Dog food and steaks: how authenticity helps validate technology solutions
Recently I was heavily involved with organising an online event called IBF 24. This was all about intranets. Lots and lots of intranets – in fact 24 hours of continual programming. We featured an avalanche of live intranet and workplace technology tours and demos.
Admittedly 24 hours of intranets is probably a little too much for most people, but I do think intranets can be really interesting. They give a little bit of an “under-the-bonnet” view of some large organisations and give some hints about company culture. On IBF 24 we had some very large organisations including Google, BT, Verizon, AT&T and IKEA taking us live behind their firewall to their “Digital Workplace” and sharing their screen with us.
One theme that emerged was that some companies, particularly technology and web-based firms, were really keen to show that what they told and sold to their customers was also how they behaved internally. Google told us they “ate their own dog food.” And in a continuing “meat” theme other companies told us they cooked their own steaks and made their own sausages.
Now to be honest I’ve always been a bit suspicious of authenticity. There always seems to be something slightly fake about anybody who needs to tell you how genuine they are. Statements about corporate values and culture can be like CVs: essentially marketing exercises prone to wild exaggeration.
But after IBF 24 perhaps my view has been modified slightly. For example we saw an intranet tour from Google, and their internal digital work environment called “MOMA”, really is based around the concept of search. They use many of the collaboration products available in Google Apps themselves, albeit with some advanced twists. For example they had an extremely cool real-time translation tool applied to live chat, which basically meant you could have a text conversation with somebody in a different language.
There were other examples too. oDesk, a company who allow you to hire and manage freelance professionals across the globe, was mainly made up of, well, freelance professionals across the globe. Speaking off the record to some people at Tibbr, a collaboration and data management tool, made it clear that they had been delighted how well the product had worked when it had been applied internally. Other tools such as micro-blogging platform Yammer or fabulous employee recognition system Love Machine had been borne out of tools first developed and used internally and then productised.
I found myself being quietly impressed with these examples of “authenticity.” For me their own experiences seemed to validate the more marketing-led messages about their own solutions and products. I think it also reflected well on the companies, showing a unity of approach between product line and internal organisation, that all too often has no correlation in many workplaces.
I wonder if this “authenticity” is more important for technology than in other industries. For example I once used the staff toilets at a branch of MFI and found it generally rather scuzzy, yet the showroom was full of gleaming new bathroom suites. This certainly didn’t put me off buying a suite from MFI. However if Google’s own people had no confidence in their own applications that would genuinely worry me. Perhaps this is because technology people tend to have their own strong technology preferences. They also know the code behind it and a system’s idiosyncrasies.
If outsourcing divisions and companies who have developed their own in-house technologies and accompany approaches have an opportunity to show how it is being used in their own organisation, then why not? Corporate transparency always goes down well with the punters.
A live warts-and-all desktop share which shows the product in action (sometimes not possible due to confidential data) or even just talking about your own experiences of your platform, are a powerful opportunity to engage with customers. In the world of open dialogue, that’s surely the best type of marketing.
And of course you’ll also get to invent your own meat-related metaphor. There’s a genuine barbecue of opportunity out there and now might be the time to start frying.