Some companies take their customers for beta testers, but some go the extra mile and use them as guinea pigs in a marketing experiment, and then expect them to be excited about new products they have in the pipeline. It's an example of using people's real-world experiences for content marketing that leaves a foul taste. It's what Technicolor's CineStyle division seems to have done with their communication regarding the end of life of Color Assist video colour grading software.
It came as a complete surprise — to me anyway — after having upgraded Color Assist so that it works with Adobe After Effects and Final Cut Pro X. The email from Al Guerrero, General Manager Cinestyle at Technicolor stated that Color Assist, one of the first projects taken to market by Technicolor through Jumpstart, their project incubator aimed at taking new ideas and developing them into go-to-market solutions, is dead in the water.
According to Guerrera, Technicolor developed and launched Color Assist to provide them with an important opportunity to understand the prosumer content creation market. But now they understand, and therefore they've decided to allocate Color Assist resources to other "promising initiatives" currently being developed within Technicolor, which will better address the prosumer and end-user markets. It's another way of saying paying customers were guinea pigs for Technicolor's marketing department (the word "suckers" might also spontaneously comes to mind).
What those initiatives involve, the email doesn't say, but the consequences to existing licenses are clear: "As a consequence, we wanted to let you know that Color Assist and Color Assist Looks are no longer available for sale, and that there will be no new updates to the product. We will continue to provide customer support for Color Assist through September 30, 2013."
They're offering customers who have purchased Color Assist within the last 30 days a full refund.
Let's recap for a moment: a big company launches a product with a hefty marketing and communications campaign purely to get to know what makes users tick. Then, when they think they know, they stop product development and technical support. Except for those people who purchased the product in the last month — which is a ridiculously short period of time to start with — everybody else has paid for the pleasure of being Technicolor's marketing guinea pigs.
But they’re also offering you free access to their Looks packages and they say they remain committed to developing new and innovative ways to address end-users' needs, and that they're excited about other initiatives they currently have in the pipeline.
Lets' analyse that email in view of content marketing and the published content that follows. I bet that any customer who purchased 31 days ago or earlier won't be enamoured by Technicolor having taken his/her money in exchange for what (from the email wordings) seems to be a throw-away license and unconsciously sharing marketing data. That, I believe, won't be forgotten lightly in an age where every cent charged for a digital product or service is regarded as grand theft by the average user.
Why a company like Technicolor needs to resort to such methods raises questions too. Why hasn't Technicolor just hired people to search the thousands of forums, blogs, microblogs, tweets, Facebook entries, YouTube and Vimeo clips, LinkedIn discussions, etc, etc, to find out what their target group wants and needs? It's all readily published on that thing we call the Web via dozens of social media channels.
Why anyone should be grateful for being able to download "Looks" for an application that's no longer supported in about two more months leaves me stupefied too.
The damage done by bad communication
Although Technicolor's blast email isn't publishing in a strict sense, it is part of an effort to communicate a message to potential buyers. Trade press like myself have received news updates about the product on a regular basis and test licenses have been making the rounds so every journalist/reviewer and blogger could have his say.
Everything those modern-age publishers have been saying about Color Assist has been published but at the same time has become part of Technicolor's marketing effort. A large part of that effort has been (or should have been) to generate goodwill with their potential market. A good product isn't enough to convince people. You also need to create trust. In this case trust means Technicolor's "standing by" its product decision and product quality.
Companies can only show their commitment by supporting products for a decent period of time and by keeping reasons for stopping development like the one Technicolor mentions (let's call it the GPA — the Guinea Pig Argument), to themselves. Telling your buyers you've been using them as guinea pigs, isn't exactly going to make them trust you more for when you're ready to launch your new, superduper replacement.
Far worse, it raises questions with regards to the other products of the company and to the company itself. What's going to happen with the Cinestyle modes of Canon dSLRs? What with the rumoured Nikon D800 Cinestyle? Are they killing those too? Is Technicolor in some kind of financial trouble?
To me, it is obvious that Technicolor doesn’t understand how damaging this whole business could be to their target market — the one they now understand the needs of — and how futile this email letter sent out to everyone on their customer list really is.
One thing is certain, though: content marketing is about getting users' involvement. In a content marketing logic it's the users who are the ones doing the marketing for you, on your behalf. To make that happen, your product must be outstanding, your support must be nothing short of excellent, and your communications must be impeccable. Because, at the end of the day it's that same group of users that is going to publish the objective information which in turn is going to stimulate others to buy your product.
Some companies get this. Take Quark. Quark has announced its next version of QuarkXPress isn't going to support documents created with QuarkXPress 6,7, etc, anymore. Those old versions aren't going to be supported anymore — after many years of support of products that are really way past their expiration date.
Quark also gave users of old versions the opportunity to upgrade at a discount. They did it with version 8, 9 and now 10 as well. Only now, with version 10 that's about to be released, have they told their old users it's now or never. The campaign to convince people to step up has been going on for a couple of months now.
Even then, if you really don't want to upgrade, you can keep on using your license for an old version of QuarkXPress. Unlike Adobe, another company that doesn't understand how important the way you tell people something really is. At least as important as the technology you use or the quality of your product.