and at the time has no affiliation with the music industry. Jonathan implied through his design, “let’s re-invent personal entertainment and use the new emerging digital media formats. Let’s design a cool, practical, easy to use product that can be used by everyone“

Jonathan did his research, inspired his design teams, developed the product, released it via some fantastic marketing and created a new product / Brand. Basically, Jonathan Ive took a relatively old Sony product idea, re-invented and made it better – ironically, a Japanese tactic.

Sony have been playing catch-up ever since, even though they own a large percentage of the worlds music content, they lost the war of personal entertainment.

As I have discussed, the responsibilities of a Product Manager fall into four core areas, Market Research, Product Development, Product Release and marketing – basically a product manager looks after the complete life cycle of a product from beginning to end.

From Apple’s perspective, they definitely did their market research, looked at what was available today for personal entertainment and emerging technologies i.e. MP3.

They took a good design and developed additional feature, packaging and created a great design. They re-invented personal entertainment and they are continuing to do so through product management.

The aspect of product release and lifecycle is interesting. It a delicate balance between releasing a product with the right features at the right time. This is called the minimal viable product and ensures that that company invest just enough in R&D to get the maximum return on their investment. This is how all products should be developed but in some cases are not. Another way of looking at it is not laying down all your cards at the beginning of a poker game and use a combination of bluffs and reality to win the game.

Finally, doesn’t matter how good your product is – if there isn’t any product marketing no one is going to hear or see it. There have been some exceptions and are usually in the form of word of mouth which is a form of viral marketing. As you are probably aware Apple are absolutely fantastic at marketing and they are always pushing the boundaries for product placement and advertising. Apple has created truly inspirational products!

THE CONCLUSION

So when anyone asks, what is a product manager? You should be able to answer the question. He or she is a manager of the product, processes and profit. The main goal is to develop a minimal viable product, balancing between company investments and squeezing out as much as possible in terms of sales.

At the end the day it is really about managing a product that matches the market and customers’ needs. Without product managers we wouldn’t see the kinds of products like iPod and the role is fundamental to designing, developing and marketing new products today.





The Art of Flying

30 03 2010

Having spent some years travelling around the world and predominately using air travel, I am going to pass on some of my experience and wisdom regarding “The art of flying”.

This isn’t going to be an attempt to levitate or zoom out of the room but how to use air travel without getting too stressed or frustrated, feeling refreshed and having enjoyed your travelling experience; without sounding like a tour operator!

My experience is based on flying 100+ (lost count basically) flights with British Airways, Virgin, Japanese Airlines, Air Canada, Quantas, South West Airlines, Delta, United Airlines and American Eagle – essentially quality airlines which are mostly reliable and professional.

I will focus on three key areas, before the flight, during the flight and after the flight. I will basically be referring to air travel in excess of 5 hours, but I follow these guidelines regardless of flight time.

I will not be going into detail with respect to destination research and doing your home work. It goes without saying it is highly recommended that you have a good idea of where you are going, the culture, dress code (in some countries albeit less well off or for religious reasons), basic laws and regulations visiting the country. There are many resources available which I use before going to a new country and these are just some:-

United Kingdom Foreign Office

http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/travel-and-living-abroad/travel-advice-by-country/

CIA Factbook

https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/

United States Department of State

http://travel.state.gov/travel/travel_1744.html

Rest your wings

Before your flight it is important to rest your wings. It is very tempting even for early morning flights to stay up all night especially if you coming back from holiday. My advice is, just don’t do it! Your recovery time is seriously impeded the less sleep you have and you will simply feel awful for between 1 to 3 days. In some case if one has been excessive it can take weeks when you take into account jet lag and post-trip colds/flu.

Keep your packing simple both for your main and hand luggage. I see so many people travelling with so much stuff it is unreal and I know they aren’t going to use half of it. My rule of thumb, is only take what you really need. Have no back up or doubling up as you simply won’t use it in my experience.

There are a few exceptions, 1) if you are travelling with a baby or young child it is always best to have a backup of clothes, nappies, wipes, water etc, 2) electrical adaptors if you are taking electrical equipment e.g. laptops, chargers and 3) essential drugs of the legal kind both in the country you are staying and the one you will be returning to.

Upgrades?

Be friendly and courteous to the ground staff and security as it is a good idea to start on a happy note. It is in your interest in so many ways and what people don’t realise is the check-in staff usually become the flight crew. When checking-in make sure you have all you documents available before you reach the check-in desk. Fumbling for bits and pieces will test the patience of any weary check-in staff and reduces your chances of upgrades to a zero.

Casually asking, “How busy is the flight today?” – is an indirect way of asking if there are any chances of an upgrade? This is slightly sneaky (all ground staff are aware of all the tricks by the way), but it is surprising how many times this works.

You chances of an upgrade are increased if you look and speak the part – be confident but not cocky. To be fair you need to be either in a situation, broken leg or toe or a gold member at the top of the list for upgrades. By the way I am not recommending or condoning breaking your or other people’s limbs to get an upgrade, but it does actually work. Babies and toddlers ( 3-18 months) are good as well but I suggest you take your own!

Other reasons why you might get an upgrade, you are full fare (flexible ticket) customer, silver(emerald) or gold (diamond) frequent flier member, the flight is over booked, flight configuration has changed (they have moved the business seats) and you happened to be in the right place at the right time.

One word of caution, don’t look too disappointed when you don’t get an upgrade. It is great when it happens, but don’t always expect it as you can get a black mark put against your travel profile. The greatest times are when it happens when you least expect it.

Off we go

Once the engines have started roaring there is no turning back. Except if you hear a worrying banging noise under your seat you might stir up enough interest to turn back. Which happened to me once on a flight to Greece, I heard this hydraulic banging noise which was louder than normal. I informed the stewardess and within 60 seconds the plane had turned back to the terminal. 3 Hours later I was back on the plane after they had fixed a major flaps hydraulic fluid issue. To put it in perspective we wouldn’t have been able to land reliably if the problem hadn’t been fixed.

By the way things do go bang and clang (hydraulics and flap trimming – apparently) on planes and in most cases is completely normal but if you are worried you should inform one of the crew.

Once the plane is taxing, please refrain from screaming, it tends to put the other passengers on edge! I had one flight where a woman sat down next to me seemed very nervous at the time and even before the doors had been closed decided to go to the toilet and scream.

At first I thought nothing of it as you often find people screaming in the toilet prior to the flight. When she sat back down, the engines started and so did she and for the next ten minutes until sedated and at 30,000 ft. Fortunately, this has only happened to me twice and unfortunately once you get a screamer on board it’s the same in reverse on the way down. I suppose my tip really is not to sit next to a screamer!

Now the long bit, especially if you are doing 6+ hour trips it best to have a charged iPod, book and I really do recommend some comfortable noise cancelling headphones/sets. I use them for both listening to music/videos, but also to get some sleep.

It is amazing how quickly time will fly when you run down your laptop, watch a couple of movies, have dinner, go to the toilet 4-5 times, speak to the crew, eat more nibbles, sleep, read a book and generally stare out of the window.

Whatever you do on the flight, the most important thing is to drink water, lots of water. The air in plane has a very low humidity to almost the same levels as a desert. So it is important to drink water and will also make you feel a lot more refreshed when you do have gulp your first breath of fresh air.

Alcohol, I will leave you to decide, but as you probably know it dehydrates you as well – so drink more water if you are drinking alcohol as well. If you are not used the volume of liquid then it is best to either do some bladder training before hand or sit in an aisle seat, which is my personal preference.

Landing

Ah the landing my favourite part for so many reasons, getting out of tin can and being able to breathe again or simply something to wake me up and say that I have arrived.

If you are still conscious prior to landing, try not to be concerned about the wings wobbling or landing in what would be appear be sideways or what sounds like the engines are about to explode. Let’s look at the wobbling wings situation – if they didn’t wobble the plane would simply full apart and just assume that it goes back to the Wright Brothers ironing out some minor issues with flying. When you sit next to the wing one will notice it will go up and down rather dramatically during parts of the flight- the wonders of flexible composite and aluminium materials.

Landing sideways and cross winds are great fun once you know at the last minute on most occasions, the plane quickly corrects itself before touchdown. Look at YouTube and landings in Hong Kong’s Kai Tak airport and you see what I mean – this is routine so don’t worry! Did you know that most landing and take-offs are done by a computer with fly-by-wire technology and so we are in safe hands – well 3 computers can’t be wrong can they? Usually, the bumpy/rough ones are done more traditionally and manuallyJ.

Finally, what sounds like exploding engines is actually the plane switching to reverse thrust to actually stop the plane. Over the years due to fuel usage concerns using reverse thrust, many operators now use the wheel breaks instead unless you are landing on a particularly short runway.

THE CONCLUSION

So, I have briefly given you an insight into some of my tips or re-assurances to flying and hope I haven’t put you off.

Douglas Adams was so right, and my ultimate conclusion to flying is, DON’T PANIC whatever happens there is usually a way out of the predicament. Obviously, there are exceptions, snakes on a plane, crash landings and been squeezed in between two rather large gentlemen on a ten hour flight. And remember flying is the safest form of transport in the world – in fact statistically you are in greater danger by staying at home having a nice cup of tea.

And finally, for the green among you – when buying a ticket try and buy the carbon offset donation as even the most modern of planes belch out more carbon dioxide (CO2) than you and probably your family do annually.

http://www.co2balance.uk.com/co2calculators/flight/





New to Blogging

30 03 2010

Hi this is my personal blogging site.

Thank you for visiting and I intend to document many different subjects which I hope you will find informative and entertaining.

If you have any feedback then please drop me a line or comment on the site.

Thanks again,

Ben