RED Digital Case Study: Honesty & Humanity Is The Best Policy
In this post we share a few thoughts on setting realistic expectations when working with clients. Good advice for business and creative professionals alike.
Jim Jannard recently posted a great apology/apologetic on the Red User Forum about RED’s habit of making over enthusiastic announcements with over eager delivery deadlines, which have then been subject to disappointing delays, change and shifting price points. You can read the full text here, but I just wanted to offer a few thoughts off the back of it about the importance of honesty when dealing with your customers…and how they’ll ultimately love you for it in the end.
Under Promise – Over Deliver
RED is known for thinking big. Really big. Over the moon big. RED stirs the pot. We are also honest to a fault. Did I say we have no idea what we are doing? Everything changes including specs, pricing and delivery dates?
The old business axiom of always under promising and over delivering has sort of become old hat these days. Hype (the over-inflation of excitement about a product that will ultimately fail to deliver) is what most businesses leverage for flogging weak products to over eager fans. But that’s a road of short term gains for long term death. Brands build loyalty and reputation over decades not just product cycles. An emphasis on product and getting the product perfect is what will satisfy your fans and give them something to genuinely rave about (Steve Jobs legacy) . This is what RED have also become known for – disruptive products that can truly wear the badge of ‘game changers’:
RED (I guess I am the guilty party) has spouted off “miracles” since 2006. “4K is the future” was our 1st message. We showed a shiny prototype at NAB that year. We took deposits on an impossible dream. A 4K camera for $17,500 when others were selling a 1080P cinema camera for over $200K. What we showed in our booth, and what people put down deposits toward, looked nothing like what we delivered one year later. We did deliver the RED ONE for $17,500 as promised. And that changed the history of cinema and who could participate. It marked the beginning of the changing of the guard.
But riding the fine line between enthusiasm and hype is a difficult task. When you’re out to turn an industry upside down with visionary leadership it’s hard not to get ahead of yourself and stumble over your own excitement. So what’s great about Jim’s latest post is that he finishes with this new sentiment:
We are just beginning. We have dreams that cannot be imagined. Once we deliver what you know about… there is more. Much more… only this time, we aren’t going to tell you until they are done.
In many ways RED could take a leaf out of Blackmagic Design’s marketing book. Engaging the wow factor of surprise and delight by not telling anyone about your new products and then announcing them when they’re (mostly) ready to ship. Although it has to be said of course that BMD has also encountered the pain and frustration of the enormous difficulties inherent in delivering technically sophisticated products, especially when things go wrong. But like RED they’ve also been honest and upfront about it:
Some good news. If you have read my other posts about the causes of the camera delays then you know we have been dealing with a problem with our sensor supplier related to contamination of the glass that’s bonded on the front of the sensor. It’s not been clean and so we had to stop production of cameras…. (Another update later) It is sure a relief seeing this problem coming to a close. I cannot believe this happened and it’s been an incredibly frustrating delay. However I am feeling really positive now. – Grant Petty, CEO, Blackmagic Design.
Engage Your Fans
For all of our faults (many)… caring about our customers and pushing the envelope are not two of them. This always seems to have us riding the ragged edge. This NAB presentation is no exception. We are trying to do things never done before and the clock is ticking for us to get ready. – Jim Jannard
Part of the success for both RED Digital and Blackmagic Design is their vibrant forums, which give all of their users, fans and detractors a place to hang out, chat and offer valuable feedback (and rant). A forum is a great way to build community around a brand or product is great, but a forum in which the head honchos dive in and play a central role is even better. Apple has a user forum on its site, but Steve Jobs or Tim Cook would never stop by for some honest communication. It’s just user’s trying to help each other out.
The Red User forum is an all together different place – an open place where users are invited to share in the journey with the company.
So… are we late with Dragon? Yes. And Meizler. And REDRAY. And our Projector. Of course we are. This stuff is not easy. In fact it is groundbreaking and extremely difficult. Sometimes I want to strangle our engineers for their optimistic schedule. In the end… I embrace them for working on the hardest stuff… the impossible goals. They are the ones that brought you the RED ONE and the EPIC.
Building a loyal, ardent and vocal fan base who get angry when you’re late to deliver is far better than an apathetic crowd who could buy your stuff, or someone else’s without much consideration. I’d rather have a mob of frusturated fans (at least they care!) than a customer base who don’t care and are only interested if you’re the cheapest.
Blackmagic Design CEO Grant Petty Interview at NAB 2013:
Finally the most important lesson anyone running a business can take away from this is that being honest makes you human. It reveals that you are just like the rest of us. Not some faceless corporation that doesn’t care about the feelings of its customers but a team of real people who care passionately about what they do. People who stay up late because they’re dedicated to offering great products and services and are committed to building something of worth. Who wouldn’t want to be involved in that? To buy into that?
But honest humanity comes at the cost of slick performance. Human’s are frail and fallible, they make mistakes, stumble over their words and go with gut instincts. The reason that Apple’s ads are so frequently spoofed is that they are 100% for slick performance with a lack of genuine humanity. Personally I’d much rather watch a 90 second, wobbly, badly lit handheld chat in Jonathan Ive’s office, while he doodles away at something and talks from the heart than 6 and a half minutes of marketing speil.
When quoting schedules, budgets and time constraints with your clients keep HONESTY in mind. Expectations should be realistic…quality work takes time!