Amazon Sidewalk is a new low-bandwidth networking technology that uses Bluetooth to connect Amazon devices. The goal is to provide a reliable, inexpensive connectivity solution that blankets large areas outside of the range of most user’s WiFi networks.
Currently, there are tons of articles on how to turn this relatively secure service off, which will be problematic to its success given it needs a critical mass of networks to function correctly or at all.
While I was consuming the news about this, my old friend at Microsoft, Kathleen Hall, was recognized as the Marketer of the Year by Cannes Lions. This announcement focused me on the real problem with Sidewalk, and it isn’t the technology. It is the lack of clever marketing.
Let’s explore one of the sustained weaknesses in the tech market, the lack of critical marketing acumen. We’ll again close with my product of the week, which is an alternative to the top-rated Ring video camera for those that need a battery-powered solution but are nervous about Ring being used by law enforcement. Also, this device might make a quick and easy Father’s Day present.
Kathleen Hall represents a rare breed in tech companies, a thoroughly trained and experienced marketing officer in an executive position.
Marketing is a critical part of any company because that is the function that drives demand for a company’s products, services, and securities broadly. But in technology companies, too often, people who lack core marketing skills are promoted into marketing because those promoting them also lack marketing knowledge.
Worse, in technology companies, engineering often rules, and engineers tend to think their expertise in software or hardware development also makes them experts in marketing. In short, very often, in this critical skill to assure company revenues meet their potential, the top jobs not only are often staffed by people who lack the background to do the job, those that do have the background are too often overruled by more powerful folks that also don’t understand the job.
Often, this enforced lack of competence at the decision level makes careers for qualified senior marketing people relatively short, particularly at top company levels because they get tired of hitting their heads against the “stupid wall” and move someplace where their skills and experience is appreciated, and they can make a difference.
This typical outcome makes Kathleen Hall’s success relatively unique in that she has been with Microsoft for some time, and she has been successful enough there to receive well-deserved recognition making her an excellent source for advice on how any other qualified marketing executive can survive and flourish in the hostile structure contained in most tech firms.
The Problem With Sidewalk
The issue with Sidewalk isn’t its security (it is reported to be massively encrypted); it isn’t how much bandwidth it will take from you because it is doubtful you’d notice it; and it isn’t that Amazon is using Sidewalk to capture your private data (they aren’t).
However, Amazon marketing didn’t do the groundwork before it was released, and Amazon didn’t ask for you to opt in; they just turned the service on without permission from the users. An experienced marketer would have explained the need to manage public perceptions, gain the public’s trust, and then have people formally opt in to the service to avoid backlash.
For instance, with this service, a pet or child tracking device could operate for longer, be more reliable, and be far cheaper than what’s currently in the market. (Due partially to the upswing in homelessness, thefts have ramped up, and apparently theft of pets is becoming more common.) You’d end up with Tile-like devices that worked over vastly greater distances in populated areas, and better assure the location and recovery of your tagged and stolen property and your runaway or stolen pet.
Water sensors for your ever-more-innovative irrigation system would be easier to install and more reliable. Also, temperature sensors to monitor your plants, pets, or even children would be far easier to install and less expensive as well. You could even put a dependable sensor in your remote mailbox that would last months and reliably tell you when your mail arrived — and a sensor in a package containing some expensive gadget you bought that would allow you to track down the porch pilot that stole it.
But all we hear about Sidewalk are the privacy and security concerns driving the recurring advice to opt out of the service, mainly based on a lack of knowledge about what this technology does and its actual risks, which are trivial against the service’s benefits.
As a result, this potentially valuable (for the security and safety of our kids, pets, and property) service will likely fail because Amazon didn’t control the perception of the service.
Wrapping Up: Perception Is Reality
While I’m not in a marketing role, I have a marketing education background and have worked in marketing organizations in the past. I’ve watched companies I’ve worked for fail or nearly fail because they either don’t hire qualified marketing people or subordinate them in recurring examples of the Dunning-Kruger effect.
Apple, which was once run by marketing savant Steve Jobs, showcased what was possible when a company was commanded by someone that understood how marketing worked.
Louis Gerstner, who knew virtually nothing about technology, was largely successful in the IBM turnaround because he used his Nabisco knowledge to create one of the most capable marketing organizations that have ever existed. His successor dismantled that organization and sold off the firm’s PC unit, which was the most visible use of the IBM brand, launching Lenovo as an expansive world brand while crippling IBM’s growth.
Apple’s lack of a successful new product after Steve Jobs’ death is due primarily to the massively reduced capability and competence of their marketing organization after his passing. Yet, the one recurring mistake that tech companies make is not hiring and supporting (both are important) marketing executives, and taking marketing and market research into proper account when creating new products initially.
Sidewalk, which is trending to be a failure, didn’t need to fail. Still, until tech companies understand that the most potent sales weapon at scale is clever marketing, the mistake we see with Amazon Sidewalk is likely to recur. Finally, to be clear, sales done well is like having a team of snipers who are good in a way; marketing is like having a nuclear bomb that can both win a war, or if misused, lose one.
Something to think about this week.
Eufy Security Video Doorbell 2K
Many folks are nervous about Amazon right now but still want a security doorbell outfitted with a video camera to protect against the growing number of porch pirates.
The Eufy Video Doorbell 2K kit costs a reasonable $199 (it’s on sale for $169.99 on the Eufy site right now), doesn’t require a subscription for image capture, and works with Amazon Echo (shows the image of whoever is at your door to an Echo Show and send a toned alert to all Echos). It has a limited number of doorbell sounds, some of which (like wolves howling) are strange and kind of fun.
Since it has a battery, you don’t have to wire it to your existing doorbell system. Depending on how much the camera is used, the battery life can be up to six months.
Suppose you choose to wire it into your existing doorbell system with the power. In that case, you get a massive battery backup system if your internet and receiver are also on a UPS battery backup system. But you do have to use the included metal pin for popping the camera off to recharge. It typically will fully recharge overnight.
The smartphone app is easy to install and lets you talk to folks that come to your door when you are away, and set off an alarm if you see someone stealing your package. The 2K resolution is more than adequate to read license plates or get a clear view of who or what is at your door.
I’ve had mine in for around a year now, and it outperformed the Arlo system that I replaced by a significant margin. (For some screwy reason, the Arlo Video doorbell didn’t integrate at all well with the rest of my Arlo cameras.)
So if you are looking for a battery-powered alternative to the Ring video doorbell — and particularly if you need a solution you don’t have to run power to — the Eufy Security Video Doorbell 2K is my product of the week.