I sit through lots of meetings these days wondering how so many smart people can be so oblivious to some of the web's harshest realities. They work so hard and they're so creative in most parts of their business, yet they consistently overlook the single most obvious shortcoming in their plans for global domination. These aren't mediocre mopes or deluded dreamers; they're great technologists, really sharp systems engineers, dynamite designers, and even prominent professors. But, far too often, as they pitch their products, services, and amazing ideas, what always comes through to me is the sad fact that they just don't get it.

What's the horrendous hiccup? Ya gotta get it out there before it's gonna do ya any good!  I call it Digital DARE, which stands for Distribution, Adoption, Retention, and Engagement. If you can't get your mobile application on my phone (distribution) and convince me to initially try it (adoption) and then to keep it on my phone (retention), and finally to use it on a recurring and fairly frequent basis (engagement), you've got nothing to talk about. Each step of the Digital DARE journey presents different challenges and hurdles.

I see this same syndrome in the frenzy around content marketing: fierce focus on content creation coupled with Field of Dreams fantasies about distribution. If you're not spending almost as much time thinking about (a) how your message will reach its intended targets (and how you can measure that) as you are on (b) developing the actual message then you're just kidding yourself.

In the old days, when we were still talking about desktop computers rather than mobile, we used to say that "if it ain't on the screen it don't mean a thing." The point was that ideas and talk were cheap whereas execution and delivery were hard. Fascinating features and functions didn't cut it if they weren't in the code base, and all the wonder and wishful thinking in the world wasn't going to get the product shipped and launched. Then, once you shipped your product, the bar was raised again and at that point distribution and penetration were the whole ballgame.

That was back then, but it's just as true--and as critical--today. The screens may be smaller and much more mobile, but the job is exactly the same. Distribution and adoption are all that matter, and the competition is tougher than it has ever been, because while there are billions of phones in the world, each and every individual user gets to choose what occupies the prime positions on his or her own device.  It's just like the real estate business - location and placement are everything. As I've said now for several years, the scarcest piece of real estate in the world is the front screen of the smartphone.

And if you think the adoption curve on cool new technologies is quick now, wait until you see how fast these fickle users abandon the latest and greatest anything in favor of the next bright, shiny thing. Especially anything that's a novelty rather than a necessity. The fact is that it's hard to hang on to a prime position even from week to week without some incredible staying power. The basic rule is: "out of sight, out of mind." Getting there is plenty hard; staying there is harder still.

So, if you want to be taken seriously (however amazing your application may be), you've got to address the critical concerns that are front and center in every investor's mind. While there are no simple solutions, it helps to spend some time thinking about the different ways that you can get over the hurdles, and who can help you in the process, because these things take tough teams and strategic partners. They never happen by themselves because no one has the time, talent, or money to bring it home all alone.

Utility: Make It Multi-Purpose

The more functionality that your application provides, the more value it creates for the end user and the more likely it is to succeed.

Ubiquity: Make It Multi-Channel

The more channels and locations through which end users can encounter and obtain your application the more likely it is to find its way onto their devices.

Universality: Make It Multi-Cultural

You've got to go global from the get-go. Sure the U.S. is a huge market, but it has never been easier or less expensive to make sure that your solution is available and works around the world. I hear stories every day about the power of the web, and especially the cloud, and how users, acting entirely on their own, are adopting new products and services worldwide without any marketing or feet on the street. Make it easy. 

Published on: Jul 8, 2014