Hope and Agility: The Revlon Test

Charles Revson, the founder of Revlon, was once quoted (see page 7) as saying: “In the factory Revlon manufactures cosmetics, but in the store we sell hope.”

While his customers may not have appreciated this characterization, I have always remembered it as a pithy quote that dramatizes the ultimate benefit of a product. In fact, I think it’s important that every CEO be able to answer the following question:

If Revlon sells hope, then what do we sell?

I call this “the Revlon test.” And there’s a catch. You can’t whip out the one-paragraph, mission statement from your company’s last offsite, that undoubtedly talks about delighting customers, delivering world-class solutions, and satisfying stakeholders. To take the Revlon test, you only get one word for your answer.

So, I’ll take my own test. If Revlon sells hope, then what does Mark Logic sell?

Agility.

Since much of our business today comes from the publishing industry, I will answer the question from a publishing perspective. Publishing faces an uncertain future.

  • The open access movement is threatening the traditional business model of scientific, technical, and medical (STM) publishing.
  • Newspapers are caught in a three-way squeeze. Ebay and Craigslist are eating up the classified advertising business. On the delivery side, news portals like Yahoo! and Google News are competing with print newspapers and deliver customized content instantly to readers. On the editorial side, bloggers are providing stories that compete with those traditionally produced by professional journalists.
  • Directories, like the Yellow Pages, are threatened by new, online directories (e.g., Yahoo, Google Local) and vertical portals.
  • B2B/trade publishers are threatened by disintermediation (see this post). Conferences remain under pressure due to continuing corporate expense controls and travel worries.
  • While education and training has a tailwind due to the No Child Left Behind act, both the El-Hi (elementary through high-school) and higher education (university) segments remain constrained by significant budgetary pressure.
  • Google looms over most publishing segments with Google Scholar in STM, Google Local in classifieds, Google News in news, Google Print in books, and scores of other initiatives that either directly or indirectly threaten traditional publishers.
  • Disaggregation is threatening the traditional business model in many publishing segments. Just as iTunes changed music from selling CDs to selling songs, so publishers are now trying to determine how to sell chapters instead of books or articles instead of magazines/journals.

So what are they doing about it? Well, necessity is indeed the mother of invention. If the Internet-as-opportunity wasn’t enough to drive all publishers to rethinking their business models, then Google-as-threat seems to have motivated the rest.

How are they responding? In several ways. Defensively, they are executing tactics like suing Google to slow their progress. Offensively, they are experimenting in the creation and delivery of new information products.

  • B2B publishers are building new vertical portals that leverage their existing content, and add new functionality to support business processes. For example, in an construction portal, enabling drag-and-drop of a housing component (e.g., a window) from a search results list directly into a CAD diagram.
  • Repackaging products in new ways, typically breaking them up, and then selectively exposing them to public web spiders, and making them for sale on new and different bases.
  • Integrating their proprietary content with that from other publishers (and potentially that extracted and/or enriched from the web) to provide more powerful information products.
  • Building information services that blend software and content in order to put “content in context” directly towards the solution of specific problems. For example, directly observing how emergency room nurses use and require information and then using contextual design to build new products (e.g., think NurseInfo) that meet those needs.

Increasingly publishers are transitioning from talent-pickers, printers, and distributors to value-adders. They realize that simply owning content alone is not enough. They must build applications — content applications — around their content that add value to it.

Real examples of this include:

  • O’Reilly Media’s SafariU, a content application to help professors build custom course readers, or

So where does Mark Logic come in? First, we provide a highly productive environment for a publisher to build their first content application. Second, we provide an infrastructure for rapidly building subsequent ones.

Some customers purchase MarkLogic simply to accelerate the production of one new information product (and then are pleasantly surprised to realize they then have a content applications infrastructure). Others take a more strategic view from the outset, and realize that they have two choices when dealing with a very uncertain future.

  • They can put their eggs in one basket, build a few new information products from scratch, and hope they work.
  • They can invest in a platform on which they can rapidly build a series of information products.

In reality, because no one can predict the future, the smart money is on the second strategy. When facing uncertainty, you can’t know what is going to work. But you can invest in agility so you can rapidly create and respond to whatever that future brings.

In a nutshell, that’s the value we provide. If Revlon sells hope, then Mark Logic sells agility.

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