Is a Lack of Perspective Costing You Money?


Get Some Perspective

People naturally tend to surround themselves with others of like interests, backgrounds and ideology. We build our networks online and in real life by seeking out similar and complementary people. These networks inform our perspective and influence our decisions, but a relatively homogeneous network often results in an echo chamber. My own Twitter stream, for example, includes mostly search/online marketers and technologists/developers, so I tend to see the same ideas, discussions and opinions, with much agreement and overall little dissent. If I accepted the majority opinion of my network, I would believe the iPad is useless and doomed to failure (3 million sold in 80 days) and that Facebook lost millions of subscribers because of their ever shifting privacy policies. (See the non mass exodus of less than 40,000 users as the other 399 million+ collectively rolled their eyes and updated their walls.) A too tightly associated network can distort your perspective of what is actually happening out there with the average business or consumer. And these are the people that really matter.

Network Tunnel Vision – The Rush to Rule the Social Web

MySpace was arguably the first social platform to quickly gain critical mass, growing from its launch in 2004 to 125 million current users. Every major media corporation was in a bidding war to acquire what was believed to be a valuable platform with even more valuable eyeballs. So fierce was the desire by big media to own MySpace that in 2005 when News Corp walked away with the $580 million dollar acquisition, Tom Freston, CEO of Viacom at the time, lost his job for not securing it. At the same time, there was another site gaining traction on the social scene – Facebook. MySpace traffic leveled off in mid-2008 and has been declining ever since, while Facebook’s has steadily risen, and their user base is reportedly currently 400 million.

Certainly not the first time traditional media sought quick and easy entry into the next big thing through a poor acquisition choice (see also Time Warner/AOL), but it demonstrates a lack of vision, caused by focusing on the same property as everyone else – whether or not that property has a clear and sustainable monetization strategy. This isn’t Highlander folks, there will always be more than one solution, tactic or opportunity. Seeking out alternatives or innovations with potentially better long term returns requires stepping outside of entrenched thinking, ignoring the echo chamber, and realizing that somewhere out there, is a group of folks working on a stronger, better, faster implementation of the current shiny object distracting everyone else.

What opportunities are you missing – right now – for your own or your clients’ businesses because you’re shooting from the same angle as everyone else?

Process Tunnel Vision – A Tale of Two Smart Phones

Most companies can do a few things really, really well while very few can be all things to all people, but that’s never prevented those scrappy mathletes at Google from trying. After buying Android and partnering with multiple carriers and manufacturers to produce Android based phones, Google decided to throw its hat in the ring, and create its own – the Nexus One. Google and all of its products and services operate online in the cloud so when it came time to market their phone, they played to their strengths, and advertised exclusively online. They also made the device available for purchase only online, and did not bother to staff up live customer support.

How does such a successful company execute such an extremely unsuccessful product launch? Tunnel vision – Google’s own perspective of an all online world prevented them from understanding how consumer products actually work, and how users interact with them throughout the buying cycle. When people decide to buy a device they will carry at all times and use probably more than any other they own, they want to be able to see it, touch it, and hold it. By not making the devices available in stores for consumers to preview, Google missed significant sales opportunities.

The virtual absence of a traditional media campaign also demonstrates Google’s tunnel vision with respect to online advertising, and ignores the critical role offline advertising plays in branding, as well as converting. The Motorola Droid by comparison, launched with a comprehensive traditional media campaign including television, billboards, radio and print as well as online advertising. First month sales figures of the two devices? Nexus One sold an estimated 80,000 units and the Droid sold 575,000 units. The Droid continues to outsell the Nexus One, even though the Google phone has been considered to be the better of the two devices.

Are you/your clients creating and selling to yourselves or are you actively engaged with and do you understand the mindset and needs of your customers?

Re-focusing Your Perspective

How can you prevent tunnel vision, in your own business, and when consulting with others?

  • Open up your network to include people from other disciplines, business sectors, and especially those with opinions that differ from yours. You’ll be amazed at what you can learn from someone with whom you disagree.
  • Be aware of not just the latest trends, the easy wins, or already proven – but look around or behind those for growing and developing opportunities that improve upon the latest trend. Second generation technologies/products/services have the benefit of having learned from and corrected the mistakes of the first generation.
  • When launching or marketing a product or service, put yourself in the buyer’s shoes and go through the purchase cycle from beginning to end to thoroughly understand how to reach and convert that customer. You are rarely the ideal target for the goods and services you are selling, and you are limiting your revenue potential when marketing as if you are.

Your Comments

  • Chris Miller

    People naturally tend to surround themselves with others of like interests, backgrounds and ideology.

    Seeing this a lot, follow outside of your circle. I’ve actually organized everyone into lists, so that I can not only follow a variety of different people from different industries, but I hot-swap a small list. For example I just started following @netmeg, but may or may not keep her on next week, I might switch her out for someone I meet in #blogchat.

    Because everyone is in a list, I am just controlling who is in my primary radar for the day/week/month with no commitment, and no awkward day-after tweets.

    • Rhea Drysdale

      I love me some Twitter lists! They certainly help expose me to other industries and users I might not otherwise have followed. I’ve got my ORM list, my SEO list, my daily reads, etc. Those tweets often lead to new sources and like you, I’ll keep them around for a bit and see if I like what’s being tweeted.

      Beyond Twitter, Outspoken Media as a company is making more of an effort to branch outside of our comfort zones this year from the conferences we attend, to the books we read and people we meet. It’s a bit scary, but to Michelle’s point, it brings a fresh perspective. Loved the examples and advice! :)

      • Michelle Robbins

        Chris & Rhea – I confess, I’ve not utilized twitter lists to group and organize people/topics. I tend to find new followers through followers – often from reviewing a profile of someone that has followed me, seeing other people in their stream. That doesn’t scale well though – so I’m going to take both your leads and start using lists to continue to add fresh voices.

  • Disa Johnson

    This is one of the best reads I’ve had in a very, very long time Michelle!

    • Michelle Robbins

      Thank you so much Disa! I’m happy you enjoyed the article :) The comments here and that I’ve received offline have got me thinking about the “how” of breaking free of tunnel vision – because that’s really the challenge for us all.

  • Bob Weber

    Seems to me you could have also titled this article “Stick with what you are good at”. In both your examples the companies involved got away from their core business and failed. Google is really good at one thing, search. They have had limited success in everything else that they’ve done. Launching a $529 phone that only works on T-Mobile’s pathetic network is about as far from their successes as possible.

    Likewise, NewsCorp’s background in newspaper, magazines, television and music production didn’t automatically qualify it as being able to run a social media site. MySpace still had a lot of potential on 2005. The real downfall here is NewsCorp had no idea how to compete with up and coming Facebook’s better ideas.

    • Michelle Robbins

      Bob – I agree with you that in general, it is best to play to your strengths, and mentioned that most companies fail at trying to be all things to all people. But I don’t think that means companies can’t step outside of their boxes and succeed, if they approach the new direction or product from a fresh perspective, vs. trying to make approaches used in their core business apply across any venture.

      Apple is a great example of a company that has split its core business (desktop/laptop computers) into many different product lines and has been incredibly successful with each. iTunes is really the best example of this. Apple was computer hardware/software consumer products company that essentially fixed the electronic distribution woes of the music industry (whether they wanted them to or not). And arguments of being tied to the Apple line of hardware products aside, they’ve done a terrific job and have provided a steadily increasing revenue stream – for the music industry as well as themselves. The iPhone also – pretty much revolutionized the smart phone industry – which had entrenched, dominant players (Palm, MS), who are now all vying to catch up.

      If Apple were to have just “stuck with what they’re good at” we’d not have the iPod, iTunes or iPhone. And those supporting industries (music and mobile) would be the less for it – as would consumer choices.

      • Bob Weber

        Apple really always has been a UI design company. Apple’s hook has never been that there products are more robust, did more or were cheaper. It was always that the products were more usable. They took their core competency and applied it to iPods, iTunes and the iPhones to great success. iTunes is dominant because it’s so easy to use, which has always been Apple’s hallmark.

        Apple didn’t so much step outside of their box as the figured out a way to expand those product lines while using their strengths.

        • Michelle Robbins

          I agree – UI design is a core competency of Apple – they are (and have always been) the clear leaders with respect to usability. But I don’t think they are just a design firm, and I don’t view their success with music distribution as simply a result of great interface. To enter into a completely new business (music distribution) required a great deal more than UI – and they succeeded where music companies themselves had failed not so much because iTunes is easy to use, but because they provided a business model that worked for everyone – artists, labels and consumers. A model that was radically different from how any music distribution model had previously been constructed. Without that and the understanding of how to achieve it, the UI would have been inconsequential. I guarantee you more work went into securing the distribution model, than sorting out the UI. And that’s the kind of stepping outside of the box required to venture into a completely different business.

          • Michael Martin


            A quality article written by someone I highly regard.

            I didn’t want to hijack the comments extolling Android but it was brought into the fray within the article based on N1 sales numbers.

            I noticed the trend of your arguments & counter points firmly based on these numbers, mostly centered on sales, which is logical & tangible, these 2 qualities are often not a factor in consumer behavior & the marketing that propels it.

            But as you point out in that article if your perspective is narrowed simply to overall numbers & trending then you miss the overall outlook such as with MySpace & AOL.

            This is the widened perspective I see with Android as a narrow perspective looks at individual devices (like the Nexus One) rather then the sum of its parts, as one can do with an individual PC in comparison to a Mac.

            Just as then the intangible of mindshare becomes the determiner of those tangible numbers you often point out.

            This mindshare overcarried both MySpace & AOL which I feel the iPhone is now exhausting for record sales numbers & waiting in Apple opening day bread lines as continual iPhone / iOS 4 user issues mount.

            These issues as with MySpace & AOL at their peak shift opinion to the ease of use & revolutionary features that mindshare was built upon.

            Android like PCs dont pretend to be perfect but does have inclusiveness rather than exclusivity, choice over dictation, and with its relative freedom can get ugly just as with governments… but its a perspective that I prefer.

            BTW It can be argued the best UI on phones is not the iOS on the iPhone but WebOS (had poor marketing & devices with Palm) whose director incidentally went to Android recently.

            • Michelle Robbins

              I hear what you’re saying with your comment, but my point about narrow perspective with the Nexus One, really did go directly to their marketing campaign – and it’s failure to actually successfully market the phone because of those reasons mentioned in the article. I specifically compared it to the Droid because they share the Android platform, were both new to market, and thus it was a more apples to apples (no pun intended there) comparison. Google failed to capture both mindshare and sales with their campaign – the Droid succeeded.

  • Bob Weber

    The iTunes store wasn’t introduced until two years after the iPod’s debut. Apple already had a successful product based on their physical and UI design before they ever implemented the music distribution business model. Just because more work went into the distribution model does not mean it was more pivotal to their success. What they’ve done with the iTunes Store is brilliant, but on the same level as what Google did with Adwords – they just capitalized on the user base they had (something that NewsCorp couldn’t do with MySpace of course).

    It could also be argued that Apple has been doing software distribution for most of their existence and all they did was use that expertise to start distributing data files that contained music. Again, not really outside of their skillset as a corporation.

    • Michelle Robbins

      Apple, a consumer products company built on selling personal computers, is now the number one music retailer in the US – having surpassed WalMart two years ago even. You see this as a natural progression of their core competencies, but I see it as a distinct venture into a new and not aligned business sector, that was successfully made because of the broad vision Apple has as a corporation.

      Software distribution in general, is not at all the same as music distribution, and the wrangling with that industry to make it happen, was not at all business as usual for Apple. The iTunes store was a seismic shift in music distribution and I disagree that it was simply Apple extending its business model; it created an entirely new one.

      I would also argue that News Corp, in its wholesale acquisition of MySpace, gained not only the significant user base, but also the institutional knowledge that could have (should have?) made it a success, if it was truly in a position to become a greater success based on those assets.

      Ultimately though, I think we’re saying largely the same thing – except that you see it not as a problem of perspective but of people not sticking to what they know best – and I see it as people applying what they know best to a situation that requires a broader perspective or different tactic.

  • Alan Bleiweiss


    While some might find individual examples to want to pick apart and myopically focus on, I see the bigger message and agree completely. When I became manager of a real estate company, I couldn’t manage it the same way I’d managed a chocolate manufacturing company. Sure, core competencies of management still applied. Yet I needed to learn to apply them in new ways.

    When I do SEO, I can’t use keywords based on my understanding of someone’s products or services or the clients’. Sure, I can use those to start, yet I need to also step into their client / customers shoes as well, and build on that.

    So too, in life, I find it’s critical to open my mind to other points of view. Had I not done that in every area of life I’d never have grown as an individual. Even when I THINK my way works, it could be that, sure, my way DOES work. Yet oh – wow – it turns out sometimes that another way works more efficiently / inexpensively / effortlessly…

    And as far as core competencies go, whenever I’ve strayed too far from those, it’s been more painful than it’s worth. When I’ve built on them instead, I’ve flourished.